HPG Walking Tour Part 5: Slight Detour


Hello Hornell!

As you already know, I’ve been walking the Hornell Partners for Growth Business Improvement District.  This weekend I finished it up, and will talk about the remaining section in the coming days.  Today, however, I’m going to take a slight detour from the walking tour, and talk more at length about a concept I’ve talked a bit about at the Coffee Connections and in our semi-bi-weekly newsletter.  That concept is: Tactical Urbanism.

To give you a summary on what tactical urbanism is, I looked to tacticalurbanismguide.com for a concise definition.  According to the site, tactical urbanism is “all about action. Also known as DIY Urbanism, Planning-by-Doing, Urban Acupuncture, or Urban Prototyping, this approach refers to a city, organizational, and/or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change.”  So in essence, temporarily changing the flow of traffic (pedestrian and vehicle), or using dynamic and visual approaches to building or public space to encourage business.  Tactical Urbanism is often a blended approach of community oriented projects to facilitate urban and economic growth and prosperity.

So, when I first took the HPG Executive Director gig, I too was a little uneducated on what exactly a Business Improvement District is and does, as I think a lot of others were.  Realizing that (and I’ve said this before) a good way to business is through the community, I noticed that the relationship between HPG, the community, and the businesses within HPG was (is) strained and is not symbiotic.  So, in an effort to educate myself as quickly as possible, I instantly formed contact with the Albany BID, the Central BID, and simply asked “where should I start?”

The answer was a Placemaking & Tactical Urbanism conference at the Gloversville, NY Downtown BID.  I attended this conference on the 7th and 8th day of my hire, and it quickly pointed me on a path for Hornell.  Gloversville’s urban design is much like Hornell’s.  There is a downtown that resembles Hornell greatly, but it’s major highways lead traffic away from the downtown.  And there is no reason that Gloversville shouldn’t thrive, as it is 25 minutes or less from major tourist destinations like Saratoga, the Adirondacks, etc.  But, due to some design flaws and unwillingness for change, the downtown slowly became more and more empty.  Until, the BID started utilizing a few new concepts including Placemaking & Tactical Urbanism! (Que in the “great idea” light bulb)

So, after attending the conference and seeing the similarities between Hornell and Gloversville, I thought to myself: if nothing else, Tactical Urbanism needs to be a large part of what I do as the new director.  That way, we won’t lose the sense of community and we also will gain, at the very least, attention–good or bad, only time can tell.

Over the summer, HPG was concentrated on the events that were already in motion: Wildflower Festival, Fourth of July Celebration, Chalk-A-Mile, Monarch Festival, Thursdays in the Park, and Farmers Market.  So, my train derailed a bit as I focused on seeing these events through.  Now that those are over with for the summer (with the exception of the Farmers Market), we can get back to the ideas I gained at this conference.  From walking the city this last week, I have seen so much potential for tactical urbanism.

After the walking tour is complete, I’m going to blog about some tactical urbanism efforts.  I challenge you to find these efforts before I write about them.  I don’t plan to be subtle about it either, so I anticipate people talking about it before we get it penned to paper.

Join me the rest of this week for the continued Walking Tour, and thank you for taking this detour with me!


HPG Walking Tour Part 4: Along the Tracks

Hello Hornell,

Today I took a stroll along the tracks and took a look at the businesses that make up the southside of the BID. Starting on the corner of Loder Street we have the Depot Center Plaza that is home to Stop & Shop, Smoking Joes, Roses Tan, Redemption Center, and Roses Gym.  Across the way is The Erie Depot Center with Universal Health Network, Cansiteo Family Practice, and the Erie Depot Museum all housed there.  Up and across the street is Tom’s Liquors & Marino’s Restaurant.

Continuing up Loder, the Whistlestop Plaza is home to Maple City Physical Therapy & the Medically Oriented Gym, as well as the Whistlestop Laundry, Salvation Army, and a Byrne Dairy warehouse.  Across the street is the Knights of Columbus.

Then I continue my walk up Loder, and cross under the tracks over to Canisteo Street where Best Western Maple City Inn starts us off.  The VFW follows suite, and down the road we have H & R Block, Dancing on Edge Studios, the 7 Eleven, and the Southside.  A newer business, Rustic Luxe acts as the boundary business of the BID.

