NEWFANE – The diminutive dynamo known as Susan Neidlinger is an independent businesswoman, a Newfane shop owner, fervent promoter of artists and the area, educator, mentor, animal lover and horse owner, community activist, mother of four and now grandmother to two young grandsons.
The people closest to her say she is something else: a loyal and compassionate friend.
Ann Schulze, who owns Schulze Vineyards and Winery in Burt with her husband, Martin, has known Neidlinger for more than two decades. They serve on the town’s Tourism Board together.
“Sue is always helping people,” Schulze said. “She sees what is needed and makes it happen. She is so passionate. She took hold of the Newfane Business Association and grew it unbelievably. She has made Main Street better than ever before. She’s a driving force. She’s got that extra ‘oomph’ in her, and her passion is unsurpassed. She really cares – whether it’s about taking in a bird with a broken wing or a helping a child in need. She’s a mother taking on the world. She’s just a fabulous person, and I can’t say enough about her.”
A Brockport native, Neidlinger earned her undergraduate degree from Potsdam State College and her master’s degree in education from Niagara University, embarking on a career as a science teacher in Barker. But she and her husband, Bill, now a retired Newfane teacher, soon had two daughters and two sons and, while raising her young family, Sue chose a different path.
That path has led her over the years to involvement with a number of different causes, but the one constant is that she always gives 100 percent to anything she becomes involved in.
Tell me about Shoppe on Main (at 2714 Main St., Newfane).
This was our ninth Christmas there. When we opened the shop, we had 25 artists, and now we always have a steady 50. I’m real selective. We don’t have any duplicates here, and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in Niagara County, because I actually rent the spaces to the artists for $35 per month and up, so the rent’s not that high. I just started taking a 5 percent commission last Christmas to cover the cost of wrapping gifts, etc., and most of that money really goes back to the shop because I use it for advertising.
All of our artists are local or have local roots, and we have everything from carved wood to knitted and crocheted items; nine jewelers; a metal guy; artists who work in watercolors, oils, and leather; photographs; someone who works in granite; and I just brought someone new in with beautiful machine-done, full-sized quilts. Of course, All That Chocolate and Murphy Orchards have been with me a long time, and we have quite a bit of Alpaca yarn and sock yarn. We still have our dog and cat [products] corner.
How did this idea come about?
I had hosted an art show at the United Methodist Church in Newfane, and Geoff Harding [an award-winning artist from Burt] said he had wanted to open a shop, and we decided this building on Main Street was the one we wanted because of the great front windows. I rent this spot from owner Jim Haehl. The building was built in the late 1800s … The timing was right, and it worked with my schedule, and it worked with my family’s schedule.
Jeff Harding has been with me from the start, as well as Nori Bucci, who does fantastic pencil drawings and is just as good a musician. This shop gives some people that do art shows yearlong exposure, but it also gives people an outlet for something they really enjoy doing. For example, I have a new artist, Lezlee Rohring, who has collected shells from all over the world and creates these unusual shell pieces.
You’ve also been involved with the Longaberger Corp. for many years, which sells U.S. handcrafted wooden baskets and other home accents through home-based businesses. Tell us about your association with the company.
The rules changed recently, and now I’m able to sell Longaberger products from the shop, too, as well as offering items through our catalogues. I’ve been with Longaberger since 1988, and selling from this shop wasn’t permitted until just about a year ago. I’m a branch leader. I formed the Appletree Branch of Burt in 1991, and I now have 25 people under me. I make sure they have the new baskets and that the events get done. I still love the product and the company. Over the past 16 years, we’ve raised money through our Longaberger events for Niagara Hospice and the American Cancer Society, and we’ve donated $10,000.
I know you’re very involved in other community groups.
I am a past president of the Newfane Business Association and am still very involved. I still run the Bike Night and August Festival and help with the Holiday Light-Up. I’m on the Town of Newfane’s Tourism Board, and we produce 35,000 copies of the tourism booklet each year, and it’s really well done. I just retired after 25 years as curriculum coordinator for the Sunday school at the United Methodist Church of Newfane. I’m a past president of the Zonta Club, which is an international women’s organization that helps raise funds for scholarships for local girls and women, and awards grants to small associations, like Equi Star Therapeutic Riding Center in Burt. I never had any aspirations of going into politics, but all of a sudden, the time seems right, and I might be interested in getting into local politics on more than a volunteer level.
What does the future hold for Newfane’s business district?
The Niagara Wine Trail is doing so well, and it has really allowed for little cottage industries to start up … And, I’ve seen a lot of new businesses move onto Main Street here, or move from their place into bigger spots on Main Street, and it’s all a positive thing.
I never know who is going to walk into this store. It’s been very interesting to be a part of Main Street – to see what can happen when everyone works together, with a little cooperation and communication.
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