Otto’s Abode seeks to encourage, examine, and celebrate collaboration and exchange with, within, and without a public home for art.
Otto’s Abode is?
Housed within a
The perpetual stew of formal, subtle, informal, and obvious intervention intends to facilitate an active sense of wandering, discovery and necessity while passing through and with this ever-changing venue; a digestion. Otto's Abode seeks to understand wellness through an examined life. Otto’s Abode seeks ideas. Otto’s Abode seeks sounds. Otto’s Abode seeks obsessions. Otto’s Abode seeks what it might not realize it will uncover through this search.
What others have to say:
"It's like an old train station or something." - anonymous
photo by Mike Lynch
A Welcoming Wildland Outpost: Otto’s Abode Is Wanakena’s Artsy, Woodsy Gathering Spot
By W.T. Eckert - March 17, 2020
Traversing the densely forested and winding portions of Route 3 in the northwestern Adirondacks can be beautiful and isolating in the winter months.
Seasonal stores and resorts are closed for business, miles pass without human contact. Cellphone service is nonexistent.
You are off the grid.
But between Cranberry Lake and Star Lake, just off St. Lawrence County Route 61, in the hamlet of Wanakena, Otto’s Abode aims to be not just a beacon of light during the desolate months, but one in a series of “Stations without a Signal,” according to owner Nolan Fedorow.
Rustic and modern, historic and contemporary, Otto’s Abode is both a gallery and a general store where you will find abstract and functional art while happening upon an in-house concerts while buying things like soap, snacks, maps, eclectic music or handmade walking sticks.
The place is named after J. Otto Hamele, who came to Wanakena in 1901 to work as a millwright for the Rich Lumber Company and later helped to secure the land used to establish the state’s Ranger School nearby.
To compartmentalize Otto’s Abode under one category is impossible, Federow said, after describing the complex makeup of what the store started as, what it has become, and where it may be headed. “Stations Without a Signal,” his new project, is what he said Otto’s Abode is all about.
“We aspire to be a radio station, but the way I like to think of it is, we’re just live, now, here,” Fedorow said. “Instead of turning on the radio, you’re here, now. So we’re a station without a signal.”
He said the project fits with the longstanding tradition of people coming into the former Wanakena General Store, whether that be locals getting coffee and the latest news in the community after picking up mail at the post office next door, or hikers heading out, pit-stopping or completing the 50-mile hike around Cranberry Lake.
Fedorow said he wants to travel the Adirondacks to create a database of similarly situated local shops and stops.
“It’s much more than just a public bathroom and a store,” Fedorow said of Otto’s Abode. “People come in and need directions. We’re a lost and found. You got people just popping in to see what is going on.
“I have people from all over the world that come back 50 years later,” he said. “I have people that sit here and tell me amazing stories of the woods from their childhood and just blow my mind for two hours and then I never see them again."
Fedorow and his wife Hanna, both 33, took over the old Wanakena General Store space four years ago in February, when the previous owners were giving it up. He said his goal was to put his Master of Fine Arts degree to work turning the space—a general store since Wanakena was established the early 1900s—into a white-wall gallery and concession stand.
He said his in-laws, David R. and Susan J. Ziemba, who both previously operated the store and own the building that houses it and a neighboring post office, encouraged the idea.
“Actually he is doing the same thing I was doing but with a different spin,” David Ziemba said. “He’s keeping the space open and alive. It’s handy with the post office being right there in the same building.
“And the reason we started doing music is the same thing, basically I wanted people to come in and look. They wouldn’t come in and buy a lot of stuff, but they would come in and we would have shindigs . . . whenever we could, it was just to get people together and that is what we wanted to do.”
Ziemba is a regular fixture in the store, like year-round Wanakena residents Wayne Allen and 85-year-old Robert T. “Red” Northrup.
Allen has been in Wanakena since 1978 after getting out of the Army and attending the Ranger School, where he continued his career as a 15-year forest properties technician and then teacher.
“It gives us all a place to come and sit and talk, which I have always done with all of the store owners,” Allen said.
Originally from Ogdensburg, Northrup said he remembers the store from its previous existence, across the road.
And while the locations have changed, the camaraderie has remained the same.
“It’s been quite a long while, the friendship here,” he said. “We don’t seem to lose that. Of course, they keep up on what is going on. When things change, you heard it here. We like it and we like the changes they made here.”
Fedorow found Otto’s Abode to be more like a work of art than a store, one that continues to evolve through many facets, including through the inspiration of the community.
“I took a white-wall gallery and put it in a general store,” he said, “and the general store slowly kicked the white-wall gallery out of here, but keeping all the important stuff, which is art, humor, technique, and keeping all that without the sterile, white-wall feel,” Fedorow said.
“So it’s through art there are opportunities to celebrate a shelf with cans on it as a masterpiece and you don’t even have to talk about it, but there are these deeper ways to examine what to do with your space and what to do with your time.”
He takes inspiration from the wilderness around him and correlates that into running Otto’s Abode, to create new ways of seeing his surroundings: turning maps of the area into art, or curating and creating installments Iike “Stations Without a Signal” and “Gateway to Wilderness,” where he invites other artists—painters, writers, performance artists—to stay in a cottage while creating Adirondack works that are displayed throughout Otto’s Abode.
