Gowanda, a small village an hour south of Buffalo, has a unique location: it straddles both Erie and Cattaraugus counties. It’s also at the crossroads of routes 39 and 62 – and pretty Cattaraugus Creek runs right through it.
This small village features a downtown business district of well-preserved nineteenth-century commercial buildings and a smattering of new-builds, like the post office and public library along West Main Street. Gowanda is also near some gorgeous natural attractions like Zoar Valley (three miles away), and Deer Lick Conservation Area (four miles from the center of town), making it a destination for year-round sports enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, climbing, and whitewater rafting.
West Main Street is where to find locally-owned shops, boutiques and companies in town. Like other regional small towns and villages, some small businesses have perished in the wake of difficult economic times and the pandemic – but what remains is thriving.
Gowanda is on the New York Amish Trail, a self-guided tour along country roads with many stops where hand-built, homemade, and homegrown items may be purchased. A free publication with map is available at several Gowanda merchants – just ask for it. The map is also downloadable at amishtrail.com. The brochure highlights several attractions in town, including the recently restored Hollywood Theater on West Main Street.
The Hollywood Theater’s modernized marquee, installed in 2021 and painted in its original bold poppy red and peppy sunshine yellow, mixes the old-fashioned medium of neon with LED lettering announcing events. The Hollywood shows movies and is a concert, lectures, and other community presentations venue. The gilded interior is gorgeous, and one look shows why this place is both a registered State and National Historic Landmark.
Local businesses emphasize regional crafts, cater to daily necessities of locals, and sell objects showing pride in country living. There are not many restaurants in town, but there are some hopping and popular pizza places (Capozzi’s at 21 Jamestown Street, and La Via Pizzeria (39 Jamestown Street). Greek diner Olympia Restaurant (2 Jamestown Street) covers an array of culinary/ethnic cravings, and the sporty pub The Wicked Glen (29 South Water Street) features a huge menu of pub-worthy fare, and a spacious patio.
Jesse’s Home and Gifts (53 W. Main Street), owned by Karen and Amelia, feature handmade gift items and home décor by local artisans, books, and toys. The cabin-like shop interior features an enticing array of body products, and jewelry as well. On the same block, Tammy’s Unique Boutique (49 W. Main Street), open since 2019, has women’s clothing, a small selection of shoes and boots, jewelry, and whimsical home furnishings – many humorous and wine-centric. Owner Tammy Ondus says “I love clothes, boots, and purses,” and that’s what you’ll find here.
Still the Attic Place (23 Buffalo Street, and formerly known as The Attic Place), is owned by Adrienne, who purchased the business from its previous owner and who’s oftentimes assisted by her son, Kobie. He will neatly fold your clothing purchases; when this writer purchased two running shirts I exclaimed “Wow, those shirts will never be that neatly folded ever again.” “He gets that a lot,” said Adrienne. This consignment shop sells clothing for everyone, as well as housewares, furniture, and toys.
At West Main Street and Water Street (that runs along Cattaraugus Creek), Soles Unlimited (1 West Main Street) is an independently-owned store selling shoes for men, women, and kids. Sturdy brands like Minnetonka, Harley Davidson, Bogs, and Hushpuppies are sold, as well as sneakers. The store also carries some clothing, and jewelry. The displays are DIY like the shoe chains, but there is helpful service from salespeople as needed.
Gowanda, slightly obscure, and a little scrappy around the edges, is a daytrip destination to keep on one’s to-do/drive list. Other towns and villages may get more foot traffic and attention – think Springville, Lewiston, and Ellicottville – but Gowanda, with the restored Hollywood Theater, friendly businesses, and surrounding countryside, is ready indoors and out.