Thursday, January 6, 2011

FOR THE ♥ OF IT: Bobbi Harlem’s Husband Asked: Are You Sitting Down?

Bobbi Harlem, right, escorts Wendy Davie of Oneonta through
the newly redone Carriage House, Old Southside Drive, Oneonta. 
Wendy and her husband, Duncan’s daughter Jocelyn
is marrying Jesse Marsh on March 13.

In May 2009, the phone rang on Bobbi Harlem’s desk in the office at St. Mary’s School.
It was her husband, Bob, who asked, “Are you sitting down?”
She was.
“I just bought Frazier’s,” he said.
Luckily, Bobbi WAS sitting down, and “for one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.  But once it began to sink in, I was very excited.”
Frazier’s, a venerable Oneonta institution on Old Southside Drive, contained a venue for weddings and other major events – Frazier’s Gables – in addition to its nurseries, greenhouses and furniture store.
But the family had decided to move on to other ventures, and had put the property and all its contents up for auction.
For a lot of reasons, the facility – renamed The Carriage House and just finishing its first season – made a lot of sense to the mother of two, who has spent 35 years on Oneonta’s food and catering scene.
Foremost, because after all those years, she still loves the work.
“I have a passion for it,” she said the other day, sitting in the newly appointed bridal suite on the property.  “I enjoy people.  I like to sit down with a customer and understand their needs.
“To know you can do something to make their dream come true is extremely satisfying.”
Plus, there is a shortage of wedding venues locally, she said: “I have bookings well into next year.”
Bobbi was raised in Huntington, L.I., and met her first husband, Joe Lipari, while studying at SUNY Oneonta. 
After a year teaching home ec in her hometown, she returned to Oneonta in 1975.
The only sub shop in town was Jreck’s (now a defunct chain), and the couple had an idea:  make subs and deliver them to college students in the dorms.

They bought 10 Pleasant Ave., their first house, and receive temporary approval from City Hall to make subs there for an academic year to see how it went.  (No on-site business, however.)
J&B Subs “just took off,” and the Liparis opened their first shop, on South Main Street.
The business/life partners worked side by side for more than a decade.  In 1989, however, returning from vacation on an auto train, Joe suffered a heart-attack and passed away prematurely at age 39.
Alone, Bobbi soldiered on, moving J&B Subs to where Athens Famous Gyros is located today, on Muller Plaza.
Life went on, and she married Bob Harlem, president, Oneonta Block Co., at St. Mary’s Church during the March Blizzard of ‘93.  (Buffeted by the storm, the wedding party made it as far as J&B Subs.  The banquet was hot dogs and macaroni salad.)
Bobbi continued J&B but, by 2000 and with two little boys – Ryan is now 17 and Gregory, 15 – it was too much.  She closed the shop, although she continued her catering.
The boys are almost grown and the catering is still going strong; that’s why Bob took the plunge.
Still, “it was empty,” Bobbi recalled.  “There was an awful lot of work to be done.”
The closing didn’t happen until this past May.  The cement pads of the former greenhouses, which had been auctioned off and taken away, had to be removed and the resulting parking lot graded.  Ryan, who studied heavy-equipment operation at BOCES, got a lot of hands-on experience, and Greg helped too.
The main building had been unoccupied for at least one season.  “We pretty much redid everything,” Bobbi said – cocktail tables, banquet tables, chairs for 200, coolers, a freezer, a convection oven.
“We repainted everything,” she added.
By Labor Day, The Carriage House was ready to go.  The first reception – Jen Obergefell to Geoffrey Chesser – occurred Sept. 5.
Over the summer, Jay Meyer and Julie Neer drove up from Virginia.  The Unadilla natives, looking for a fall wedding, asked:  “Do you have a bridal suite, because we need to stay for three nights?”
Now I do, thought Bobbi, and added the two-room suite to the plant.  Jay and Julie were married Oct. 9.
The main building has two spacious floors.  The wood walls and floors glowed, as Bobbi showed Wendy Davie, whose daughter Jocelyn is getting married in March, through the property.
The peaked ceiling of the second floor gives an airy feeling.  The gardens, including two waterfalls, are still in use from the Frazier’s days, but Bobbi says the second floor is helpful if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Bobbi loves weddings, but that’s only part of the plan.
Already, the Carriage House hosted the Future for Oneonta Foundation annual luncheon in November and a girls’ soccer banquet.

Business conferences are welcome as well. In case of rain, the airy second-floor banquet
room can accommodate weddings from the garden. Bobbi Harlem shows off the bridal suite,
suggested by a couple from Virginia – Unadilla natives –
who married at The Carriage House in October.

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