Community Life: New Friends Run Successful Business

Karen Burr, left, and Amy Jarzynski are pictured inside their Gowanda business, Jesse's Home and Gifts. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

I recently met Amy Jarzynski after sending a message to Jesse’s Home and Gifts when planning an outing with a few friends to the Gowanda area. Due to needing another stop, I checked their Facebook page and was disappointed to find they weren’t open on Mondays, our outing day. Hoping the hours posted were reduced pandemic hours that had not been updated, I contacted the store. Amy responded by telling me the schedule of the store’s hours was current but the business would be happy to open for my small party of five.

When we arrived a few days later, not only was Amy present to greet us, but Karen Burr, a co-owner, awaited as well. Our visit was pleasant and fun. In fact, all four of my friends bought at least one item either for themselves or for a gift.

Amy and Karen met while working on the restoration of Gowanda’s Historic Hollywood Theater, of which Mrs. Burr’s husband Mark is the President of the Board. On one occasion when they were both at the theater, Amy mentioned she had noticed the store was for sale and that she was concerned about its future.

“Mark and I were up in the attic when Amy came up and said what a shame this business was being sold,” says Mrs. Burr.

“The health of the businesses on this block is important to me,” says Mrs. Jarzynski.

This beautiful marble-topped chest is one of Mrs. Jarzynski's rehab projects.

The two women had a brief discussion about the changes that may soon be coming to the downtown.

“At 49 with my kids in college, I decided I’m going to do something different, “says Jarzynski. “We hadn’t known each other long, but I asked Karen if she wanted to go talk to Sarah about what it would look like to buy the business.”

A phone call was placed to the owner, Sarah Gabel, who told them Jesse’s Home and Gifts was under contract with a prospective buyer, but in a few weeks, Amy received word that the deal had fallen through and if the new friends were still interested, the business could be theirs.

“We work from Sarah’s business model and we’ve spent a couple of years listening to what customers want to have. The great thing is Karen is retired and she loves to shop. She searches and finds good things. Karen does all of the books and all of the shopping. She’s the grown-up here,” says Karen’s partner with a grin.

Although Amy is not cut out for the office side of their endeavor, she is very creative and sees potential in pieces that others may overlook. She has the gift of bringing life back to forgotten or outdated items. One example is the vintage file cabinet she painted bright yellow with mauve and white floral accents before updating the drawer pulls. The piece is now ready to hold files in a woman’s office or craft room supplies.

One of two antique gas kitchen ranges used to uniquely display merchandise. The animal faces are dryer balls.

“I couldn’t make this place look like this, but I would be scared to have her on the books,” adds Mrs. Burr.

“Business decisions have been exciting to try out and I can be creative, because I can use my own stuff,” says Mrs. Jarzynski, referring to the Dixie Belle Mineral Chalk paint sold in the shop and used on many of her rehabbed projects. “I love to rehab old furniture. I love to see it have a new life and to see a person love it and use it.”

Some of her lovely rehabbed pieces include a taupe-colored chest with a brown marble top and a wide 3-section mirror with carved details that has been finished in light blue. The creative partner enjoys interspersing interesting pieces into the store’s displays including two very old gas ranges, one made by Tappan and the other by New Process.

Some items found in the store’s men’s section include Carhart hats and gloves and Duke Cannon grooming products. Both men’s and women’s Bills logo items are also for sale. Amish-made sweet treats include jams and jellies and chocolates. Local maple syrup and honey are other sweet offerings.

Because Amy remembered never being able to buy Gowanda-labeled merchandise throughout the years, she made sure to bring it to the business. T-shirts, hats, mugs, tote bags, napkins, guest towels and other items are printed with some sort of reminder of home to past and present Gowanda residents. Some spell out the name of the city and the year it was established. Others have the word “home” printed under the city name, while others are more simplistic with just the zip code or coordinates of the beloved hometown. Nearby Zoar Valley, an outdoor recreation area, is represented, as well.

The owners have reserved an area for educational toys, since the previous owners had originally used the building for a toy store.

