Editor’s Note: This is the first of five stories highlighting some of the most-read stories in the OBSERVER during the past year. Today’s series focuses on area businesses.
From a snowy field in February to a drive-in ready for business by late October.
Dan and Gina Beckley of Advanced Production Group of Dunkirk are ready for business — and some cooperative weather.
The couple’s drive-in features three screeens on the site of the former Van Buren Drive In was located. The former drive-in closed in 1991. In 2011, the large screen blew down in a 2011 microburst tornado.
The multi-purpose field will be utilized as a secondary screen location, as well as community events, dance recitals, weddings, sporting events, farmers markets, graduations, cooking shows, family reunions, small musical events, car shows, dog shows and more. The second screen would be a 24-foot-by-16-foot LED which would allow for movies to be shown twice a day, three times a week for children and the elderly.
The third screen would be for RVers who would park and watch movies privately overnight.
It took a pandemic, a massive cleanup effort, 1.5 million pounds of stone, an 86-year-old from Ohio, and a local couple full of dreams to get the Van Buren Drive In running again.
“We were way behind schedule on permits until recently,” Dan Beckley said. Between that, materials shortages and increased costs for everything, an early May opening had to be delayed until Oct. 1.
Another thing the Beckleys had to clean up: Bits of the old movie screen, destroyed in a 2001 tornado. “We found screen carnage spread all across the 30 acres,” Dan said.
The effort led to an opening screening on Oct. 1, and the drive in will be showing first-run movies on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until sometime next month, when it gets too cold. They are also doing weekend matinees and sports viewing parties.
They will install two more screens next year and intend to be open seven days a week. Grass ramps for cars to sit on will also get installed as the lot continues to get smoothed out.
In summer 2022, they will have a Sunday afternoon jazz series that they had to cancel this year because the site wasn’t ready. The Beckleys will also have “theme nights” where fans of popular movies can dress up as their favorite characters. Dan suggested “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Batman.”
RIPLEY FEELING THE ‘LOVE’
Readers were certainly interested when news broke of a $13 million Love’s Travel Stop and Country Store at the first New York exit for the Thruway on Shortman Road, where the former Colonial Squire Motel was located.
The facility will consist of a convenience store, a fast food restaurant and a tire repair building. There will be separate areas for truck and auto fueling as well as separate auto and truck parking areas.
The county has been working with Love’s on their $13,325,000 proposal for over a year. The terminal is scheduled to be 22,000 square feet on a 16 acre parcel.
CCIDA Chief Executive Officer Mark Geise called Love’s a “win-win” project. “Not only does it create commerce at our gateway, but it also, through the host agreement, allows the town to do needed upgrades to their water and sewer infrastructure,” he said.
The project has progressed throughout the year. The outside of the building is mostly complete, and Geise said during a recent IDA meeting that the travel plaza could open in the spring.
Chautauqua County businesses faced another troubling national trend throughout the year — finding employees.
Chris Barmore, owner of Barmore Sellstrom, an auto and tire repair shop on Second Street in Jamestown, had run into issues filling open positions at his business, calling it “the absolute worst right now.” He has been looking for applicants for the last three months, and has seventeen employees compared to the usual twenty-one he has on board.
Barmore, like other business owners, points to stimulus unemployment pay as the culprit.
“In my opinion, the government is paying way too much for people to stay home,” Barmore said. “When you give the incentive of unemployment, with an extra $300 on top of that to stay home, people are not going back to work.”
Hiring troubles continued throughout the summer months for a variety of reasons — additional pandemic unemployment benefits, lack of available child care, remote schooling that required some parents to remain home and workers looking for better working conditions. By November, federal labor statistics showed the unemployment rate fell to 4.6% last month from 4.8% in September. That is a comparatively low level though still well above the pre-pandemic jobless rate of 3.5%. And the job gains in August and September weren’t as weak as initially reported: The government increased its estimate of hiring for those two months by a hefty combined 235,000 jobs.
“This is the kind of recovery we can get when we are not sidelined by a surge in COVID cases,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the employment website Indeed. “The speed of employment gains has faltered at times this year, but the underlying momentum of the U.S. labor market is quite clear.”
It’s not the good old days, but things are better than they were this summer.
