Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Local Housing Boom All For the Birds

It would be wonderful if things in life could be orderly. Like the rows upon rows of wood slabs collected from torn down barns and houses that wait patiently in their new temporary resting spot until a brainstorm hits Diane Rivers. This is the workshop of Cross My Heart, the shop that she owns in the little town of Wallace in Steuben County.

Tucked away neatly in the cabinets over the workbenches are every imaginable size, shape and color doorknobs. All those broken down spindles from chairs, and table legs that became useless remnants are in buckets lined up according to size, too, waiting to be recycled.

Rivers’ knows where everything is, and furthermore says enthusiastically, “whatever I grab hold of at the time, I put it to use creating unique bird houses and spindle angels from chair legs and crossbars.”

Her husband, Doug, has been supportive in her endeavors. He brings her slabs of wood from his scavenger hunts, and he gives her power tools as gifts on special occasions.

Starting out using hand tools, it wasn’t long before Rivers’ changed course to work more efficiently with power tools and saws. She treats her power tools and saws with the reverence of an experienced artisan, and her eyes light up when she shows off her equipment.

“I have taken to power tools like it is second nature.”

A born collector Rivers always has her eye out for unique pieces such as old spoons, kitchen gadgets and even dishes to use for decorative accents to individualize each birdhouse.

Life has been full of changes for Rivers’ since growing up and leaving her hometown, Hammondsport. After a couple jobs in accounting including her most recent one as head accountant for Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, she learned to be adaptable.

Selling dried flowers at area festivals, which were grown in acreage at her home in Cohocton, was her crafting hobby that blossomed into a small business on the side. After back surgery she was not able to return to a desk job, and with some calculated thought went in a new direction.

Combining all her skills together she purchased a small building in Wallace in 2005 for a permanent showplace for her birdhouses. Thus, “ Cross My Heart” got its start.

Angels were an after thought, but when her eighty year old neighbor offered her two hundred chair spindles, Rivers’ quickly began to put her artistic nature to work to match up chair posts with backs.

Recently “Cross My Heart” has expanded to the larger building next door and the smaller quarters are strictly for antiques. Owning a small business has its ups and downs in the present economy, but Rivers’ is striving to hold ground.

The average customer who walks in the front door is taken back by the birdhouses everywhere from floor to ceiling. Without even stepping into the work area, they realize that this is not your average gift shop. When someone picks up a birdhouse there is a large descriptive tag attached that tells exactly where the wood slab came from and any other little tidbit of local history’ that is unusual.

“People are looking for education about bird houses,” says Rivers in her friendly manner, and that is why she has put information on her website about the proper birdhouse to select for attracting a particular type of bird.

“The more they want to know, the more I am willing to share.”

Although the homes are made to put outside and are easy to post, many of them get no further than someone’s wall at home as if the owner is fearful of wrecking such lovely art in weather conditions.

“I have made them functional and would love to see them outside. I tell people that the size of the hole is important, where the house is located and how high off the ground. When people come back and tell me of their bird nesting success stories, I am happy.”

“You can look at the birdhouses as lost history too, and someone has to tell it, so I did,” says Rivers.

“My very first birdhouse was made from a batch of yellow lumber that was part of the Bath Campout Barn that had been sold. My mother was in a nursing home nearby and it was a nice connection to her.”

The typical accountant who thinks in facts and figures, Rivers’ charts the number of birdhouses she makes per year- now 479 for last year- and where her repeat customers come from. Learning to utilize social networking like facebook is one of her challenges this winter as traffic is sleepy on route 415 in Wallace.

Plans for the year include a new, more informative website, participation in several area festivals and of course, time in the shop with the power tools to build up her supply of angels and birdhouses.

Once spring comes tourists driving along the Conhocton River, a virtual heaven for fly fishermen and little house gift shops dotting the landscape, they can’t help but notice all the small bird size residences for sale in the front lawn of the store.

As George Strait croons the country song lyrics, “cross my heart and I promise you that all your dreams will come true,” Rivers invites people to wander inside a birder’s paradise with some angels standing by just in case.

Diane Rivers’ Cross My Heart store is on-line at for information, directions and shopping.