You may have noticed the activity during the past several weeks at the former Newberry's at the corner of Lake and Main Streets in downtown Owego. A new business is moving in, with a unique plan for Tioga County. It's called the Early Owego Antique Center, and it's the labor of Owego native Jim Meade.

The idea for the Antique Center evolved out of conversations Meade had with his wife Cornelia. "We saw the empty store, and kept saying someone ought to, someone ought to," Meade said, recounting the discussions he had with his wife about how the empty Newberry's building could be used. Riverow Bookshop owner John Spencer lamented there no longer was an antique store in Owego. That got Meade thinking, so he started researching Upstate New York's antiques business.

"Everyone was happy to share information," Meade said, "most had been in business for a long time and enjoyed it. That's a good sign." He also met Fran Antalek, who administers the marketplace in Tioga Downs. Meade said he and Antalek became friends. What emerged from this process was an idea for a multi-vendor marketplace of quality antiques. A business plan was developed, Meade said, and when everything was in place, that plan was implemented.

"Downtown Owego is a fabulous place for a multiple dealer place," Meade said, "everyone I've talked to has been very positive."

Concerning the name, Early Owego Antique Center, one of Meade's interests has been the history of Tioga County. The name was chosen primarily to remind people that Owego is the pioneer town of the Southern Tier, with its 'founding' dating to 1787. Before that, Owego had been the location of a native people's village "way back beyond that," according to Meade. Another reason for the name is to honor LeRoy Wilson Kingman's 1907 book 'Early Owego' which was first published in 1907, with reprints available at the Tioga County Museum.

While on a trip to Philadelphia, Meade looked at an early map of America inside Independence Hall. There was not much depicted on the map for Upstate New York, Meade said. Fort Niagara, Fort Ticonderoga, and two small dots, one of which was what would become Owego. Tioga County is known as the Mother of Counties because most of the upstate counties were carved out of Tioga's original area, which stretched to Lake Ontario and included what is now Chemung and Broome Counties.

Following the Revolutionary War several officers were given land grants, and requested them in Tioga County, especially around Owego. McMaster, Cox, Draper, all familiar names and all going back to Owego's founding in 1787. By 1810 those settlers who carved out clearings for log cabins in the wilderness were living in large houses like those along Front Street. Owego was one of America's first boom-towns, if not the first.

Meade even said that the local economy had largely weathered the recession that began in 2008 - until the flood. He credited that resilience to the decision of Owego and its merchants to preserve and concentrate on the village's history. "It would have dried up and blew away like so many other small towns," Meade said, except for that decision to preserve Owego's historic nature.

Meade is driven to see that success continue while writing his own chapter at the Early Owego Antique Center. "Our motto is strive, to thrive together," Meade said. The street-level floor has been divided into 55 ten foot by ten foot spaces for vendors, which are all rented. Meanwhile, there is the second floor, known as the Mezzanine Level, which will offer additional spaces as soon as carpeting is laid down by Ahwaga Floor Coverings.

One of the vendors looking forward to the grand opening on Valentine's Day, Thursday, Feb. 14, is Pat Blasdel, former Pastor at El Rancho de Paz. Blasdel deals in antique coins, and has a store in Horseheads. "I couldn't find a store available in Owego," Blasdel said. He's looking forward to coming back to Owego, and will be at the Early Owego Antique Center three days a week, dividing his time between Horseheads and Owego.

Blaze Coins, Gold and Silver, Blasdel's store, buys and sells gold and silver, antique jewelry, and supplies including coin holders and reference books. Blasdel also does appraisals and estates. He started eight years ago in Owego, and still comes to the Emporium at the Elks Lodge on the first and third Sundays of each month. "We offer our customers fair and reasonable prices," Blasdel said.

Progress can be followed on the Early Owego Antique Center's website, earlyowegoantiquecenter.com and on Facebook. Vendors interested in securing one of the remaining available spaces can contact Fran Antalek at (607) 239-8353, or lantelek@stny.rr.com. Tentatively, hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except for Tuesdays.