First floor view of Tower 280.
Urban Life

The Sad Death Of Downtown Rochester, New York

When I was a little boy, there was no other place that I wanted to be besides Downtown Rochester, New York. Every week my mother would bring me there, at least three times per week. She would shop at all the great stores that existed within the Sibley Building. And midtown plaza right across the street. There was even a sky bridge that connected the two, that kept shoppers warm and dry during Rochester, New York’s harsh winters.

Rear entrance to Tower 280.
Rear entrance to Tower 280.

As mom was shopping for clothes, I would run around the clothing racks, and even hide in them. Don’t ask me why I did these things, but it sure was a great time. Of course, all this running around and playing made me hungry. Mom would bring me across the street to McCrory’s afterwards, and buy me something to eat. For some odd reason I use to love grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cocoa. I’d sit at the counter with my feet dangling from the stool, and gobble down this odd combination of food. Or sometimes, I’d grab a huge slice of cheese pizza.

Downtown Rochester, New York’s Decline

This incredible time happened during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. Downtown Rochester, New York was so packed with people, you could hardly move. Midtown Plaza, constructed in 1962, and the first indoor plaza in the country was still open. This incredible indoor mall was the home of two large and popular stores known as McCurdy’s and B. Forman’s.

All this gradually changed from the 1960’s into the 1980’s. Suburban shopping malls such as Eastview Mall in Victor and the Marketplace Mall in Henrietta slowly took away all the shoppers. This gave McCurdy’s and B. Foreman’s no choice but to close in 1994. Very soon after, the Midtown branch of Wegman’s Food Markets followed. The once mighty, Midtown Plaza, became an empty shell with only a few stores left.

Demolition of Midtown Plaza In Rochester, New York

Governor Eliot Spitzer decided that it was beneficial to demolish Midtown Plaza. And put high hopes into a company called PAETEC, constructing its world headquarters in the newly empty lot.

Without a solid plan, Eliot Spitzer chased all the remaining Midtown Plaza businesses out, without suitable locations for them to move into. There was an incredible stored called Peebles, that’s now in Brockport. A nice little place by the name of Soup and Salad Co. was also chased away. I talked to the owner, and he was upset over how the city handled the situation.

Of course at the last-minute, when Midtown Plaza was mostly demolished, PAETEC pulled out from the deal. Eliot Spitzer wasn’t concerned with the local economy and was instead worried about filling his pockets with money. And with all the extracurricular activities he got caught doing, we can see where the money went. I’m just not going to dive too deep into that at this moment.

The most upsetting part is that now, they are looking for retail to put into the Sibley building. Wouldn’t it have made sense to move the businesses from Midtown Plaza into the Sibley building? The whole thing reminds me of the failures at High Falls and the Fast Ferry, both of which were a complete disaster.

Recently, I saw a politician on the news talking about the Photonics Industry failing to move into the Rochester, New York area. All he could say was that these things are common. I say that the only thing that’s common is that our politicians in the area can’t seem to get anything done.

Downtown Rochester, New York Lost A Social Gathering Treasure

Midtown plaza was a historic building that many were upset about seeing demolished. This wasn’t just another building that was once filled with iconic stores. It was a major piece of Rochester, New York’s history that we can never get back. Many of us grew up riding the Monorail. This incredible train that hung from the ceiling rode the length of the mall. Kids would scream with excitement as it rode past the giant Christmas tree, and through magic mountain.

Afterwards, we’d all line up to get the chance to tell the big guy what we wanted for Christmas, known as Santa Claus. This was very important to us as kids and provided phenomenal experiences that we’ll never forget. Now, when we walk past the empty lot, all we see are the images of what was once the greatest indoor mall ever built. Thanks Eliot Spitzer for the ugly empty lot, that the City of Rochester has no clue, about what to do with it.

Downtown Rochester, New York Lost Its Industries

Downtown Rochester, New York use to have lots of high paying companies. Kodak use to be the highest employer, followed by Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. As we all know, Kodak went bankrupt. Bausch & Lomb completely left the area. And Xerox is rapidly on its way out.

What’s left in the Downtown Rochester, New York area is a bunch of low-paying service jobs. These jobs pay minimum wage and offer very little opportunities for growth. Yet, the City of Rochester thinks that they’re going to get people to move back into the downtown area.

Tower 280 at end of road.
Tower 280 at end of road.

