Night and Day
Tom Cunningham, the owner of Eureka Crafts since 1981, jokingly refers to himself as ‘the father of Armory Square.’ He has been in Armory Square long enough to notice its evolution from a sparse area to an exciting commercial district, where people spend afternoons shopping and dining. Now, Armory Square may be heading in a different direction.
‘It was fun back then,’ Cunningham said about the 1970s. ‘(Now) it can be really wild.’
Built on the backs of small businesses, Armory Square grew from a slough of old warehouses into a flourishing, vibrant area. The owners of these businesses took a risk on an area that was rundown, long before the lavish bars and clubs arrived on the scene. Small businesses shaped Armory Square into a thriving area, and now chain coffeehouses and nightlife threaten what the small businesses have built.
Cunningham decided to set his business in Armory Square because of the low price of his property at the time. Before he started Eureka Crafts, he traveled around the country selling jewelry boxes he made.
‘This is the longest-running business down here,’ Cunningham said.
Businesspeople and artists developed an interest in Armory Square in the 1970s, according to www.syracusethenandnow.net. However, the climate of the area has changed since then. Cunningham described the current climate as ‘bar versus retail.’
‘A number of old people are afraid to come down here,’ Cunningham said.
The elderly are the ones who have money to spend at stores like Eureka, Cunningham said, and the raucous atmosphere caused by many of the bars discourages many from coming to Armory Square. His storefront window is filled with trinkets and glass that range in color from pink to gold to deep blue. Wind chimes hang from the ceilings, greeting cards line the walls and cases of jewelry surround the cash register. Local artists crafted the merchandise in the store.
Kristin Kuchko, manager of Amory Square pub Kitty Hoynes, acknowledged safety is an issue that needs to be addressed in Armory Square.
‘The security could be tighter in Armory Square,’ Kuchko said.
However, Kuchko believes bars are essential to the area.
‘I think the versatility of the bars (attracts) different types of people, if you want a fun bar, a laid-back bar, a classy bar, a hole in the wall,’ she said.
Not all business owners in Armory Square believe bars and clubs make a positive contribution to the area. Razzbarry, a retail store, is located one block away from Eureka Crafts on Walton Street.
Theresa Barry, the store’s owner, was part of the Armory Square that existed before it was flooded with bars and clubs. She started her business in Armory Square 12 years ago.
‘I don’t think bars add anything unique to the area,’ Barry said. ‘Bars tend to draw people who want to get drunk. The area’s saturated with bars.’
Kathie Hartnagle, owner of Mallard Tobacconist, also relies on the older adult population for her tobacco business.
Hartnagle believes no one has products like what she has in her store, adding that businesses are usually referring customers to her. She used to like the Bohemian ambiance of Armory Square and would like to see a return to the past.
‘(Armory Square) has changed in (the last) 15 years,’ Hartnagle said, attributing that change to the increase of bars and restaurants in Armory Square. ‘There needs to be more retail. Another antique store would be nice.’
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2002, there were 17 arts, entertainment and recreation businesses in Armory Square and surrounding areas. There were 62 retail businesses.
Flora Teska, owner of the Enchanted Bazaar gift shop, does not feel like the bars in the area threaten retail business, however.
‘(Bars) definitely bring in a lot of people, that’s for sure,’ Teska said.
Dream catchers and paintings of Native Americans hang from the wall, and the scent of incense wafts through the air at Teska’s shop.
‘You can’t just have gift shops,’ he said. ‘People want to go out beyond nine o’clock.’
Brian Papenheim, a bartender at Mulrooney’s, thinks bars have made a positive contribution to Armory Square.
‘(Bars) provided more business opportunities downtown,’ he said. ‘(They’ve) given people the opportunity to gather.’
Papenheim said Mulrooney’s takes the security issue very seriously.
‘We’re pretty good about enforcing our rules and regulations here,’ he said.
There are currently 17 bars that belong to the Armory Square Association, a networking organization that businesses in Armory Square can join, according to armorysquareofsyracuse.com. Eighteen retail stores belong, and the gap between the number of bars and number of stores continues to narrow.
Whether bars help Armory Square or harm it, one thing is certain: The merchandise many of the businesses in Armory Square carry cannot be found anywhere else, and people from all over recognize that.
‘I have a lot of regulars who live far away,’ Teska said.
She said people from New York City and Pennsylvania visit her store.
Some business owners think their unconventional merchandise is what makes Armory Square distinct from other areas.
Having chain stores and businesses that are not independently owned detracts from the uniqueness of the area, Barry said.
‘Otherwise, it’s just like any other shopping mall in America,’ she said.
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