About twenty percent of the shop’s inventory comes from artists, creators and vendors which allows them to offer merchandise that is unique to other businesses. It is their goal to feature the work of local vendors and they have come to realize there is much talent in the tri-county area.

Meg Mayers is the store manager and the person who manages the vendors. One local craftsman supplies the shop with beautiful cutting boards and charcuterie boards. Handmade jewelry, cloth wallets, clutches, purses and shawls are the end result from the labor of others. Seasonal pieces, all tastefully done, are also sold.

The shop likes to celebrate history by offering reminders of things from the past, such as items that highlight J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital, where many local people were employed until its closing.

A book signing event was held recently by one of the three local authors whose books are sold at the store.

The partners made good use of the time their business was shut down during the earliest part of the pandemic when they did cosmetic jobs and upgrades they couldn’t do while they were open.

“When I first bought this place, I was reading on social media that there were things in Gowanda that needed fixing,” recalled Mrs. Jarzynski, referring to unsightly overgrowth and graffiti. “I felt a sense of ownership to my community. We started a Facebook page named Gowanda Community Clean-Up. Part of that was covering graffiti, which started Gowanda Mural Project.”

She told of one area where they had attempted to paint a steelhead trout. Their spirits were dashed when a local fisherman complimented their freshly-painted shark. Local artist Heather Rydzik assisted in making the shark into the steelhead it was intended to be. Krissy Smith was another local resident who helped get the mural project underway.

“Frankly the whole thing has just been a joyful experience,” says Jarzynski. “I think buying the business opened my eyes to more community involvement and pride in my hometown.”

Mrs. Jarzynski is married to John Jarzynski, who is a retired English teacher from Gowanda Central School. Mark Burr is a retired Director of Engineering with Cattaraugus County.

The storekeepers have contributed five recipes, each one incorporating a product sold at their business. Jesse’s Home and Gifts is located at 53 West Main Street in Gowanda. Hours are as follows- Tuesday 10-5, Wednesday 10-5, Thursday 10-7, Friday 10-5 and Saturday 10-3.


1 shot (1.5oz) unflavored vodka

1 T Dye’s Pure Maple Syrup

3 oz fresh squeezed grapefruit juice

3 oz club soda


Shake to combine.

Savory Grilled Chicken and Vegetables

2 T Borsari Savory Seasoning, divided

1 c olive oil, divided

1 lb chicken breast

1 c local grape tomatoes, halved

2 c diced summer squash

1/2 c fresh minced onions, shallots or chives

2 cloves diced garlic

1 c feta cheese

1/2 c parmesan cheese

Combine Borsari Savory Seasoning and olive oil. Pour half of this marinade over chicken and refrigerate overnight. Put prepared vegetables in a bowl or shallow pan. Pour the other half of marinade over them, cover and refrigerate overnight. Grill Chicken directly on grill. Wrap veggies in foil and grill about 20 minutes. Combine and serve.

Pepper Jelly and Cream Cheese

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature

1 jar Jennifer’s Kitchen Confetti Pepper Jelly

Snack crackers

Pour jelly over cream cheese block and serve with crackers. The combination of the smooth cream cheese, the bite of Pepper Jelly and the salty cracker is a party favorite.

Peach Bourbon BBQ Sauce and Peach BBQ RIBS

4-5 pounds pork baby back ribs, cut into serving size pieces


2 T chili powder

1 T brown sugar

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

dash of cayenne pepper

1 bottle Gourmet Village Peach BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup water

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

Combine seasoning and rub over meaty side of ribs. Place ribs and water in a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook, covered on low 5-6 hours. Turn off cooker and add entire bottle of Peach Bourbon BBQ Sauce. Stir in jalapenos and serve.

Cherry Jalapeno Marinated Chicken

1-2 lbs chicken breasts

1T Borsari Original Blend

1/2 c olive oil

1 c Jesse’s Home and Gifts Cherry Jalapeno Salsa

Combine Borsari Original Blend and olive oil. Marinate chicken in this overnight in refrigerator. Grill chicken until thoroughly cooked. Remove chicken from grill. Cover chicken breasts with Cherry Jalapeno Salsa and serve.


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