On this walk, it was evident that the businesses that exist, exist in little clusters of two or three.  There are some vacancies in between these businesses, but what is really interesting is the layout.  The railroad and Route 36 really separate this portion of the BID from the rest, and make it an odd navigation. This walk just further solidified that the lay out of the BID is very confusing.  The portioning of streets, such as Canisteo Street and Loder Street, makes if difficult for people to visualize clear boundaries.

In a direct comparison to the Gafer District BiD in Corning, Hornell Partners for Growth BID is entirely a different animal.  The Gafer District is set up in a rectangular grid, with two main streets being featured (the popular Market Street being the highlight), and a couple of small streets that intersect it.  I am lead to believe that the HPG BID is centered around Main Street and Seneca Street as the “downtown,” but instead of simplifying the district to showcase an actual downtown, it seems that a lot of parts of Hornell were incorporated, and a lot of important parts were left out.

To add more confusion to the mix, HPG was at one point allowing a membership–something that has since been ceased due to BID law and regulation–and this, truthfully, has been the major driving force of why I’m outlining the BID on these walking tours.  Once everyone fully understands the layout (and believe me it took me a hot second to understand), I think we can better establish ourselves as a district.

Tomorrow I’m going to finish up all of the tertiary streets.  Saturday I’ll tackle Broadway and Main Street to finish up the tour.

Thank you all for touring with me!


HPG Walking Tour Part 3: The Plazas

Hello Hornell,

This morning’s walking tour focused on two plazas and I also threw in the entirety of Park Drive.  I think that it is interesting to note that the two plazas and Park Drive combined make up for approximately 18% of the total BID.

Starting at the north end of the Hornell Plaza on Route 36, Maple City Discount Liquor & Wines starts off the row of businesses.  Following suite is The Cutting Crew, Rent-A-Center and Kay Jewelers.  Wegmans is next in line, being of the bigger businesses to fall within our BID.  After Wegmans is Maurice’s, GNC, Pizza Hut Express, Zoom Tan, The Shoe Department, GameStop, PAK Nails, Olympia Sports, The Dollar Tree, and Verizon.  Another large BID business, Walmart rounds out that portion of the plaza.  On the opposite side of the parking lot, Dunkin Donuts and Applebee’s are stand alone buildings.  McDonald’s starts a group of businesses on the south end of the plaza.  Behind McDonald’s there is Wilkin’s Laser Car Wash, Auto Zone, Subway, Hornell Hookah & Smoke Shop, and the Armed Forces Career Center.

After walking by all of these buildings, I returned to my jeep and drove down to the Hornell Railroad Plaza off of Park Drive.  In this plaza we have Rite Aid starting us off, followed by Family Dollar, Aaron’s, Save-A-Lot, and Tractor Supply.  From here, I parked and walked up Park Drive.  Weyand’s Chiropractic starts us off as the first business outside of the plaza.  Following Weyand’s is Finger Lakes Granite, Advantage Cleaning Services, IDMA, K & A Hair Studio, Park Drive Power Equipment, Park Drive Car Wash, Robert Sweeny Agency, and County Cabs.  Next in line is Railhead Brewing, followed by Lewis Garage Doors, and ending with Triple C’s Tasty Freeze as the last business within the boundaries of the BID on Park Drive.

As you might expect, the plazas are filled with businesses and there were not many (maybe one) open storefronts on this stretch of the tour.  Plazas are convenient and are usually centered around a shopping experience–such as Wegman’s, Walmart, or Save-A-Lot.  It’s essential to have large business like this because there is always a trickle down effect to small businesses within the vicinity of larger businesses.  Embracing a symbiotic relationship between large and small business is really critical for economic stability and longevity of small businesses.

However, the proximity of these plazas to downtown can pose a problem.  They are a bit out of the way of the downtown scene.  And when thinking in terms of a business improvement district, directing people out of your downtown is counterproductive.  So, changing the flow of traffic so that the needs of the plazas are met and the needs of the downtown are met is going to be critical over the next few years.  I personally think that visibility and signage is going to make a profound impact.

In a perfect world you’d want your customer to make a trip to the supermarket and, on the way to or from, experience the mom and pop shops of downtown.  I think that by having some signage such as “Entering Hornell’s Business District” or something of the like would have huge benefits–and is something that we have discussed at great lengths.  And then we could establish that symbiotic relationship I mentioned previously.

So, re-capping the last three days I have learned three major lessons:

  1. The BID is large and difficult to navigate, but truly offers a unique set of businesses along with essential needs of customers
  2. There is great potential to grow, and there are many available storefronts for businesses to move into.  The difficulty is going to be enforcement on current landlords to keep up their buildings and push to fill them
  3. Aside from the businesses within the plazas, there is very little symbiotic relationship between small and large business.  However, pointing people in the right direction (through placemaking & signage) could be hugely beneficial.  Flow of traffic is key.

