I have lived all my life in, or around Syracuse, except my 4 years in college (Philadelphia) and a temporary 6-month stint in NYC. Back when I graduated from college, the world was a much smaller place, and I never considered anything other than to come home to finish my education, and live here.
I grew up on the east side of Syracuse. Every Sunday morning was a trip to East Fayette Street and Croly Ave for the Midstate Grocery for whitefish and Nova Scotia lox, and the inevitable stop at Snowflake Bakery (“Butter Makes The Difference”), always having to take a ticket to wait for our turn for challah, seeded Jewish Rye, Lace Cookies, onion rolls, Babka and their kichel (sometimes referred to as Bow Tie Cookies, which, if made correctly, are light, airy and crunchy, with a sugar top – a perfect foil for sweet wine, schnapps, coffee or tea}, half-moon cookies, and on the very most special occasions, a Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake studded with dark chocolate diamonds, and then, waiting in anticipation and fascination watching the box so quickly tied with baker’s string from a bobbin hanging down from the ceiling.
I walked every day to and from Charles Andrews Elementary School (now senior living housing), then on to our area’s first middle school, H.W. Smith. When I wanted bubble gum (Double Bubble, not Bazooka for sure) or a creamsicle, I rode my Huffy bike to “Shoppette” near Lemoyne College (now a LeMoyne College Bookstore). In the winter, since there never was a shortage of snow, we made tunnel forts for snowball fights and in the summer, all the neighborhood kids of all ages played touch football in someone’s back yard. I knew all my neighbors, down to who gave the best candy (and who gave, ughh, apples) on Halloween. We went to the Caroma restaurant every week for our American-Italian dinner. Most of my closest friends have been so for all my life. My first “date” at age 8 (chaperoned) was at the then neighborhood Westcott Theater. The prize for going shopping downtown with my mother was a trip-ending hot fudge sundae served in an ice-cold stainless dish at Shrafftes.
I have the fondest memories of sitting with my dad on the cold concrete seats at Archbold Stadium, watching Jimmy Brown, Ernie Davis, John Mackey, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and Don McPherson. I have been a season ticket holder for basketball since 1968 from Manley to the Dome.
When I was older, and had come back for Law School, little things had changed. My favorite, was (by our standards today) a late afternoon-night “pop-up” BBQ stand on the side of Maple Street north of Genesee Street consisting only of a a grill, some condiments and rolls of aluminum foil for take-away run by a 70+ year old entrepreneur “Toby” selling the best ribs ever open until he ran out (which was always). We were a community. And we shared with each other.
Fast forward, to just a few months ago, when a friend, a most accomplished restaurateur, spoke to me on the street about the re-opening of The Stoop; he said to me, “You have experience, you know what you have to do to be successful in this town, just give the masses what they want.” I was saddened. I was saddened because implicit in that statement was “you’ll be ok as long as you only do pizza, BBQ, Italian, or an Irish Pub, but don’t try to do too much” (don’t get me wrong, I love, respect and patronize all four, but often crave individuality and diversity).
We Syracusans have a chip on our collective shoulders from the constant belittling of “us” defined by our reputation as living in an area only known for snow and cold, or the loss (like the rest of our rust-belt brethren) of most, if not all our manufacturing jobs. We are less often celebrated for the beauty of our agricultural regions, glacial topography and lakes, or in acknowledging our recently established reputation for the incubation of entrepreneurship. Is it not why we put so much emotional energy into the success and failure of our sports’ teams? We love a winner, and are so angry when we are let down by under-achieving our dreams through them; yet another loss to our collective pride.
This has been so prevalent that we often hear, “you know you can’t do this in Syracuse,” or “don’t try that” or “that won’t work in Syracuse.” I say…..”why not!?”
I believe in Syracuse. And now we see, more and more every day, that there are others that do also. We see the Tech Garden, new hotels, the redevelopment of our older buildings, the Amphitheater and Lakefront, and an ongoing development of new residential life in downtown. We are infused by pioneers in the food service business in downtown Syracuse (that started with Pastabilities, Empire Brew pub and Dinosaur, and continues, with new pioneers like Otro Cinco, Original Grain, Funk and Waffles, Sakana-Ya, Modern Malt, The York, The Sweet Praxis, Café Kubal and Recess Coffee, The Fish Friar, Evergreen, Wollf’s Biergarten and the soon-to-open Eden, to name a few). All are examples that the status quo in Syracuse is not the “same old” but the new, a bright future for Our City, driven by passion, commitment, investment and the belief that Syracuse wants, needs and DESERVES more.
Let us celebrate all the good and this advancement. And let us all be a part of the solution to “Syracuse can’t….” in words and action that say “We Believe.”