Alliance breathes new life into Collegetown

By John Vogan & Robert Rivera

Marty Johnson greets his friend and fellow alliance founder Annie Quach in his store, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and soon they begin talking about the designs for the logo of their newly formed group: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance (CSBA).

The Alliance was founded this summer between Johnson, Quach — who is the general manager for Hai Hong a local Chinese restaurant — and Natalie Sweeney, owner of Natalia’s Boutique with the purpose of promoting more business in Collegetown.  Johnson says the three are good friends and wanted to form the alliance to help each other’s small businesses.

Unlike the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which has about 100 shops and serves over 50,000 residents, the CSBA is still in its early stages and has not expanded outside of its three founding members. The DIA has been a part of Downtown Ithaca since 1997, and has helped small businesses in the area thrive through special events such as Apple Fest and Chili Fest.

A map of Collegetown, alliance businesses, and parking.

A map of Collegetown, alliance businesses, and parking.

The new group’s goal is to create events in Collegetown to promote more business in the area, through street fairs and greeting college students during orientation to show them what Collegetown has to offer, says Johnson. These future events are meant to help all businesses, whether they are part of the alliance or not, he adds.

Johnson says that the trio has reached out to other local businesses, such as Big Red Barber Shop, Proper Puss, Stella’s Rulloff’s Restaurant and Nail Candy. “It’s really grass-roots right now.  We’re just bringing up the discussion before a formal invitation goes out, but everyone we’ve talked to are very much excited and say it can only be positive for the area,” says Johnson.

Matthew Taylor, general manager for Stella’s agrees that the alliance would be beneficial to his restaurant.  He says he is awaiting further news about the CSBA.

Quach, who was born and raised in Ithaca, and spent much of her childhood growing up in Collegetown says the area is declining in terms of business flow, which is why she felt there was a need for the Alliance.

One of the problems many stores in Collegetown are facing is foreclosure due to the high cost of rent.  Sweeney says she pays $2000 each month for her 1,010 square-foot store.  Local realtor Jeff Goodmark says that the average price of retail rental in Collegetown is three times as much as other area in Ithaca, placing a strain on revenue.

Johnson and the alliance have also talked briefly to Cornell University about planning events with the college for their summer program.  The CSBA hopes Cornell will consider housing students closer to Collegetown during summer sessions to make it easier for them to shop there. The move could potentially create new patronage during  the slow months when most students leave for summer break.

Gabrielle Cramer, a Cornell student who has lived in Collegetown for the past two years thinks the alliance would be a step in the right direction for students. She says it would be nice to have more options for students to do activities over the weekends, and the alliance would help.

“There are a few different bars that closed down. It’s not that Collegetown is not bumping, but its transitioning,” says Cramer, who adds that the alliance can help with this transitioning period.

Johnson also publishes a blog on his company website, where further updates for the alliance’s progress can be found.

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