I grew up in Ossining. I went to Washington School for 2 years before it was closed, and graduated 8th grade from St Ann's School in 1981. The one consistent theme about Main Street in those days was that it was undergoing "urban renewal," which always struck me as an Orwellian term for "blight." Most of the storefronts were vacant and boarded. The buildings were crumbling. It was unpleasant and depressing.
Through the years, different politicians came up with different solutions. I recall when many of the facades were restored, so "empty, crumbling and boarded" became "empty and boarded but not crumbling." The court and police station on Spring Street, as well as the new post office, were valiant efforts. Mayor Perillo, as I recall, commissioned a study to see what common factor other downtowns had that could be applied to Main Street, and the howl that ensued after parking meters went in could be heard from here to Albany.
Older residents point to the opening of Arcadian Shopping Center (then known as "Arcadian Gardens") as the reason for all the migration of commerce out of the down town, but that smoke could never be put back in the cigar. Other river towns, such as Peekskill and Nyack, seemed to figure out how to reverse decay before Ossining did. Even a decade ago, critical mass in reversing the vacancies and malaise seemed out of our grasp. There were some businesses that had returned to Main Street, but the Ossining Bank building was a sad reminder of how far the area still had to go.
Times have changed.
This past weekend I attended the Ossining Village Fair, and there wasn't just energy. There was commerce. Business has returned to Main Street. The buzz, gone since before my own arrival on the terra firma in 1967, is back. My friends at Schatz Realty Group now have the renovated and restored bank building listed for residential and retail space, and with the exception of one lone building on the Bartow Block, there isn't a vacancy to be had.
I have to admit that the self esteem of a village can hinge greatly on its downtown. Ossining should no longer be a punchline. Is there room for improvement? By all means yes. I'd love to see someone do something with the old Elks Lodge. The waterfront should be a priority. The surrounding streets could do with a little more help. But we are light years ahead of the crumbling blight I witnessed in my youth. I do believe that Main Street and downtown Ossining have reached critical mass, and in this economy, that is an accomplishment.