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LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) – The sites, the sounds and the spirit of the season come to life at the iconic Lancaster Opera House.

Built in 1897, the Opera House is considered a heartbeat of the community. Village Mayor Lynne Ruda says it attracts about 30,000 visitors a year.

“The Lancaster Opera House is a cultural hub for this community,” Ruda said. “I think that’s one of the things that we’ve seen over the course of decades. It brings people in from out of town. And the goal is to keep people here.”

The town hall is also part of the building, and the doors to the Opera House are open to everyone.

“We are open to the community,” Executive Director David Bondrow said. “We have weddings, public hearings ceremonies you name it. We host concerts for our local high schools here, we’re open for everybody.”

The Village of Lancaster is experiencing a renaissance of new shops and restaurants, and the Opera House is in the middle of it all.

“I’ve noticed since I’ve been here, a whole bunch of new shops and restaurants and bar openings,” Bondrow said. “When I get a phone call, people don’t ask, ‘What’s the show about?’ They say, ‘I hear Lancaster is hopping. Where can I eat, where can I shop, where can I go?’”

“For the past 50 years, there hasn’t been much happening in the downtown Lancaster area,” Ruda added. “Now, we finally have everything working together where people can come see a show, go shopping and go eat right in our community.

The Opera House has a rich history, and not just with theater. During World War I it was a soup kitchen and during World War II sewing machines were brought in where they made parachutes for troops.

But after the war, it stood vacant until it was restored in a 1976 bicentennial project.

“I know the Opera House has had its ups and downs,” Ruda said. “We are historically minded in this community. [Lancaster is] going to be celebrating our 175th anniversary in 2024. We look at this building, we look at what the Opera House does, as so important to a part of our history, but also a part of our future.”

Don Postles is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1993. See more of his work here.