HURLEYVILLE — Neighbors with grins, not stares, and Center for Discovery teachers who care.

Those are the reasons Denise and Rob Lombardi say they wanted to open the Hurleyville General Store, a gift and tchotchke shop, at 227 Main St. in Hurleyville on Sept. 13.

Denise Lombardi, 45, a certified public accountant, is changing careers to run the store and be closer to the Center, which educates and treats the Lombardis’ son, R.J., 15, who’s on the autism spectrum.

Rob Lombardi, 50, helps at the shop, while maintaining his air-traffic controller career. The couple, who own homes in Liberty and in Suffolk County, say they're investing in Hurleyville for a few key reasons.

One is the education of their son by the Center, a world-renowned teacher, caregiver and researcher for individuals with complex developmental disabilities.

Another reason: The Lombardis hope their store becomes a place for individuals with disabilities to live, love and learn, while becoming acculturated. The couple's store already proudly sells several items made by individuals with disabilities.

The couple also loves Hurleyville residents’ smiles and greetings, including for R.J. and other locals with disabilities. Finally, the couple was inspired by the Center’s contributions to the hamlet’s economic development.

The Lombardis are renting their storefront from the Center, which has helped redevelop Hurleyville, renovating buildings and attracting businesses, to rejuvenate the hamlet’s economy and give individuals with disabilities places to work and feel normal.

A barbershop, restaurants, café, dance studio, movie theater, creative maker’s space, natural trail, and, now, the Lombardis’ gift store have been among the businesses that have mushroomed in the hamlet in recent years.

“With millions of dollars already invested, Hurleyville is quickly become one of the most vibrant and inclusive communities in the region,” said Helena le Roux Ohm, the Center’s vice president of strategic partnerships. Now, “The Lombardi family is helping take that vision to the next level.”

To Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante, the Lombardis “are the definition of a feel-good story.”

“I’m beyond thrilled they’re here for the extraordinary care that their son is receiving, the Center’s encouragement to open a store, and the welcoming reception from neighbors,” Vegliante added.

After two years of working with the Center, R.J. is eating a healthy diet, no longer insisting on only burgers and fries, and throwing tantrums, the couple said.

“It’s tough to say” how independent R.J. will grow as an adult, said Denise Lombardi. “But I know his future is a 1,000 times brighter working with the Center than it was when he was living with us.”

daxelrod@th-record.com