A day in the life of one of our neighbors
by Senior Editor Jim Memmott
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 22, 2002
Vibrant and growing

Sure, there's traffic, But Penfield is alluring because of its location, activities–and people

Taking a break from his duties as a dispatcher for the Penfield Volunteer Emergency Ambulance Service, Ronald Heerkens Sr. uses a large map to illustrate the community's variety.

There are retail centers, farms, developments.

Parks are sprinkled throughout the town, and there's even a protected swamp - the Thousand Acre Swamp - on Jackson Road.

''It's a great family community,'' Heerkens says. ''We're getting a mix of the old and the new. It's a good mix.''

Other people on this mid-March day agree.

Though Penfield grapples with some familiar suburban issues such as heavy traffic on its main roads, it gets high marks from its residents for its schools, its location and its friendliness.

For sure, it is a community in transition, growing at a rapid rate. (From 1990 to 2000, Penfield's population increased 14.6 percent, from 30,219 to 34,645.)

But residents stress that Penfield remains a community that is, in reality, a union of smaller communities, each distinct, each attractive in its own way.

''There are nice neighborhoods,'' says Laura Baker, as she spends time in the children's room of the Penfield Public Library with her daughter Olivia, 2... ''From where we live, we can go out onto Browncroft Boulevard and see the city skyline, and then go up the street and see farms.''

Penfield residents will vote April 23 on a proposal that would help preserve the kind of mix that Baker describes.

The Open Space initiative would authorize the town to borrow up to $10 million to purchase property and development rights to some undeveloped properties and some farmlands. In effect, the purchases - generally of properties on Penfield's east side - would work to keep existing open
space and farms as they are.

''What I'm hearing from our residents, and it seems to be loud and clear, is that we need to preserve these lands for future generations,'' says Penfield Supervisor Channing Philbrick.

In another room of the library on Baird Road, college student Lindsay Barnard of Penfield is sitting in a comfortable chair in front of a gas fireplace.

The fireplace was included in the library's recent 10,600-square-foot addition as one way of making the facility seem less institutional, says Mary Maley, the library's director.

Barnard, home on break from Connecticut College in New London, Conn., approves of the fireplace.

For one thing, it has tricked her into believing that she is not where she is - in a library on her 21st birthday working on a 15-page paper on altruism in international affairs.

''I feel like I'm at home,'' she says.

Barnard has lived in Penfield since she was four. age 4. She likes the community a great deal, though she allows that, because of growth, it's not the same place it was when she was younger.

"Penfield is always changing," she says. "Whenever I'm home, it's always different. In a way, I'm sad to see all the construction going on at the new Four Corners."

That construction at the intersection of Penfield Road (Route 441) and Nine Mile Point Road (Route 250) reflects the growth of the community. Beyond that, Wayne County communities to Penfield's east have also seen growth, all of which helps account for the retail and commercial explosion at routes 441 and 250.

The transformation of this area has worked to shift Penfield's main business center away from the original, historic Four Corners, the area in Penfield's southwest corner at the intersection of Penfield and Five Mile Line roads.

The new Four Corners is anchored by a large Wegmans, a superstore that has become a kind of tourist attraction.

The store is mentioned often by Penfield residents, and even its rest rooms get an "excellent" rating from, an Internet site dedicated to promoting neat rest rooms. The site declares the Wegmans rest rooms as "beautifully decorated to coordinate with the Italian ambience of the cafe."

But the new Four Corners isn't just Wegmans. There are restaurants and many other stores.

"Most of what I want is right here," says Essie Calhoun, an Eastman Kodak Co.. vice president who lives nearby.

Philbrick likes what has happened at the new Four Corners. But he also wants the historic Four Corners to be preserved and revitalized. "We need to make it a place to go to rather than to go through," he says.

Merchants at the historic Four Corners stress that their area still has a lot to offer as well, especially the charm and gentler pace that people associate with an older community.

"We wanted to create a meeting place for people," says Jackie Poslusny, co-owner of Northfield Coffee Co. on Penfield Road at the historic Four Corners. "We wanted a place where people could come in and get more than a cup of coffee."

What people get at Northfield in addition to their coffee is a comfortable place to sit, conversation with other patrons and no pressure to move along.

They also get to spend time in the building, at 1790 Penfield Road, that was the boyhood home of the late actor Peter Duel (he was known as Peter Deuel in Penfield), who had prominent television roles in Gidget and Alias Smith and Jones before taking his own life in December 1971.

"He has a very active fan club," Poslusny says. "They come here from Spain and England and all over to visit his house."

As Poslusny shows a visitor around the shop, Nancy Simunek and Kim Dwyer of Cottage Gifts, a store which is also at the historic Four Corners, are into their fourth hour of sitting and doing their paperwork at Northfield.

"We've been here all day once before," Dwyer says. "You can get a lot done without interruptions."

"I come in here whenever I can," Simunek adds. "They'd probably give me the key if they weren't open."

Behind Northfield, Kelly McCrone is catching her breath after the noontime rush at Penfield Hots, home of the second-highest rated garbage plate in the Rochester area, according to an Internet survey.

(A disclaimer: Actually, Penfield Hots' garbage plate - known on the menu as a "rubbish plate" - was the third-highest rated offering. But it moved up a notch when the purveyor of another plate closed.)

"How would I describe Penfield Hots?" says McCrone, who has worked at the small establishment since it opened in August 2000. "I'd say comfortable. It's not corporate-ish, if that's a word."

Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant, on Five Mile Line Road at the historic Four Corners, is far more personal than corporate as well.

Situated in a 180-year-old building, the restaurant was opened by Kam and Fung Wong and their family 21 years ago. Since then, it has created a loyal following.

Over the years, the Wongs have seen the area change.

"When we first opened, I was able to walk across the street," says Wendy Wong, the Wongs' daughter. "This is no longer a small village. Traffic has changed the reality of the neighborhood."

Nonetheless, the Wongs, all of whom came to this country from China, are happy with their location and happy with Penfield.

George Haefner is happy with Penfield as well, though he lives in a secluded western part of the town that many people don't even associate with Penfield.

"This is very out of the way," says Haefner, of Shirewood Drive, one of a series of winding streets in an area known as Allens Creek Valley off Penfield Road near Brighton. ". . . You can come down the hill and, I know this sounds like a cliche, but it's like coming down into a little
bit of paradise."

As remote as the neighborhood can seem, it's within a few minutes of Panorama Trail Plaza, which has a Tops Friendly Market and many other stores.

In addition, the area is united by the Indian Landing Elementary School, which, though it is in the town of Brighton, is part of the Penfield School District.

While the Penfield School District includes some of Brighton, the Webster School District includes some of Penfield, all of which can make for confusion.

Yet Heerkens, of the volunteer ambulance corps, suggests that one person's confusion is another's variety.

Taken together, the serene parks, the busy roadways, the energetic neighborhoods, the hard-working farms form a mix that he likes - a mix that defines Penfield.


4:52 p.m. Emily Weichman practices in her gymnastics class for 5- to 7-year-olds at the Gymnastics Training Center of Rochester. Since opening in 1987, the center has nearly tripled in size to 22,000 square feet. The center's enrollment is slightly fewer than 2,000 children.

6:23 p.m. A golden sun sets over Route 441 near the intersection with Route 250. Penfield's roads are increasingly busy. The town's population has grown 14 percent since 1990.

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