Main St. dining closures bring crowds back to eager businesses

Robert Cairns | The Daily StarA banner advertising the weekly closures of Main Street in Oneonta for a summer street festival is shown Friday, July 30.

This week marks the half-way point for Oneonta’s weekly “Meet Me on Main Street” events in downtown Oneonta and, for many businesses, it has been beneficial.

Every Saturday this summer, except for July 3 when storms threatened to wash away the festivities, Main Street has been closed to vehicular traffic from Chestnut Street to Elm Street, Eighth Ward Councilman Mark Drnek said.

This year’s Meet Me on Main Street, which began June 19 and will run until Labor Day weekend, was planned after a successful eight-week street closure run in 2020,  Drnek said.

“We closed Main Street and set up tables outside for restaurants to use,” Drnek said. “We wanted to make sure the restaurants would stay in business. We were interested in keeping Main Street alive as the pandemic forced local businesses outside.”

Drnek said each week has been sponsored by a local business. That business plans something special, whether it’s kids’ games by Springbrook or a barbecue contest happening Aug. 14, sponsored by Community Bank.

“This week there will be an electric vehicle show from 10 a.m. to noon,” Drnek said. In addition to the car show, there will be booths about green energy lining Main Street, vendors in Muller Plaza, live music throughout the day and Huntington Library will have a “kids zone” from 1-3 p.m., he said.

Every week three stages are set up along Main Street, Drnek said. The stages are set up at three locations — one near Chestnut Street and the Artisan’s Guild, the second in Muller Plaza and the third near Elm Street, he said. Music is staggered throughout the day, beginning at 10 a.m. at the first stage, he said. This week’s schedule is as follows: stage one — Alison Mop at 10 a.m., Big Frank & Johnny at 1 p.m. and Tim Kurtzberg at 4 p.m.; stage two — Doug Decker at 11 a.m., Jillian’s Dance at 2 p.m., Band of One at 2:15 p.m. and Stan Fox and Gerry Falco from 5-7 p.m.; and stage three — Rich Mollin at noon, Rob Hunt at 3 p.m. and Wendy Slicer at 7 p.m.

“After the first performer stops playing, music begins at the second stage for an hour, and then the third stage,” Drnek said. “This loop continues until 8 p.m. We want to move people to different points of downtown Main Street, so they will shop or dine along the way.”

Wise Guys Sammy’s owner Mike Joubert said that the closure has been great for his business. He said Saturday’s business has increased between 15 and 20% during the Main Street event.

“We have a smaller dining area than some other restaurants and having the tables outside has been helpful,” Joubert said.

He said the city gives him four tables with chairs and umbrellas to use on Saturdays and he has two other tables with chairs that he can put outside his 261 Main Street restaurant to serve customers.

“It’s great, we get to see a lot of people,” he said. “This fills in for when college isn’t here.”

He said having the event will also introduce people to the restaurants along Main Street. He said he encourages people to walk the street and try a different restaurant each week.

“Oneonta is lucky to have some very good restaurants,” he said. “Nina’s, Sal’s, Wise Guys, Simply Thai, Tino’s, the Autumn Cafe, Hill City Grill. Some of the best New York style pizza can be found here.”

According to Drnek, most business owners he has talked to have seen an increase in foot traffic and business, except the pizzerias.

“It’s not great for them,” he said. “They seem to rely more on vehicle traffic. We have to figure out how we can help them.”

He said the Meet Me on Main Street committee will conduct a survey at all the businesses on Main Street at the end of the program to see if they would like it to continue next year.

Theresa Cyzeski, owner of Theresa’s Emporium at 155 Main St., said last year’s and this year’s street closure has benefited her business and she hoped that the closure will continue next year.

“Last year they did closings in August and it was good for business,” Cyzeski said. “It increased foot traffic along Main Street.”

She said so far this year, “has been wonderful. Sales have gone up. It has been great seeing locals come downtown. They feel free to just walk around and listen to music and have fun.”

In addition to having sales, Cyzeski brought her granddaughter’s goat to the store last week to visit with kids and has plans to have a Farming Day and a play preview by a local theater company in August.

Linda Drake, owner of Fashion in Action at 261 Main Street, has also seen an uptick in sales because of the extra foot traffic on Main Street. She said her store sells fair trade products direct from India, from which the proceeds fund education in a community there.

“We have the most colorful store in town,” Drake said. She said her store has been on Main Street for three years and said closing the street is a “wonderful opportunity to bring people to area stores.”

Cyzeski said she remembers going to Main Street every Thursday evening while she was growing up in Oneonta. “It’s been really nice to see the community spirit downtown again,” she said. “When I was growing up, downtown was the place to be on Thursday night. When my kids were growing up, it was at the mall. I saw a family recently sitting down here, laughing and having a grand old time. I hadn’t seen that in a while. It was great to see.”

Drnek said people would come to Oneonta every Thursday night. “Bresee’s and other businesses on Main Street would stay open late and it was payday at the D&H Railroad. That stopped almost 40 years ago.”

He said he hoped that with Main Street closed on Saturdays, it would re-create the energy downtown once had.

“I would love to see downtown Oneonta as a destination place like Burlington, Vermont and Ithaca,” Drnek said.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.

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