Tomorrow I’m going to take a gander at the rest of the businesses in the southern part of the BID and along the railroad.  Join me and let’s see what insights I will gain from tomorrow’s tours.


HPG Walking Tour Part 2: Seneca Street


Hello Hornell!

This morning I embarked on my second walk about the business improvement district (BID) and tackled Seneca Street (and businesses with clearest visibility from Seneca Street).  Seneca Street makes up for approximately 16% of the total BID, and I was quite interested in how the businesses are laid out.  Seneca Street seems to be parceled into little clusters of businesses with residential and, unfortunately, empty buildings between the businesses.

At the northern boundary of the BID on Seneca, directly before the bridge leading to North Hornell, I started my walk south towards the city center.  On my right, a Hornell staple restaurant the Italian Villa leads the way as the boundary building.  On my left, the Park Automotive, Lamac’s Automax, and Fred Roberts Auto Store all lead the way as a boundary building as well.

Heading down the road on my left the Maple City Market plaza is home to Step It Up Fitness for Women, Virdee Medical Group, and is an outpost for Covered Wagon Tours.  Across from the plaza on my right is Stewarts Auto.  Travelling down the road further, a new addition, First Heritage Bank, is now up and operational on my left.  On the right, the Hornell Senior High School.

Directly across from the High School there are a cluster of businesses–Red Apple/Kwik Fill, Oil Express, Logo Print Company, and Yum Froyo.  Just up the street, on my righthand side, another frozen dairy retailer, The Scoop, sits on the corner near the school.  Across the street is Sal’s Trophies.  Rounding out the area near the school is Giovanni’s Pizzeria & Restaurant on my left, and Don Saam’s Insurance just a bit up on my right.  Continuing up the road on the same side is the New York State Armory housing the National Guard, and across from that is Planned Parenthood.

Then we get into a bit of residential and empty buildings.  But, just up ahead on my left is Brandy’s Cup of Joe (technically on Maple Street, but just as visible from Seneca Street) and across from them is a couple of our fraternal organizations–The American Legion & The Moose Club.  Directly across the street with one of the biggest visibilities on the entire road is Steuben Trust Company.

The 7 Eleven, just south of Steuben Trust on the same side, is a sort of a transitional point where the commercial buildings begin to get clustered in a tighter formation (starting to resemble a city downtown).  Staying on the left side of the street and continuing to head South towards the city center, Decorator’s Choice leads the way towards Main Street, followed by Garcia’s Barbershop, Hornell Family Dental, Billy Schu’s Food Bar, Shults & Shults, and ending at the City Hall.

On the opposite side of the street from 7 Eleven, The ARC of Steuben leads the way towards Main Street, followed by Stearn’s Poultry, Sandy’s Hair Zoo, Over the Bridge Pet Supplies, Arbor Housing Development, Mengel Metzger Barr & Co LLP, Labella Associates, and the House of Mr. Lou.

On a positive note, where there are businesses on this street, there is much life and traffic.  Even at 8am, there was a lot going on.  Almost all of the businesses were open, or close to opening, and there is a plethora of different types of services on this street alone.  There are four places to get meals (three that offer libations), two places to grab an ice cream cone, a coffee shop, two banks & an insurance company, five places to get you car worked on (or parts for your car–or just a new one), two gas stations, two barbers & a hair salon, a law office, a tax office, a financial planning office, a medical practice & dental practice, a family service organization, two housing organizations, an educational center, a home improvement business, a travel organization, a pet store, and even a trophy place!  That’s a lot going on, in my humble opinion, and it seems as though every need is met in some fashion.

On the negative side, there are a lot of vacant buildings on Seneca Street–all are still within the BID and required to pay the commercial levy.  Getting ground level, and experiencing the empty buildings up close is disheartening.  The potential for these buildings is astounding, and the potential for Hornell to grow is as good as ever.  However, the biggest problems we face are the empty storefronts, deteriorating facades, and a resistance to change.

Yesterday when I started my walking tour, my intention was to show you how big the business improvement district is and how diverse the businesses are.  Today, my intentions have evolved to showcase the potential for growth within the district itself.

