Descending the hill on West Genesee Street into Skaneateles, N.Y., visitors pass by hotels, such as the Mirbeau Inn and Spa and the Sherwood Inn, before small-town shops and restaurants pop up on both sides of the street — reminiscent of an old-time movie set. The clear, blue Skaneateles Lake lines the right side of the road behind them, as well as lakeside churches and houses.
With about 2,700 people, Skaneateles is best known for its crystal clear lake backdrop and the water sports, including boating, fishing and waterskiing.
Lunchtime rolls around. Bluewater Grill sits right by the long, wooden pier on West Genesee Street. The smell of seafood and burgers fills the air as restaurant patrons sit on the wooden patio, looking onto the calm lake while laughing and sipping wine. Alissa Marks, a waitress from Auburn, N.Y., a town about 15 minutes away from Skaneateles, brings out a hot plate of Thai red curry shrimp.
While the main areas of East and West Genesee Street and Jordan Street are the most popular areas to shop, it’s the waterfront that attracts the most tourists, Marks said, because they can rent homes and experience the lake.
“A lot of people try renting boats and stuff to go out on the lake and walk around,” Marks said. “Can’t beat the scenery. Can’t beat it.”
After a seafood lunch, the next stop for any Skaneateles visitor is Skaneateles Bakery on Jordan Street, where sweet treats sit behind a glass pane and lure customers in. Skaneateles tourists and residents alike sit in the bakery eating chocolate cupcakes, donuts and cookies. Two of these patrons are Phyllis Carlile and her 12-year-old son, Jack Carlile. While Jack described Skaneateles as “quaint,” Phyllis said Skaneateles is a family-oriented community. She said the good schools and friendly folks are some of the reasons she and her husband moved there 19 years ago.
“It’s the kind of place where you feel like everyone you bump into you know,” she said. “It’s kind of a small town — I grew up in a small town in Western New York, and my husband and I had this mental list of what we wanted for our children, and this kind of fit the bill.”
One aspect of the town that gives off its community vibe is the Curbstone Festival, Phyllis said, which occurs in July. During the festival, store owners set up booths outside their buildings. In 2012, more than 30 merchants participated, according to a Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce newsletter. This summer, it will take place July 18–20.
While there are chain stores, like Talbots, within the town, many local restaurants, clothing stores, candy shops, antique shops and toy stores also make up Skaneateles commerce. Cornell University senior Ashley Maher said she has only checked out some of the shops so far, and they were different from other shops because of their products.
“They have a lot of cute knickknacks and creative things you wouldn’t see at other stores,” she said.
One store in particular, the Skaneateles Antique Center, is a staple location for zany novelties. Its wooden interior features fluorescently lit cases displaying old bowls, statues and picture frames. The squeaky, delicate floorboards make customers tentative to move forward, but the old mirrors and intricate, framed maps in plain sight ahead urge them to trudge on.
Maher said Skaneateles reminded her of Ithaca because of its size and the feeling she got from walking around.
“You kind of get that small-town feeling, really locally based, trying to promote local businesses, which is a great thing,” Maher said. “And they have a lake, so that’s the greatest part.
Skaneateles Lake is the natural testament to the entire town and the home of water sports, including boating, fishing and swimming. The calm, clear water provides a perfect environment for boating, swimming and fishing with the family. Two jet-skiers come out from the distance in the middle of the lake, trailing each other and creating waves that brush up on the rocks, splashing two girls sitting by them.
Toward the back of the pier — the closest to the lake — Anne Taylor and Taih Taylor stand with a baby stroller, looking out into the water. Anne said she and Taih just bought a permanent home in Skaneateles on the lake, and they plan to take advantage of the nature around them.
“[We] definitely plan on kayaking and hiking the nature trails,” Anne said.
At the end of a long day in Skaneateles, visitors can wind down at popular Doug’s Fish Fry, or at Johnny Angel’s, a hopping burger joint with a younger vibe for the teenage crowd.
Shane Hollerin, a patron at Johnny Angel’s from Skaneateles, said he notices when tourists come through, because they crowd the dock he works at.
“You can always tell the tourists by the rental boats from the boarding dock … right before they smash into the dock,” he said with a laugh.
When it gets to be nighttime in Skaneateles, it can be tough for young people to find things to do, Kyle McAuliffe, Hollerin’s friend from school, said.
“[We] have parties on the lake sometimes,” McAuliffe said. “Like at the [family summer] camps sometimes … 10 miles away.”
While a summer day in Skaneateles is filled with lake views, shopping and delicious cuisines, the day must come to an end. The lake glistens in the sun as cars drive by, and visitors can’t help but keep Phyllis’ notion in mind for a summer in the Finger Lakes.
“It’s a wonderful place to spend the day,” Phyllis said. “And a wonderful place to live too.”