He doesn’t advertise much, he said, because people find the place on their own and he enjoys their reactions.
“I like to keep it kind of under the radar,” he said. “I don’t put a lot of pictures online because I want people to come in and be like, ‘Whoa, this isn’t what I imagined.’”
Otto's Abode: Reimagining a General Store in Wanakena
By Lauren Yates - May/June 2019
The Adirondack Mountains have magic in them, flowing through the tannic rivers and balsam-scented breezes. And in Wanakena, it takes the form of an old general store and a family of four.
The heart of Wanakena lies right off the Cranberry Lake 50, a long-distance trail that laps the lake. If you find yourself on this path, plan to camp some night near Wanakena. When the stars are out and piercing the Oswegatchie River, in the silence of the woods, you might hear the distant sound of a three-person band.
If you’re curious, follow it.
Just off the trail, the center of Wanakena is friendly and modestly lit. A gazebo, a pick-up croquet course, a footbridge. In the center of this picture is an old store, once the Wanakena General Store. Now, in duplex fashion, it houses a mailroom on the left and, on the right, a door nestled between a bookshelf and a sign: Otto’s Abode, printed in simple white lettering.
Pushing the door open, the tiniest bell tinkles above your head and the chug of a banjo, drum and accordion might float to your ears. But that’s only one possibility—once you’re within the space, you might find an art exhibition, a concert in the corner, a small gathering of the building’s owners and local faces. Or you could see all these scenes in one night. On such an evening, behind the old store counter, you’ll find a young man with flowing hair, his whole body keeping time to the music, beer in hand.
That’s Nolan Federow, owner of Otto’s Abode.
Nolan isn’t the typical small-town store owner: he’s an Albany transplant, just over 30, and his artistic otherworldliness isn’t ordinarily associated with the exacting nature of a business owner. But Otto’s Abode isn’t just a business, and Nolan hardly considers himself its owner.
Federow is approaching his fourth summer at Otto’s, where he and his wife, Hannah, operate the shop with guidance from Hannah’s parents, Dave and Sue Ziemba, who owned Otto’s from the 1990s through 2009, when it was still the Wanakena General Store.
Under their ownership, Dave and Sue held art exhibitions and interacted with locals in smaller ways—like the design and production of a new coffee mug each year. It was a hub within the town: its location next to the pick-up mailroom often attracted neighbors with armfuls of envelopes, and the store provided groceries for locals and textbooks for the nearby SUNY-ESF Ranger School. But in addition to shoppers and students, the place formed bonds through art and the common thread among them all: Wanakena.
Wanakena was founded in 1902, and much of the town remains surprisingly unchanged: the original water and sewer systems are still in operation, and many homes are renovations or reconstructions of the first buildings. At the town’s center, the old general store stands as its own time machine—it was constructed using parts of Wanakena’s first general store, which stood across the street from 1902 until its destruction in the 1960s.
When Nolan and Hannah took over in 2016, they kept some of the general store’s essence—a passerby can still drop in for a can of soup and a map—but they revived it with a vibe that’s less like a store and more like an art space. They renamed and rebranded it with a new logo: a deconstructed box, to represent the unlimited creative and social possibilities within. They even discontinued the annual mugs as a friendly re-expression of the shop’s focus: less consumerism, more real connections.
The couple felt their community’s support through these changes, save some light-hearted backlash over the mugs. Nolan’s own vision for Otto’s is primarily influenced by its heritage. He isn’t interested in the business concepts of the average 30-something entrepreneur, who might have turned the place into a modern café with eight dollar lattés and an open WiFi network. The Federows’ foundation is built around community and so is Otto’s—the shop’s name is a nod to one of Wanakena’s founding fathers, Otto Hamele. Otto’s daughter Polly, who died this past December at 95, told Federow, “My dad would have liked this place.”
Nolan holds Polly’s words close. To him, Otto’s is a contribution to the spirit of Wanakena that Otto Hamele helped create.
Inside Otto’s, you’ll find a few pieces of Nolan’s personal art. One is a sprawling, mostly white canvas, with a few painted lines. The piece might appear abstract, but to a Wanakena resident, the canvas is a map of their town. Locals often find a spot along the painted lines, point to it, and share a story, bringing the community together through their connection with place and creativity.
The Abode’s proximity to multiple hikes leaves the constant possibility for new faces, which Adirondack trails always seem to deliver. The couple’s call for art, however, resounds throughout the park and beyond. They’ve hosted artist residencies, including one musician who fell under Wanakena’s spell and left with a self-produced album—on cassette.
For artists, Otto’s is an experimental outlet; for hikers, Otto’s can be a place to refill a thermos with hot coffee and converse over the low crackle of a vinyl record. And for the curious spirit: Otto’s always holds a chair for you, where you can find your spot on the map.
IF YOU GO
Find Otto’s Abode (315-848-3008, www.ottosabode.org) at 6 Hamele Street, in Wanakena.