Join me tomorrow as I walk the major plazas in the BID!  Each walk has offered me new perspective on the BID, and I’m interested to see how the plazas fit into our walking tour and what knowledge I’ll gain from the walk.





HPG Walking Tour Part 1: The Westward Outliers


Hello Hornell,

This week I’ll be strolling about the business improvement district (BID) to give you (and me) a better understanding of how vast it is, how jumbled up it is, and how diverse the businesses are.  Today I tackled the “Westward Outliers” as I like to call the section that runs from the corner of Route 36 and Main Street west along Main (Route 21) for approximately one full mile.

The Westward Outlier area is one of the longer stretches of the BID, but only encompasses about 9% of the total businesses that make up the BID.  Nonetheless, I started my morning out right by walking up and down the stretch to get a ground level perspective.

At the furthest westward point of the Westward Outliers, North Main Lumber/Builders Bargain Outlet acts as the boundary to the BID.  So, I used this renowned business as my starting point for the stroll.  It was really interesting to see how the dynamics and diversity of the businesses change as I walked closer to the city.

Before I go any further, I’d like to note that with the amount of businesses in the BID, and being only one person (if only I had a clone of myself!), our directory of businesses are slightly off, but I’m diligently trying to update all of the existing businesses within the BID.  Even if I went to one business each day, it would take me almost an entire work year to get to them all.  So, doing the walking tour of the city is already paying off, as I’ve noticed buildings and businesses that I would not have realized were there if I were merely driving by.

Anyway, as I continued to walk back towards the city, I noticed TJ’s Automotive and Super Vacuum on the corner of Main & McLean.  And nestled behind them is Stone Cottage Cakery.  So, already in just exploring four businesses in a portion of the BID we have met 4 separate needs–home construction and improvement, automotive repair, household cleaning, and culinary creations!

Continuing my walk back down Main Street, the next business is Early Head Start Child Development Center, a division of Pro Action.  After that is Bel Taglio Hair Design, followed by the Hornell Massage Group, Hunt Realty, and Great Expectations.  In less than 9% of the BID we’ve already seen businesses from construction & automotive, to realty, to child care & development, to health & beauty–all within a short walk, and even shorter drive.

After Hunt and Great Expectations, I start getting closer to the city center and stumble upon our first mini-plaza.  Michael John’s Corner Convenience Store starts the mini-plaza, followed by Hornell Spa & Nails, Super Wok, and Verizon Wireless rounds out the plaza.  Directly next to them, just a parking lot over, is the new addition Taco Bell located right on the corner of Main and Rt. 36.  Directly across the street, and ending the Westward Outliers, is the Hornell Chamber of Commerce building which houses the Chamber, the IDA, System One, and us (Hornell Partners for Growth).

What I hope you take away from my walking tours is how unique the BID is.  Throughout the week, I’ll be portioning the BID out and walking them towards the city center.  You’ll notice as I explain the areas that the BID looks like a spider with all these legs (streets) stretching around in no real concise matter.  The shape and size of the BID makes it extremely difficult for people (including myself from time to time) to visualize it.

Tomorrow, I’m going to walk down another large stretch of the BID that has a more concentrated amount of businesses on it–Seneca Street.  The portion of Seneca Street that is in the BID is just shy of a mile long and will have its own unique mix of businesses.

Thank you for joining me on the first leg of the HPG walking tour!





hornell 1

Hello Hornell,

There are over 220 businesses within the Hornell Partners for Growth business improvement district.  That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.  And there are many, many more great businesses that surround the BID.  Over half of the BID businesses are professional services such as insurance & financial, health & beauty, law & safety.  The other half is comprised of retail & grocery, food & drink, and entertainment.

The original Hornell Partners for Growth BID was set up for beautification of the downtown during the holiday season some 25 or 30 years ago.  On each street that the BID exists, the founders had to get a majority vote to allow it to come to fruition.  The BID is a mandatory tax on commercial property within the assessed areas–so those businesses that voted for it willingly did so knowing that once the BID was formed, there was no changing the BID (that means no adding or subtracting properties).  That BID tax (or “levy” if we want to be proper) has funded Hornell Partners for Growth from the start and continues to fund it.  Starting out with beautification, the BID has grown to incorporate more elements of business development (all on a small budget I might add).

One of the biggest things that HPG has done in later years has been to add quite a few community minded events.  There are “Thursdays in the Park” in conjunction with the “Hornell Farmers Market,” and bigger events like “The Monarch Festival,” “Wildflower Festival,” and “WhoNELLville,” and even the City’s Fourth of July celebration was tasked to HPG. All of these events were a pivotal step for the BID, and the idea to generate business to downtown was the ultimate goal.  However, the trickle down effects of these events have been hard to see recently.

