When Susan and Jim Cady moved to Denver from Syracuse, N.Y., in 2007, in addition to their household belongings, they brought with them something unusual: the Lighthouse sign that Jim had made for their gift shop and ice cream parlor up north.
Jim, 66, had retired from his job as an electrician with the Niagara- Mohawk Power Co. in 2000, and he and Susan, retired from a career in retail sales, opened the Lighthouse near Oneida Lake. Jim also built a smaller-scale replica lighthouse as a landmark by the shop.
Although they had to leave the original landmark lighthouse behind, they brought the sign with them as a memento of days gone by.
"We had no intention of opening another shop," said Jim. "We spent a few years settling down and adjusting to a new lifestyle here in Denver, but after a while, you get up every day and ask yourself, 'what am I going to do today?' "
As well as belonging to Denver Baptist Church, Susan is also a member of East Lincoln Community Chorus and enjoys painting as a hobby. Jim, a big NASCAR fan, volunteers at East Lincoln Christian Ministry and loves to cook, according to Susan.
Although Susan also travels to Syracuse, Florida and Indiana to visit their five children and eight grandchildren while Jim holds down the fort, there was still something missing from their lives.
"Retirement didn't really suit us. We get bored easily," said Susan, 60. So out came the Lighthouse sign once again, and they opened an ice cream parlor on N.C. 16, near their home on Grassy Creek Road.
After two years at that location, they decided in May to move. Their current location in the historic building on N.C. 16 in Westport.
Building with a history
The building dates back to 1955. Blanche and Dallas Barker had farmed cotton and corn in the area now known as Westport. They moved in 1952 to a house built by their eldest son, James, just off N.C. 16, and James built the new structure a few years later, hoping to provide an easier way for them to make a living.
It opened as a general store and service station, originally selling gas from Sinclair Oil in Lincolnton, and was run by Blanche and Dallas.
The Barkers continued to run the store and gas station until the late 1960s, when Dallas died. It has undergone several changes since then while remaining in the Barker family.
Over the ensuing years, it became a butcher shop, a TV repair shop, a furniture store, a pawn shop, a gift shop and, in the last few years, a candle shop.
Lighthouse does well
In its latest role, as the Lighthouse, the building - and the distinctive sign - are being noticed. One woman stopping in for ice cream asked if they were part of a franchise, as she had been to an ice cream parlor in Syracuse, N.Y., with the same sign.
Judging by the numbers of cars parked in front of the shop every evening, the move turned out to be a success.
"Business has been wonderful," said Jim. "Folks come by and tell us it's the hot spot of Westport. People come in to chat, meet with their neighbors, swap stories and just hang out."
"We're not here to make a lot of money," adds Susan. "We're here to make friends. We get a lot of repeat customers, regulars, but we also get folks who say it's their first time here. Our motto is, Come as strangers, leave as friends."
"This is basically our social connection with the community," Jim said, "with folks dropping in for ice cream and conversation." And games, he might add. The tables in the store and on the grassy outdoor gathering spot are supplied with checkers and tic-tac-toe games.
"It's amazing how many teenagers come in to the store and play checkers with their friends or with mom and dad, who would probably never play checkers at home," says Susan. "It's a place to slow down, hang out with family and friends and just enjoy the summer."
With the start of school in August and the weather not quite as warm, business is a bit slower, but folks still come by for the Lighthouse special, soft ice cream, and to sample the unusual flavors, such as Superman, key lime pie and banana pudding.
Jim says their ice cream is provided by a dairy in Greenwood, Ga., near Atlanta, because "We prefer the quality of their soft-serve ice cream mix. We have it all," he adds. "Flurries, smoothies, sundaes, milk shakes, ice cream cakes, but mostly, we have fun."
Jim and Susan's contribution to the greater Denver community does not stop with the cold treats dispensed at the Lighthouse, however. All of the proceeds from the tip jar on the counter are donated to the Pregnancy Care Center in Denver, and they are both involved in building an oversized turkey, to be used as a receptacle for food donations by members of Denver Baptist Church. The donations will go to East Lincoln Christian Ministry.
With the cooler weather of fall and winter coming on, business will slow to a crawl, and the Lighthouse will be dark until next spring. One thing seems certain, however: Jim and Susan Cady will find ways to keep busy, building turkeys as well as friendships.