The retail/services sector provides the goods and services that we use in our everyday lives. This sector is impacted by location (remote or close to population centers) and population density. Over the years retail has changed from being dominated largely by local entrepreneurs to one which is now dominated by the “Big Boxes”. In the past there were many “ma & pa” businesses which were the backbone of our community, e.g. Stevens Hardware or Hotaling’s Grocery store on lower River Street. They not only provided the goods and services the community required, but they also supported the community by using local non-public sector services such as banks, insurance companies, car dealers, etc. They served on the local school boards, in local government, service groups and not only gave their time but also donated their resources. This has changed with the dominance of the “Big Boxes”.
However, their large product selection and perceived low price attracts customers from outlying towns and villages to come here to shop, eat and buy gas. The area benefits from the sales tax generated and from the property taxes and wages they pay. A mix of locally owned and operated businesses and businesses that are part of a chain based somewhere else seems to be a workable alternative.
Based upon what has been learned from other communities, having a diverse base for our economy seems prudent. Businesses tied to tourism and agriculture need to be a part of that economy. However, as we have learned from other communities, like Lake George, they cannot be the only components. Manufacturing that is compatible with our area and retail business must also play a role in order to grow the tax base needed to support the public sector and to provide much-needed jobs.
Main Street Oneonta is experiencing the same difficulty as “Main Street” almost anywhere. That may be as much a symptom of how our society has changed as any of the other possible explanations, but it is a problem and needs to be addressed. Efforts like “Main Street Oneonta”, being promoted by the mayor and others, are exploring ways to revitalize our downtown.