Cassandra Harris-Lockwood

By: Cassandra Harris-Lockwood

There was never any plan for South Street once Urban Renewal came in and tore down most of the shops and stores. So now, as so many downtown Utica businesses thrash over the impact and uncertainty of an unexpected and impending hospital, why not consider relocating up here on South Street?

South Street was once the center of Black business enterprise in Utica. There was the Ebony Hut, a card and gift shop run by Ethel Butler. And Ann’s World, operated by the inimitable Ann Barry. Ann’s World was a fun and famous watering hole visited by residents and politicos of all stripes. Across the street was Emon Dawkins’ bar, a bit more on the dark side than Ann’s World. Both felled by the wrecking ball.
There was the notorious Tony’s Swap shop on the southeast corner of South and Steuben. It was right across the street from the Steuben Apartments, a goliath of an apartment complex much like the Obliston but not as elegant a form.

There was Club Havana, the Caribbean and Kojaks, the Pool room, the Brown Jug, Pop and Ruth’s and a laundromat all gone now. There was a large stylish yellow brick apartment building on South Street with a central courtyard in a Spanish theme, demolished too.
A major warehouse distribution center, Mutual Distributor’s, was located between Miller and West on the north side of the street and took up the entire block. (I remember pleading with city officials to refrain from demolishing the sturdy brick building, ready for loft space, which took up most of the block.)

What was once Brigano’s Market, a full-service grocer, is now the Labor Union. Unfortunately, it appears that the Hope House plans on relocating to the Labor Union’s building. The St. Francis De Sales church, designed by renowned Utica architect, Fredrick H. Gouge, remains abandoned and at risk. Hope House officials might do well to seek Historic Preservation monies for its acquisition and move across the street. Maybe Landmarks will give them a hand.

What was a Datsun Car dealership is now an NYS inspection center and the massive Progressive drycleaners complex is now a warehouse. South Street was once a bustling business district and can be once again.
For instance, the new Burmese grocery, Min Htet Win, in the former Gold Top Bakery on the northwest corner does a brisk business. They bought the adjacent lots and paved them for parking.

So, how about this? All of those businesses soon to be displaced from the Downtown Hospital…come on up to South Street. Relocate here.
From Citation Services to Park outdoor Advertising to Compassion Coalition to Dataflow to Rockford’s to the Salvation Army to Empire Kitchen and Baths, to Urbanick’s and Eggars, Caryl and Corrigan and all of the rest of those vibrant businesses about to be displaced, c’mon over to South Street. Let this be your official invitation.

These soon to be displaced businesses’ relocations can be planned and financed by the condemning authority and implemented as part of the eminent domain agreement. So much uncertainty can be relieved and accommodated in an intentional and orderly manner.All of the infrastructures is in place and ready for the redevelopment of this center city, 40 foot wide, once vibrant commercial district just 2 blocks from Genesee Street, the County, and NYS Office buildings.
There are even some major structures available for remodeling and moving into like the former Progressive Dry Cleaner and the former Calvary Church.

There is a big population of multicultural residents ready to be both clientele and employees. There is plenty of space for parking as well as development. And we’re all-ready up here for some major redevelopment.
So, let the hospital’s inhospitable land acquisition on the Westside become the gracious and open invitation from the Eastside. We look forward to your RSVP.

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