OTTO'S ABODE TO REPURPOSE GENERAL STORE
BY SUSAN MENDE - WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES - OCTOBER 13th, 2015
WANAKENA — Plans are in the works to convert the Wanakena General Store into Otto’s Abode, a community gathering spot furnished with couches that will also include an art studio. After operating in this small hamlet for more than 100 years in two different locations, the general store shut down Sunday. For the past 5½ years, the store had been run by Rick Kovacs and his wife, Angie Oliver. It was previously operated by David R. and Susan J. Ziemba, who own the building and reside above the store at 6 Hamele St. This spring, the Ziembas’s daughter, Hannah R., and her boyfriend, Nolan J. Fedorow, plan to open Otto’s Abode. They will be renovating the space over the winter months. Ms. Ziemba said the name was chosen to recognize the late J. Otto Hamele, a community leader in the early 1900s who was instrumental in securing land for the Wanakena Ranger School after the Rich Lumber Co. closed in 1910. “He kept the community alive,” Ms. Ziemba said. Plans for Otto’s Abode are still being worked out, but the idea is to provide a creative space for artists, live music performances, demonstrations, yoga classes or other activities. The Adirondack community has a large influx of seasonal residents in the warmer months, but Ms. Ziemba said it’s difficult to generate enough business to keep a general store running all year. “It may not be as realistic to have a store with general goods that’s so reliant on summer population,” she said. Now that the Wanakena store is closed, the nearest place for residents to purchase groceries is about seven miles away in Star Lake, which has an IGA and a Nice N Easy. Ms. Ziemba said a small studio will be created in one section of the 1,300-square-foot space. The larger space will have couches and other furniture and books will be available to borrow. Some type of refreshments will be sold. Visitors will also be able to purchase ice, maps, hiking reference materials, T-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs. Plans for Otto’s Abode will also depend on feedback and interest from community members. “It’s a blank canvas for anything people need,” Ms. Ziemba said. “We’ll be able to adapt and evolve to what’s needed.” Ms. Ziemba is a massage therapist, but plans to offer that service at a different location. Mr. Fedorow has a degree in fine arts. Christopher L. Westbrook, president of the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp., said he’s encouraged that the former store won’t remain vacant. “There are people who are very sad about the store closing,” Mr. Westbrook said, “but I’m thrilled that we have young people coming in who have energy and enthusiasm to do something different.” Ms. Ziemba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wanakena General Store To Close In October
by Phil Brown - September 3rd , 2015
The Wanakena General Store, a community fixture for decades and a purveyor of outdoor supplies to those heading into the wilderness, will close its doors on October 15.
Rick Kovacs, who ran the store for the past five years with his wife, Angie Oliver, said business was too slow in the off-seasons to make a living.
“Any gains I make during summer are gone by February, and then I just have to hang on,” Kovacs told Adirondack Almanack.
Wanakena is a tiny hamlet on the Oswegatchie River on edge of the Five Ponds Wilderness. A former lumbering community, it is known today primarily as the home to the New York State Ranger School, from which Kovacs graduated in 1976.
The general store, located in the same building as the post office, has been at the same spot for about sixty years, according to Kovacs. It sells groceries, outdoor supplies, clothing, and other goods.
Kovacs, who is 61, returned to Wanakena more than a decade ago to open the Packbasket Lodge. When the general store was in danger of shutting down, he took that over too and signed a five-year lease.
Once the lease expires in October, Kovacs intends to put more time into his lodge. Since opening the lodge, he has cultivated a loyal following. “It caters to baby boomers who like the outdoors but don’t want to sleep on the ground anymore,” he said.
Still, he describes closing the store as a “bittersweet decision.”
“I don’t want to drive 35 miles to buy groceries,” he said. “I like the convenience of the store, but I couldn’t make a living at it.”
The store will be missed by its regular customers. One of them is Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, who owns a second home in Wanakena.
“My wife and I, like many other year-round visitors, are very, very sad about the closing of the general store,” he said. “It was an important part of the Wanakena community. It was located next to the post office, and it was a great place to meet your friends and neighbors.”
Hikers, paddlers, cross-country skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts frequently stop at the store to stock up on supplies, get the latest weather forecast, find out about trail conditions, or get directions to backcountry destinations.
“If I had a dollar for every person I directed to High Falls or High Rock or Janacks Landing or Cat Mountain, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Kovacs remarked.
Wanakena lost another landmark a few years ago: its celebrated footbridge over the Oswegatchie was destroyed by ice jams. The bridge is going to be rebuilt, but there are are no plans to reopen the general store.
Dave Ziemba, who owns the store’s building, said his daughter, Hannah, and her boyfriend plan to open an artist-in-residence studio in part of the building. The rest of the store will become a public space where they will sponsor music and other events. Details are still being worked out, but Ziemba said hikers and other visitors may be able to stop by for a cup of coffee, a newspaper, or a map. They plan to call it Otto’s Abode in tribute to a man who played an important role in starting the ranger school. "It’s not going to be retail as much as it is arts and music,” said Ziemba, who ran the store before Kovacs. “It’s going to be free flowing.”