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Positive growth, spirit in Gloversville highlighted at Placemaking celebration

Michael Medina, owner of Fulton County Barbershop, is presented with the first annual Placemaker in Gloversville by Downtown Development Specialist Jennifer Jennings during Placemaking in Gloversville: A Celebration Dinner at the Eccentric Club on Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Positivity permeated downtown on Thursday as community members gathered together to acknowledge the ongoing revitalization efforts in the city while gathering new ideas to continue moving forward during Placemaking in Gloversville: A Celebration Dinner.

“We began this dinner last year as part of the Placemaking 101 Conference. That event helped spark a lot of discussion, action and faith in the process of revitalization in downtown. This week we’re going to take things a little farther,” Downtown Development Specialist Jennifer Jennings said welcoming guest to the event at the Eccentric Club.

Jennings organized the dinner featuring a presentation from an expert in the economic development practice of placemaking and the presentation of the first annual Placemaker in Gloversville award to inspire and reinvigorate city dwellers working towards community renewal.

The dinner also served as a lead up to 100 in 1 Day that will be held across the city on Saturday asking residents to do roughly 100 small positive acts of service in the city on a single day to inspire the community at large to continue taking positive actions the rest of the year.

The day of community action is organized in over 30 cities worldwide and this Saturday’s event featuring 75 confirmed activities in the city will mark the first time 100 in 1 Day will be held in the U. S.

Michael Medina, owner of Fulton County Barbershop, accepts the first annual Placemaker in Gloversville award during Placemaking in Gloversville: A Celebration Dinner at the Eccentric Club on Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“Community is the cornerstone of revitalization efforts in Gloversville, personal involvement, business presence and event participation help to ensure the success of our endeavors, so again, thank you everyone for being involved in this process,” Jennings said.

Demonstrating the role that community members at every level play in downtown revitalization, Corning Intown District Management Association, Inc. Executive Director Coleen Fabrizi described the role of public and private partnerships in the renewal of downtown Corning.

“In 1972, this horrific hurricane named Agnes nearly destroyed our beautiful city and I mean nearly destroyed. The water was up to the second floor in many of our buildings,” Fabrizi said. “It was a public/private partnership that not just brought that city back from the fringe of disaster, but it propelled it forward into the incredible place that people live, work and play.”

Lives were lost in the hurricane, as were homes and businesses, but in the years following, Fabrizi said a group of city residents horrified at the sight of a historic downtown building being torn down decided to take action, organizing an incorporation.

Eventually there were three organizations working independently toward rebuilding downtown Corning that Fabrizi said came together to form one entity in 2004, Corning’s Gaffer District.

“That’s the organization I have the pleasure to lead,” Fabrizi said. “We said in order for Corning to be the place that people want to live work and play, we need to give them a reason, so we did just that.”

Fabrizi described her organization’s job as telling the story of Corning while focusing on communicating, collaborating and cooperating with individuals and organizations to rebuild the city’s downtown that now has over 250 independently-owned businesses and over 130 upper floor apartments.

Fabrizi said these results were achieved in part through positivity, understanding and pride incorporated into actionable items such as describing the city’s occupancy rate rather than vacancy, creating an online campaign showcasing old and new business owners and creating a sense of pride in the city by sharing the visual treasures downtown under the #lookup campaign.

“Placemaking is powerful,” Fabrizi said. “Continue to make this the place that people want to be. Be proud of it. There are many, many more reasons to look forward and work together and collaborate than there are not.”

Fabrizi’s message was carried on moments later when Jennings presented the first Placemaker in Gloversville award to Michael Medina, the owner of the Fulton County Barbershop on North Main Street, who she said has made his shop a community space while hosting annual events such as Read to the Barber and Haircuts with Santa to prepare children mentally and physically to go back to school or to enjoy the holidays with a fresh haircut.

“It is our hope that every year we will hand out this award to someone who helps make downtown a better place,” Jennings said overcome with emotion as she called Medina to the podium. “He makes downtown a home.”

“What I’m trying to do in the shop is just create a very welcoming environment. I want anyone that comes in no matter what age, where you’re from, it doesn’t matter, you can relate to something we have going on in the shop. We try to make it as comfortable and welcoming as possible,” Medina said accepting the award.

Medina called on the barbers he works with, asking them to stand while he thanked them in acknowledgment of what they have helped create at the shop.

“It wasn’t always easy, there were times when I first started and we were all looking at each other like ‘where are the people?'” Medina said. “A lot of people give up on Gloversville. I have clients who say ‘the only time I come to Gloversville is to get a hair cut’ and I’m like ‘thank you, but there’s other things here too.'”

Medina spoke about the city with pride, describing it with reverence as the sort of beautiful space encased in a snowglobe that inspires gazes of admiration.

“That’s what Gloversville was to me when I first came to Gloversville and I have high hopes,” Medina said. “I use the people in this community as my inspiration.”

Medina described how his feeling of personal responsibility for the city changed one day when he saw Vincent DeSantis, now the mayor, stop to pick up two pieces of trash on the sidewalk while walking downtown.

“It blew my mind,” Medina said looking towards DeSantis. “You didn’t know that, but you changed that part of me.”

Medina said he called his girlfriend to describe what he had observed, resolving to take similar actions and encouraging others to do the same.

“That may seem like something so little, but it’s huge. It was huge to me, because I said, ‘you know what, I need to start doing that,’ and if we all started doing that then we would see a whole totally different Gloversville,” Medina said. “One person’s action really matters a lot.”

The belief that one person can make a difference has become a tenet for Medina that he has incorporated into building his business as community hub, which he reaffirmed his commitment to announcing that he recently bought the building his barbershop is in where he was previously renting space for the last eight years.

“We’ve built something, we’ve created something in Gloversville,” Medina said. “We have a huge responsibility to Gloversville now and we’re ready, willing and able to take on this responsibility.”

“My plan is not to stop at the barbershop, it is to collaborate like you said and also we need to build. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m willing to do it. I know I can do it as long as I’ve got the people like you guys in my corner,” Medina said. “Thank you so much everybody.”

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