from SETH CLARK
To the Editor:
Oneonta has felt spooky to me lately.
“Spooky” is kind of a funny word for a newspaper, but it really is the word that best describes how I feel about so many longstanding local businesses closing. Several were touchstones of my life, businesses that have operated in the greater Oneonta area for decades.
I decided a couple of weeks ago to see if my spooky feeling could be backed up, so I embarked on a project of counting closed businesses. I decided to limit my count to businesses that had closed their doors (and not re-opened in another location) within the last three years. I decided to limit my count to stores and restaurants.
Within an afternoon, I had counted 58.
A few words about my methodology. (This kind of count is not as simple as it seems.)
I counted vacant spaces in the strip malls on the Southside. I counted vacant spaces inside Southside Mall, and I counted vacant spaces on Main Street, (although I did not count spaces – like the notorious Java Island space – vacant for more than three years.)
Otherwise I just used my memory. Some, like Asian Temptation, have been replaced by like-kind businesses, but many, including Oneonta institutions like Friendly’s, Ruffino’s and Christopher’s, have not. And many businesses on this list did not, ostensibly, close due to lack of traffic, including Ruffino’s and Christopher’s. But if Oneonta was thriving the way that we would like it to thrive, they would also have been rebuilt or replaced with like businesses.
Obviously, this is a high number of closings. The last few years and the advent of hugely successful Internet-based businesses has come with a lot of talk about “business disruption,” and how a certain amount of turnover in the numbers and types of businesses in operation is healthy. But I would submit that there is nothing healthy about 58 businesses closing in a small city of approximately 15,000 people within three years. That’s enough to tear a community apart.
People can quibble, but I think the general message that this list imparts is clear. We have a huge problem. When you add to this the community services that Oneonta has lost over the past few decades – an airline with a once-a-day run to New York City, several schools including a school district in the Center City Area, Fox Hospital’s obstetrics ward, the Soccer Hall of Fame – we really do appear to be a small city in decline. If this doesn’t concern you, it should.
I used up my allotted number of words, so next week I will write another letter with ways I think we can attack this problem. I will say this: I don’t believe that this problem has been caused by Mayor Herzig – who works hard every day to create jobs in Oneonta – or Common Council. I think the root cause is Amazon, and the new “digital economy” as a whole. But local politicians DO need to be part of the solution. More later.
Clark and Mark Davies are vying in the June 25 Democratic primary to run for the Ward 2 Common Council seat.