Dear Rochester: Keep Your Head Up

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The last few days have seen a report about Rochester’s country-worst metro job market and now today, the closing of Hart’s, Rochester’s downtown independent grocery store.  In a city that’s beginning see downtown growth, these announcements were a sort of gut punch to an optimistic but extremely fragile view of Rochester’s future.

The news about Hart’s was particularly difficult for myself and others to take. The owners saw the potential in our growing downtown at a time when few others did. Five years ago, they took a leap and opened a beautiful grocery store, a sort of bold “we’re all in, who’s with us” move that seemed to legitimize our Center City revival. Today, their closing reminded us that we still have a long way to go.

The exciting Eastern Inner Loop infill is on the verge of welcoming hundreds of residents. Other residential projects on Alexander Street, Goodman near I-490 and the massive complex south of Court Street will bring hundreds more. Downtown is beginning to swell, and as we continue to grow our city, we will finally reach the point where a grocer will not just succeed, they will thrive.

Sometimes urban pioneers are able to share in the celebration as our cities move forward. Unfortunately, so many others must rest with the knowledge that they paved the way for a brighter future.

And that’s how we need to see this loss in our minds. When Hart’s opened, it inspired many of us to believe in the possibility of downtown Rochester’s potential once again. It was an awakening from a nightmare of complacency, a sort of radiant sunrise that forced us out of our urban slumber and into our morning routine. Hart’s was a key element that inspired us to believe in our Rochester selves again.

I will miss Hart’s. I truly feel for the owners, the employees and their loyal followers. But today, let’s not look upon this with pessimism. Instead, let’s thank Hart’s for helping to generate an energy that will continue to grow. This is not the end of Rochester’s spirit, it is a difficult step in a much larger transition. One of our “booster rockets” may be falling away, but I truly believe it helped to give us the momentum we need to continue upward.

This isn’t just blind optimism for Rochester, it’s a reminder to everyone in our cities that this transition is more than one step forward or backward. Like a toddler, we are going to do a lot of stumbling on our way to developing a better urban concept, and a more sustainable community. This is very new. We’re going to fail. We’re going to make mistakes. Just keep your head up, we’ll get there