As the Our Towns East Extra columnist, I was responsible for “covering” all eight eastside towns. My editors especially encouraged me to focus on the three they considered most important (probably because of readership): Webster, Victor and Pittsford.
But I did my best otherwise to spread my columns around, highlighting each town in turn. I even kept a database so I knew which towns I’d covered in recent columns.
It was in the middle of a very cold January eight years ago when I realized I hadn’t written about Irondequoit in a while. It was the very question, “I wonder what happens in Irondequoit in the winter?” which led me to this column.
I decided to head up to Sea Breeze to see whether the businesses up there simply hunkered behind closed doors for several months.
I found out that despite the cold, there’s a lot of life in Sea Breeze during the winter, and the area is spectacularly beautiful.
This column was originally published Jan. 10, 2014.
Seeing a surprising side of Sea Breeze
I’ll wager that most of us think we know Sea Breeze pretty well. At least summertime Sea Breeze, anyway.
But life’s a whole lot different this time of year up there, where Culver Road meets the lake.
The constant clatter of roller coasters has quieted, the patio tables and chairs at Vic and Irv’s are stacked in a corner, and the warm summer breezes have been replaced by stinging winter winds.
But don’t think for a second that when Seabreeze Amusement Park closes up for the winter, the Sea Breeze neighborhood turns into a ghost town. That was my thinking when I visited there a few weeks ago. I actually wondered if any of the neighborhood’s businesses would even be open. I figured that when winter hits, they roll up their sidewalks and hibernate for a few months.
But then I walked into the Parkside Diner, and realized I was very wrong.
Even in mid-morning, smack dab between breakfast and lunch, the Parkside was hopping. The parking lot was full, and most of the tables were occupied. Servers bustled to and fro, while to-go orders came in by phone and more customers came through the doors.
Sea Breeze resident and Parkside regular Sandi Gravelle and her friends were kind enough to chat with me for a few minutes as they waited for their breakfast to be served. I was curious about Sandi’s take — as a local — on how the neighborhood businesses fared during the winter.
Her answer surprised me.
“I think the businesses do fine here,” she said. “I don’t notice much difference.” But she added, “When the (bay outlet) bridge is down and people can come in over the inlet, that picks up business.”
Across the street at Simply New York Marketplace and Gifts, store owner Judy Fuller agreed.
So far this season, business at the gift shop has been pretty steady, Judy said, and December has been particularly good. But, “When the bridge opens to connect us to Webster, we want to dance in the street,” she said.
OK, I thought, so Sea Breeze diners and gift shops are doing OK. But for sure the bait shop down the road must be closed.
Wrong again. I forgot that fishing doesn’t stop when the snow starts to fall. It just gets colder.
A steady stream of ice fishermen keep S&R Bait and Tackle busy through the winter months. After all, cold-weather anglers still need bait, hooks, reels, fishing line and ice-drilling augers.
And while we’re talking about ice, if you’ve never seen the inlet in the winter, you owe it to yourself to do so.
This time of year, the frozen sands and steel-blue waters of the Irondequoit inlet and Lake Ontario take on a stunning beauty. Framed against the winter-gray skies, it’s hard to tell where the snow drifts end and the white caps begin.
It’s a sight to behold, but dress warmly; the wind is brutal.
Interesting Sea Breeze facts
- Cal Ripkin Sr. lived here in the late 1960s and early ’70s while managing the Red Wings.
- The Sea Breeze Fire Department, established in 1908, was the first volunteer fire company in Irondequoit.
- The Whispering Pines Miniature Golf Course, adjacent to the Parkside Diner, is the oldest miniature golf course still in existence. It opened in 1930.
What happened next …
I headed up to Sea Breeze again last weekend, on that very sunny Sunday just before the big MLK Day storm hit. I wanted to see if life was still proceeding apace at the north end of Culver Rd., especially with regards to the businesses I mentioned in my article.
It was actually rather quiet, probably partly because it was a Sunday morning. Even on a Sunday morning, though, the Parkside Diner would normally be hopping. But it was closed, a sign in the window telling customers that it was because of “Jim and Greg’s knee replacements,” and they would be open again in March.
Simply New York Marketplace and Gifts has also closed, a victim of COVID. They did their best to survive for a while, at one point even offering a roll of toilet paper for each $30 purchase. Their last day was in August, 2020. The storefront is still empty.
The busiest place in Sea Breeze that very cold day actually was not a business, but Irondequoit Bay itself. Dozens of ice fishermen had set up their tents on the bay, their cars and trucks filling the Bay Side parking lot. The bustling activity on the lake is probably why the only open business I saw that morning was the Bait & Tackle Shop, which is still going strong.
So even if there aren’t many businesses you’d want to visit up there this winter, it’s still worth making the trip. The area is still spectacularly beautiful, especially at this time of year.