By Joe Kirchmyer
It was a quiet Sunday morning in Blasdell when two white vans carrying 25 guests from SUNY New Paltz pulled up to the Past & Present Science and Nature Store on South Park Avenue just past 10 a.m. For most of the earth science education and geology majors on a four-day excursion through upstate and Western New York, it was their first visit to this hidden gem.
And suddenly, these future scientists and educators were like kids in a candy store, their expressions of glee and excitement immediately noticeable as they walked through the front entrance.
“Holy moly,” “wow,” “oh my God,” “whoa” and “awesome!” were just some of the exclamations heard as the road weary students made their way into this incredible store and gallery featuring everything from crystals, gems and minerals to fossils, dinosaur bones, scientific books, educational toys and unique items from around the globe.
The much-anticipated visit from the New Paltz students has become an annual occurrence, according to Past & Present owner Glen LaPlaca, an expert in the field of geoscience. In fact, the store frequently welcomes tour groups both local and from across the country.
“Every group is different,” said LaPlaca. “For some we do presentations and full-blown classes.” Sunday’s visit was informal, offering the students a chance to see and hold items often only found in museums.
Leading the excursion was Alex Bartholomew, professor of geology at SUNY New Paltz, located just 90 minutes or so from New York City. He and his students spent Thursday in Syracuse, Friday in Geneseo and Saturday in Lewiston searching for fossils and learning about geology and paleontology.
Student Alysia Myers of Saugerties, N.Y., was just one of the students making her first trip to the Western New York area. She hopes to be a paleontologist one day. Fascinated by her discoveries at Past & Present, she said she was going to purchase a Spinosaurus tooth before leaving.
“When am I going to have that opportunity again?” asked Myers, who was also deeply interested in the store’s vast collection of gemstones. In particular, the colorful calcite gemstones really caught her attention.
Stefanie Rodriguez, an elementary education major with a concentration in earth science, spent much of her time enjoying Past & Present’s gallery. “It’s just so interesting to see things like this, especially the troglodyte items,” she said.
As the students maneuvered their way through the store and gallery, a line started to form at the lone cash register. With fossils, minerals, gems, books, posters and educational games in their hands, the students carefully selected items to take back to their homes and dorm rooms as a remembrance of this visit to Western New York and a small but fascinating store and gallery located in the gateway to the Southtowns.
Store hours at Past & Present, located at 3767 South Park Ave., are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Additional hours for groups and tours are available by appointment. For more information, please visit www.pastpres.com, call 825-2361 or follow Past & Present Science and Nature Store on Facebook for frequent updates.