A COSTLY DENIAL
One of the long-awaited development centerpieces in the north county suffered a setback in February — and got bad news through the rest of the year, too.
Athenex, which has built a state of the art facility in the town of Dunkirk off Route 5, was told in February the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had decided Athenex’s new drug application for oral paclitaxel plus encequidar for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer was not ready for approval in its present form.
“Our clinical and regulatory teams are disappointed by the complete response letter,” said Dr. Rudolf Kwan, chief medical officer of Athenex. “We plan to work with the agency to resolve the issues raised in the (complete response letter) and to obtain approval for oral paclitaxel plus encequidar in metastatic breast cancer.”
The FDA letter sent Athenex’s stock prices plummeting and prompted Athenex officials to have a follow-up meeting in October with the FDA to see if the government’s concerns could be addressed. After a long-awaited followup meeting with the FDA, Athenex officials decided to cease further efforts to gain FDA approval for oral paclitaxel because approval would require a lengthy and costly new trial.
“After careful consideration, we determined that another large, randomized control study for the metastatic breast cancer indication would not be an optimal use of time or resources,” said Dr. Johnson Lau, Athenex CEO. “Instead, we intend to prioritize the other ongoing studies of oral paclitaxel, which have shown encouraging results, in particular, the combination of anti-PD-1 and oral paclitaxel for patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, who had previously failed at anti-PD-1 monotherapy and the other programs in our pipeline. Ultimately, our goals are to serve patients and maximize value for our shareholders. We will however continue to explore paths to approval for oral paclitaxel in regions outside the U.S.”
One of those paths is the Innovative Licensing and Assess Pathway, a United Kingdom process that can get treatments to market faster. Lau told investor analysts that encequidar in combination with oral anti-cancer medicines have been accepted into the first stage of the program.Doing so could help the company financially while providing breast cancer patients with another alternative treatment.
“Oral paclitaxel is a breast cancer treatment which has shown promising effectiveness and clinical revelance when used in combination with encequidar,” Lau said. “When the federal Food and Drug Administration wrote in a complete response letter in February that concerns regarding safety of the drug because it could lead to low white blood cell counts in the blood as well as concerns about the way Athenex officials structured the oral paclitaxel clinical trial. The FDA letter sent Athenex’s stock prices plummeting and company officials searching for a way to get oral paclitaxel to market safely — both to help those with breast cancer and bring Athenex to profitability.”
In addition to the bad news for oral paclitaxel, Athenex officials told investor analysts this fall that the Dunkirk plant is largely complete, but the lack of state licenses is holding back production at the local facility. The Dunkirk plant is expected to play a key role in the Athenex Pharmaceutical Division, which markets 33 products, and Athenex Pharma Solution, which markets five products.
“Construction of our facility in Dunkirk, New York, is essentially complete,” Yordon said. “We have now completely installed the Class 2 vault that will eventually allow us to manufacture narcotics. Two large lyophilizers have been delivered in the facility, and we expect the isolator vial filling line to be delivered in February of 2022. We have built eight dedicated days for the expanded 503B business. We had originally planned to commence manufacturing there in (the fourth quarter of) 2021. However, there were some delays in securing state licenses. We are now actively going through the licensing process in New York and then with the seven largest states. Therefore, it’s likely going to be well into 2022 before we can fully take advantage of this new capacity. The revenues at EPS remain robust, and we are selling essentially every unit we can manufacture at attractive margins.”
A NEW SHOPPING LOCATION
Readers also found themselves interested in happier news north of the state line with this fall’s announcement that Target will open a store in the Jamestown area.
The former Kmart building in West Ellicott has been purchased by Target, bringing to an end the nearly two-year search for a new tenant for the former West Ellicott K-Mart location.
While there is no information yet on when Target will open its new area location, company officials recently shared their plans for the building.
Ellicott town Supervisor Pat McLaughlin said in a recent interview that Target, which recently purchased the property, does not plan to tear down the existing building. Rather, the company plans to renovate the existing structure.
“I believe their intent is to basically redo the parking lot and the entrance there on Southwestern Drive,” McLaughlin said. “They have indicated that probably 75 to 80% of the work that is going to take place is going to be inside. The existing building will be there, but obviously to get that building up to what would be Target standards versus — let’s say the last few years of the Kmart — needs a lot of work.”