The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

February 13, 2010

City still has much to offer


Much has been made of Oneonta's double-whammy loss of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and Oneonta Tigers minor league baseball team. Combined with the controversy over the Foothills Performing Arts Center, these losses are disheartening.

However, from where I sit, as a lifelong resident of Oneonta, the future looks bright. In the years since Bresee's Department Store closed, the opening of the long-awaited Clarion Hotel on Main Street seemed the only bright spot among news of baseball camps and Southside chain stores. But now, big things are poised to happen in downtown Oneonta.

The Bresee's restoration project is in progress, with plans to turn the former Main Street hub into a combination of retail, office and apartment space. Just behind Wall Street, which will be revitalized as part of the project, another beloved Oneonta landmark is also undergoing renovations. The Oneonta Theatre's new owners have pledged to restore the historic theater to its former glory and make it a venue for live music of all kinds.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Oneonta World of Learning is working to find space and raise money to establish a children's museum in Oneonta that would celebrate our history as a railroad town and farming community and give kids a fun place to discover, create, explore and play.

This is exciting stuff! Oneonta should capitalize on the momentum generated by these projects and develop new collaborations that tap into our rich community of educators, artists, writers, musicians, dancers and thespians.

Oneonta has the potential to be a regional destination _ not just for residents of the surrounding rural area, but for Cooperstown tourists and day-trippers, too. People will come here not just for the grocery stores and the cheap Made-in-China goods, but for concerts, plays, dance lessons, art shows, literary readings, ethnic food, community festivals and a vibrant Main Street featuring small shops specializing in excellent service and quality merchandise.

I'm hopeful that the Foothills board of directors will develop a new business model that includes greater collaboration with the many talented artists and performers in our community. I trust that Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller will succeed in his quest to bring collegiate baseball to Damaschke Field. And I'm optimistic that a positive use will be found for the National Soccer Hall of Fame facility.

In the meantime, I will continue to support downtown businesses and events. I get tired of hearing people lament, "There's nothing on Main Street" and, "It's not like it used to be." Yes, times have changed, but downtown is still a community hub.

People may not flock to Main Street on Thursday nights anymore, but they turn out in droves for community events such as the Grand & Glorious Garage Sale and OH Fest. They may not fill the stands in Neahwa Park's Damaschke Field for baseball games, but they show up in large numbers for the Hometown Fourth of July celebration and the Pit Run.

In an economy that's been termed the worst since the Great Depression, it's tougher than ever for small businesses to survive. Yet, new businesses are popping up all over the place on Main Street.

The Capresso coffee shop, Fiesta Mexican restaurant, Tino's pizzeria, Fat Mike's hot dog joint and the Karma Spa and Boutique all have opened in the last year or so. Other relatively recent arrivals, such as Athens Famous Gyro and the Green Toad Book Store, appear to be thriving _ and some longer-running businesses, including the Green Earth, Elena's, Latte Lounge and Sport Tech, have expanded into larger spaces.

Times have certainly changed since the days of Bresee's and Woolworths, but the excellent service that sets small businesses apart from large chain stores has not. This past Christmas, I bought a pair of boots at McLaughlin's Shoes and a month later, one of them ripped. The store owner gave me my money back, no questions asked.

I also ventured into Stevens Hardware, one of the oldest businesses on Main Street, for the first time. I was looking for cast-iron pans for my environmentally conscious sister. Not only did I find the pans at a decent price, but I got all my questions answered, and the store owner insisted on carrying the pans out to my car.

So, rather than being discouraged about what we've lost, I'm appreciating what we have. In an era of rampant growth among big-box stores, it's nice to know that, in Oneonta, at least, good things still come in small boxes.

Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.