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Stress Levels Remain High For Downtowns

Downtowns are nowhere near the hub of activity they were some four decades ago. Longtimers here have lamented that fact for many years.

Brooklyn Square, a community gathering place for shopping and food filled with energy, was one of those casualties. In the 1970s, the federally supported Urban Renewal program took down some 150 buildings, displaced 125 active businesses and about 100 families that were the heart of the city.

Its unique and treasured spirit was forever lost.

In Dunkirk, residents remain so angry they could spit when they reflect on a similar scene. Neighborhoods in close proximity to Lake Erie were uprooted as blocks resembled war zones 50 years ago in an effort to fix something that was never broken.

Both cases changed the course of two cities, which saw their greatest glory days in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, many would make the argument that they have never recovered.

Enter the year 2020. A sense of momentum seemed evident. In the north, Dunkirk was building up its waterfront while seeing some noticeable growth in its manufacturing sector, specifically with a recent $87 million investment by Wells Corp. at Fieldbrook Foods for its ice cream producing facility.

Jamestown also was on a roll. The National Comedy Center continued to receive plenty of fanfare and rave reviews from across the nation as the core of the city from Second to Fourth streets continued to take on a new look that began in 2006 with an ice arena as the anchor.

But no one saw the coronavirus coming. Even when we did start to take notice, in late February and early March, we never thought it could possibly shut down the greatest country in the world.

How wrong we were.

During a visit here last week, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul took a trip along East Third Street that included visits to a pizzeria, a cafe, another restaurant and ERA Team VP Real Estate. It was partly a pep talk, but it brought plenty of good will as well from Albany.

“We want to support Jamestown,” Hochul said during the visit. “We want to support Chautauqua County.”

Hochul’s hopes are to see the downtown retail rebound continue here — and across the rest of upstate. That is easier said than done.

While many of the Americans who sheltered in place for more than 10 weeks cannot wait to get out of their homes, there are others doing just the opposite. They are not ready to get back to normal until they can be assured it is safe.

Even with the reopening continuing, Main Street still has a long way to go. The only real way for businesses that lost two months of revenue to bounce back is through having buyers coming back.

“Customers are just starting to come back now, but there’s no way they can make up for the extraordinary losses,” said Hochul, who donned a mask as the media surrounding her did the same in front of the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

Throughout the pandemic, saving small business has been a hot topic — locally and across the nation. Ironically, one week before everything shut down, one of the most upbeat celebrations ever seen in the north county took place. More than 500 residents braved chilly temperatures and a picturesque snowfall to celebrate the victory and arrival of the “Small Business Revolution” to the village of Fredonia.

Many of the revelers stuck around for hours while later patronizing businesses and restaurants within the half-mile area. Things, for that night at least, were looking up.

Hochul’s sentiments are very similar to Fredonia’s efforts that led to winning a visit by the “Revolution” team. Much has been devoted in terms of awareness and big-cash projects to turn around what seems like a 50-year recession for our region.

“Believe me, the state of New York has invested a phenomenal amount of money in Jamestown and Chautauqua County under our administration,” Hochul said. “You can’t walk a block without seeing our investment. … It’s important to us as a state to continue this rebirth and revitalization in places like Jamestown and throughout.”

Even as cases statewide decline, COVID-19 continues to present a major threat to the health of individuals worldwide. Many bars and restaurants continue to struggle. Unfortunately, some of these establishments, including Pal Joey’s as was noted in Wednesday’s Post-Journal, have decided they will not be reopening.

Though Hochul highlighted federal loan programs and state funding that has been set aside for those retailers needing assistance, the uncertainty and stress have not eased for those shops around here that rely on summer tourism. “We have a lot of figuring out to do,” she said. “I don’t have an answer right now. We know the challenges that lie ahead of us. … Our economy has been devastated.

“We will find an answer. We will get through this.”

John D’Agostino is regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and the Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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