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Kathy Daley | Democrat

Liberty looks to attract more shoppers to its Main Street.

Wanted: shoppers

By Kathy Daley
LIBERTY — December 10, 2010 — Main Street in Liberty enjoys its own supermarket, bakery, library and fitness center, among other amenities. So what is it missing?
Apart from, perhaps, a clothing store or a shoe repair shop, one Liberty expert — Heinrich Strauch of the Liberty Community Development Corporation (LCDC) — answers the question quite simply: Main Street needs customers.
“Main Street lives and dies by foot traffic,” said Strauch, the LCDC’s executive director. “We need people.”
Creating an environment where people want to shop is a key objective for a $500,000 state grant to the LCDC, which is a five-year-old non-profit corporation to improve the quality of life for residents and businesses in the Town and Village of Liberty.
The Main Street Program grant comes to Liberty through the New York State Office of Homes and Community Renewal. The specific goal of the program is to encourage revitalization and economic development in small rural downtowns that have lost their vitality over the years.
In Liberty, the grant will provide funds to Main Street property owners to spruce up their buildings inside and out.
“We want to create quality environments for businesses and residents,” Strauch explained. “Doing that will attract businesses and draw more people.”
Western Sullivan County already has experienced success from the state’s Main Street Program. For example, owners of a series of decaying old buildings in Kauneonga Lake were able to transform them into bright, successful lakeside restaurants through Main Street Program funds.
Recently, the river towns of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville received Main Street Grant funds, and Roscoe is also benefiting from the state program.
The specific target area for help in Liberty is the village’s historic district of primarily 1920s to 1930s-era buildings. The district stretches from roughly the Liberty Public Library at 189 N. Main St. to the Charles Barbuti Furniture Mall at 199 S. Main.
According to Pat Pomeroy, who is a consultant working with the CDC on administration of the grant, the money can be used for both exterior and interior work, to improve the front of buildings, to fix roofs and furnaces, for electrical upgrades or to do energy efficiency upgrades. Renovation of residential units in the old buildings can also be funded. She said most grants given will be in the $50,000 range.
“The idea is to help local businesspeople with their bottom line — to make them more productive,” she said.
The bottom line for the LCDC, though, is to see more customers shop the local businesses. Eventually, said Strauch, “We want to create a true walking community where people can do all their shopping.”
Already, there are several individuals looking at buying tax-foreclosed buildings with an eye to putting them to good use. With a potential grant in the offing, those people may find themselves more willing to invest their money in a Liberty building in need of serious repair.
“There are two (vacant) theatres in Liberty,” Pomeroy pointed out. “Wouldn’t it be great to revitalize them?”
Last week, the LCDC sponsored a public meeting with property owners to unveil the Main Street Program and to explain how to get funded. Etta Barbanti, a property owner and Liberty businesswoman, said there was great enthusiasm at the gathering.
“How could you not be excited about it?” said Barbanti, who is on the board of the Liberty Museum and Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to give contractors work and make the downtown look better and more desirable to come to.”
The deadline for project proposals from business owners is Feb. 15. After a review committee decides preliminarily which projects to support, final awards will be announced in May. Construction will begin and must be completed by August of 2012.
Creating quality space is only the first step for the LCDC, said Strauch. The second initiative will be to seek additional funds to help new businesses get started.
Past LCDC’s efforts in that department have met will success. In 2007, nine businesses accepted LCDC start-up funds. One of them was Floyd and Bobo’s Bakery at 98 N. Main Street, which has become a popular spot for coffee, pastry, cakes and lunch. Bakery owner Ellen Marino predicts this year’s Main Street Program will make a difference long-term in the economy of the downtown.
“There are so many sweet, quaint places in Sullivan County, and there’s no reason why Liberty can’t be one of them,” Marino said. “Already we have so much going for us. With more beautification and improvements, we can be one of those nice places with good restaurants and reasonable shopping.”

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