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Stress levels high for downtowns

JAMESTOWN — There’s a definite distaste for state leadership here as well as in Warren County. Even though this Western New York city is strongly Democratic, it can be tough on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Since March, Cuomo has been in the national spotlight for how his state has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis. Through it all, he has received high praise while also plenty of criticism.

Chautauqua County, outside of its two cities, is strongly Republican. Its state representatives are rattling cages that the governor, through this state of emergency, continues to have too much power.

They are not wrong, but they face an uphill battle. While upstate sees red, the blue of New York City has full control of much of the decision making.

Warren County knows the sentiment. Oftentimes, what’s best for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, isn’t what is best for the rural regions.

Pennsylvania last week passed a resolution that ended a majority of Gov. Tom Wolf’s powers regarding a disaster declaration tied to COVID-19. Just like the Empire State, Pennsylvania’s economy has taken a hit over the last three months from the shutdown brought upon by the coronavirus.

“Clearly, it has become a matter of survival for more businesses and our entire economy to reopen immediately,” said state Rep. Kathy Rapp.

One thing Jamestown does have on its side, however, is a second in-command who resides in Buffalo, just an 80-minute drive away.

During a visit here last week, New York state Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul took a trip along East Third Street in the city that included visits to a pizzeria, a cafe, another restaurant and ERA Team VP Real Estate. It was partly a pep talk, but it brought plenty of good will as well from Albany.

“We want to support Jamestown,” Hochul said during the visit. “We want to support Chautauqua County.”

Hochul’s hopes are to see the downtown retail rebound continue here — and across the rest of upstate. That is easier said than done.

While many of the Americans who sheltered in place for more than 10 weeks cannot wait to get out of their homes, there are others doing just the opposite. They are not ready to get back to normal until they can be assured it is safe.

Even with the reopening continuing, Main Street still has a long way to go. The only real way for businesses that lost two months of revenue to bounce back is through having buyers coming back.

“Customers are just starting to come back now, but there’s no way they can make up for the extraordinary losses,” said Hochul, who donned a mask as the media surrounding her did the same in front of the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

Throughout the pandemic, saving small business has been a hot topic — locally and across the nation. Ironically, one week before everything shut down, one of the most upbeat celebrations ever seen in the north county took place. More than 500 residents braved chilly temperatures and a picturesque snowfall to celebrate the victory and arrival of the “Small Business Revolution” to the village of Fredonia.

Many of the revelers stuck around for hours while later patronizing businesses and restaurants within the half-mile area. Things, for that night at least, were looking up.

Hochul’s sentiments are very similar to Fredonia’s efforts that led to winning a visit by the “Revolution” team. Much has been devoted in terms of awareness and big-cash projects to turn around what seems like a 50-year recession for our region.

“Believe me, the state of New York has invested a phenomenal amount of money in Jamestown and Chautauqua County under our administration,” Hochul said. “You can’t walk a block without seeing our investment. … It’s important to us as a state to continue this rebirth and revitalization in places like Jamestown and throughout.”

Even as cases statewide decline, COVID-19 continues to present a major threat to the health of individuals worldwide. Many bars and restaurants continue to struggle. Unfortunately, some of these establishments, including Pal Joey’s as was noted in Wednesday’s Post-Journal, have decided they will not be reopening.

Though Hochul highlighted federal loan programs and state funding that has been set aside for those retailers needing assistance, the uncertainty and stress have not eased for those shops around here that rely on summer tourism. “We have a lot of figuring out to do,” she said. “I don’t have an answer right now. We know the challenges that lie ahead of us. … Our economy has been devastated.

“We will find an answer. We will get through this.”

John D’Agostino is regional editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and the OBSERVER in Dunkirk. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111, ext. 253.

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