October 28, 2021

Groton Avenue Plaza church a beacon

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Believers Chapel volunteer Mike Sampson paints “Core Ten” at the new church under construction at the Groton Avenue Plaza in Cortlandville.

CORTLANDVILLE — In the Groton Avenue Plaza, off Route 222, you can shop for home essentials, get a hair cut, grab a meal and soon go to church.

Believer’s Chapel of Cortland has bought the former Thrifty Shopper location at 1118 Route 222 in the plaza, and plans to be moved in by Saturday.

For the past three years, the church has been in a building at 49 Greenbush St., which it was allowed to use for free, Pastor Jon North said Wednesday.

The Rev. Chuck Freeman, another pastor, said the church, which started three years ago, has outgrown its current space.
Believer’s Chapel, which is a nondenominational church, is based in Cicero, but has other churches across the state and internationally in India and Sri Lanka.

North, and his wife, Shelby North, started the Cortland chapter three years ago to give the community another option of where to go to church, especially those who may have had a bad experience with denominational churches.
“We started with five people and have grown to more than 100,” Jon North said.

With the number of clergy members increasing, and North wanting to institute more programs, the church needed more room.
Freeman said it would have cost about $250,000 for an addition to the Greenbush building. The solution was to find a new building.

North said he wanted to stay in the Cortlandville area. He saw the 22,000-square-foot former Thrifty Shopper building was for sale, and although it was a big space he saw its potential and inquired about the price.

It was $160,000 to purchase it, he said. And being a small church, it did not have much to spend. All of its finances come from contributions.

He turned down buying the building, but not long after the real estate agent selling it called back. The agent told him to make an offer. North offered $50,000. It was accepted.

“It was a huge blessing,” he said.

He took over the building at the beginning of the year. Having the church located in a plaza is actually a benefit to him.

“We don’t want to be traditional,” North said. “People may feel more comfortable here. It may feel like walking into a store.”

Churches located in a plaza or strip mall is a growing trend, both across the state and the nation, said Rachel Ditch, executive director of the Cortland County Council of Churches.

“Traditional churches are changing,” she said. “It is a way for churches to be more active in the world.”

The locations of traditional churches do not allow for people to regularly walk by and think about going, Ditch said. Being in a more active environment, like a plaza, brings more attention.

North said the space needs a lot of work, but he has plans of what to do with it. He would eventually like to have a soup kitchen, a food pantry, counseling rooms and use the rest of the space for community activities. Freeman added there may be after-school help for kids and a training center for skilled trades.

“The sky is the limit,” he said.

At the moment they are utilizing about half the space.

The additions could cost another $50,000. North said it would be about a five-year process to get all of the initiatives going.

For now, with work being done through the week, North said there will be enough ready by the weekend to have Mass for Easter Sunday.