We have Tower 280, part of the former Midtown Plaza, offering outrageously priced condos. Who’s going to afford them while making a pathetic $11.00 per hour? As a matter of fact, all the apartments and lofts located downtown are way overpriced.

The Problem With Living In Downtown Rochester, New York

Downtown Rochester, New York has got a lot of revitalizing lately, and that’s a good thing. They built a new Transit Center, which is much better than waiting in the freezing cold in those horrible bus shelters. Many of the old crumbling buildings have been fixed up and looking better than ever. And much-needed bicycle lanes have been added, along with a new bike sharing program called Pace.

Pace bicycle rental station located by Harts Local Grocer’s entrance.
Pace bicycle rental station located by Harts Local Grocer’s entrance.

These are all great improvements that I agree with, and have been long overdue. Downtown Rochester, New York was looking very outdated and run down.

It’s okay for the city to pat itself on the back for the hard work and accomplishments that it’s made, but there’s still a lot to be done.

First of all, if you want people to moved back into the Downtown Rochester, New York area, you need more jobs in the area. And I’m not talking about low-paying service jobs. Rochester, New York has to start producing again. Our politicians need to stop making excuses, and instead start getting the job done.

If there are no worthy jobs in the area, why would someone want to live in Downtown Rochester, New York. They will still have to commute to work outside the area. Pay for expensive parking. And travel to grocery stores and other important places such as pharmacies.

Working Plus Living In Downtown Rochester, New York Can Decrease Poverty

A recent article by Rochester City Newspaper confirmed that transportation and poverty are linked. Many Rochester, New York residents live in poverty because they have a hard time getting to work.

This is a serious problem that I can relate to. When I first graduated from college, I didn’t own a vehicle. I was unemployed, and most of the jobs that I qualified for were located outside the city. Many of the Regional Transit Service buses either don’t take you there, or run very infrequently. This means you might have to get to your job hours beforehand. Or if you’re working late, find a way to get home.

Inside terminal area at transit center
Inside terminal area at transit center

There’s always the taxi cab or Uber, but this can get very expensive if you have to use them multiple times per week. You can always use your bicycle to ride the whole way, or use after getting off the bus. The problem is that, what do you do during bad thunderstorms or snowstorms?

Having employment in the Downtown Rochester, New York area would only need one bus. And if you also lived there, most likely just a short walk.

The Good Points About Downtown Rochester, New York

Downtown Rochester, New York is a great area with lots of potential. You have the new transit center that makes riding public transportation much easier. Many of the old historic buildings are being restored to welcome more retail.

And I do see new companies gradually moving in. This is a trend that I hope continues. Now all we need are a few innovative companies that produce products, to get the ball rolling.

A whole margherita pizza.
A whole margherita pizza at Napa Wood Fired Pizza.

There are also a few great areas surrounding the Downtown area, such as Park Avenue and South Avenue. You can find clusters of great restaurants that offer amazingly culture-rich food. Want some phenomenal Italian cuisine? Try Napa Wood Fired Pizza or Aunt Rosie’s Cafe. If you’re in the mood for a cheeseburger, you can always try Swillburger.

And if you are in the mood to shop for unique items, go to Parkleigh. Afterwards, you can go grocery shopping at Harts Local Grocers and catch a movie at The Little Theatre.

Downtown Rochester, New York Conclusion

All this sounds exciting, which it is, except for one major problem. We have to keep bringing residents back into the area, and hope they stay.

This requires jobs that will not only hire residents, but also train them. A company moving in and bringing along 5,000 of its own employees does nothing for the local economy.

Also, local residents need to make enough to pay the rent. Minimum wage jobs with no room for advancement just won’t cut it.

Row of benches in front of the Sibley building for socializing.
Row of benches in front of the Sibley building for socializing.

And while we’re at it, let’s continue to add more protected bicycle lanes and safe places to walk, away from dangerous traffic. Plus, some more green spaces for people to sit and socialize. This will cut down on the amount of traffic. And less traffic means less pollution and noise, and a better city overall.

Bicycle lane.
Bicycle lane.

Now all we need is a light rail system, that compliments the current bus system that we have, and provides better service to the outer areas, especially the airport. Then again maybe I’m asking for too much, too soon.

Let’s Have A Little Recap Here

  • Downtown Rochester, New York had a huge decline.
  • All the stores left.
  • Midtown plaza was demolished leaving an empty lot.
  • Theres no jobs downtown.
  • No place to shop.
  • Apartments cost too much.
  • No free parking.

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