Cheese Barrel bounces bacek

By Pauline Liu
Nearly nine months after the raging floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene swept through the Cheese Barrel and Gourmet Shop on Margaretville’s Main Street, owner Sue Ilho is back. The shop reopened on Saturday to rave reviews.

“Oh, wow!” shouted former neighbor John Kaufman. “ This is blowing my mind. It’s better than new. I’m in awe.”

That response is not unique. It occurs with each returning customer. “Oh, wow!” shouted an unidentified woman a few minutes later, as she walks through the shop’s front door. Ilho beams. She admits she can barely believe it herself. 

Overhwhelmed
“I’m overwhelmed with joy, happiness, I don’t know,” said Ilho. “I would have never envisioned the way the place looks now, not even in January, not even in my dreams, did I think it would look this nice. I’m still in shock.” The business’ transformation has even had an emotional impact on some of her customers. “Several people were crying,” she said. “They were happy for me. You know, they had tears in their eyes.”

The Cheese Barrel endured extensive structural damage as the result of the flood. Her business is the first on the block to return. According to Ilho, it took a combination of flood insurance claims and grants to put her business back together, including a $30,000 grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation, a grant from Delaware County Economic Development and the MARK Project.

While she waited for funding, Ilho didn’t go far. The resourceful businesswoman moved her Cheese Barrel to a temporary location across the street in the storefront of the Galli-Curci Theatre building.  During that time, she received a gift that would change everything. “Gerry Murphy of M. Gerard Home (in Margaretville) offered me a gift to design my new store,” she said. “He wanted to see it more open. That was his vision and it’s fabulous. Without him, I wouldn’t have known where to start.” The construction work was done by Bill Fane of Roxbury, who was busily painting the trim on the windows on Monday.

Better than new
Ilho agrees with her customers. It’s better than new. The paint on the walls is mostly in earth tones. The look is warm and chic. There are new wood floors, ceiling fans, track lighting, a new deli counter and several new refrigerators. All but one had to be replaced due to flood damage. Ilho has several employees, who’ve all returned. “They couldn’t wait to come back to work,” she said.

Ilho explained there’s been an additional delay in opening buildings along the Binnekill, because most of the businesses used propane for heating and cooking, but now they’ve  switched to electric. “There was a big tank on the DeBari property (Now and Then Video) that we all got our propane from,” she said. “After the DeBari property was demolished, we couldn’t get another gas company to come in and do the lines, because they would have to change them all. So we decided to all go electric.” Her neighbors, Lore and Juergen Mahler, have also completed the work and are ready to rent their two commercial storefronts.

When the Cheese Barrel marks its 23rd anniversary this October, Ilho will have plenty of reasons to celebrate. She’s inviting customers to come to the “new” Cheese Barrel. 

“I’m sticking with the regular menu for now, until we get used to the space and then we’ll add some other items,” she said. “We’ll start serving ice cream on Friday. I want to do paninis soon.” In a sign of the return to normalcy, Ilho is preparing to hit the streets of Margaretville with volunteers from the flower committee of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. It’s a volunteer job that she’s held for more than two decades. As they’ve done for years, committee members will be planting their much-acclaimed floral arrangements throughout the village. “We want to make the community look nice,” she said. 

For more information, contact the Cheese Barrel and Gourmet Shop, 798 Main Street at 586-4666.