I’ve completed a full summer of running (or attempting to run) these events to the best of my ability, and I’ll be the first to say that my ego has been checked–hard.  Many of the business owners I’ve talked to have expressed concerns that these events bring very little benefit to them.  And while I believe that the way to business IS THROUGH THE COMMUNITY, I also noticed that we have spent entirely too much effort on events that have been drastically underattended and sorely unsuccessful.  I’ve seen the vendors and food truckers casting stares of frustration at me because attendance is so low.  And the diehard Thursday in the Parkers are upset because there are not enough vendors or things for their children to do, save for a bouncy house–which has a story in its own. I’ve seen the total disregard for these events by BID businesses, with a whopping 1% or less BID involvement by average. And apart from our Facebook sharing, these businesses have started to wonder “what is HPG doing for me?”

So, we’ve (the Board of Directors & myself collectively) been spending much of our time trying to rescope HPG to better suite the needs of the businesses, while also keeping the community in mind.  We want people to be able to view HPG as a tool for growth and to attract people to our downtown.  But in order to do so, we have to look past the Facebook posts and bouncy houses–which are great elements of HPG’s services, but NOT ALL that we can offer.

So what’s our plan, you ask?  Well, obviously you’ve heard us say before that we are giving our logo a facelift and trying to draw from our industrial heritage–much like the Gaffer District.  It’s apparent when you look at the Gaffer District’s logo (a dude blowing some glass) that the district is formed around it’s heritage of… drum roll please… glassblowing!!!!!  So, yeah we are not trying to reinvent the wheel here.  We are trying to create a logo that makes sense for our district and showcases our heritage, which incase you haven’t heard their whistles blowing, our industrial heritage is the railroad.

But aside from the facelift, we also have to deliver the goods.  So, on a tangible level, we’ve got to make the events that we do sexy and appealing enough to attract three groups: 1. The actual BID businesses, 2. Our Hornell Community, and 3. Customers from OUTSIDE of Hornell.  All three of these groups are extremely important.  We need the BID businesses to flourish and want to be involved with HPG’s events… we need our community to support the businesses and the events (taking into account the financial limitations of our community)… and we need to DRAW people from outside the area, plain and simple.

So, the Thursdays in the Park are wrapping up this week and next, and we will not have another HPG event until the “WhoNELLville.”  So, that will give me sometime to really plan this event with BOTH the businesses and the community in mind.  And going forward, doesn’t it make more sense to put our efforts into a few good events AND DO THEM RIGHT instead of wasting out budget on a bunch of small events that we cannot properly advertise for or offer anything unique?

I believe that focusing on two, possibly three events that are well advertised REGIONALLY AND BEYOND will have more tangible results for businesses in the long run.  At the end of the day, I want to bring people into your business, and my business, and her business, and his too!

I guess the point I’m trying to really hammer here is that now that the chaotic mess of the summer is over, you can expect us to regroup and focus on developing a few GREAT events to draw people to Hornell.


Justin Recktenwald, Executive Director of HPG


Partners for Growth


Change is something that can be shocking and scary at times, but ultimately we are in a fast paced world that is constantly changing.  This is why the Hornell Partners for Growth, Hornell’s Business Improvement District (BID), is exploring more avenues–some old, some new–to give our district a voice.  We’re in a unique position to really transform our small city and develop it for the better.  And I personally think that being open and transparent about our plans is critical for growth.  So, I wanted to better introduce myself as the Executive Director of the Hornell Partners for Growth and give you some perspective from my viewpoint…

First and foremost, I appreciate the businesses and the Board of Directors that have put their trust in me as the Executive Director.  I feel that I was chosen for the role particularly because I live the ups and downs of business in Hornell.  I started my first business when I was 23 years old, and five years later I’ve got two locations and I turned my business from a hobby into a company that employs 7 people and has become part of the culture of Hornell and the Canisteo Valley.  But, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.  I started my business on a shoestring budget (nearly non-existent budget I should add) with only help from my parents and a few small loans, all while working fulltime jobs in many different fields.  And I’ve rode a rollercoaster of ups and downs, feasts and famine.  And there are still times (often) that I’m white-knuckle driving through my business endeavors.  And I personally WORK my businesses–every aspect.

The point I’m trying to make, is that I truly understand the struggle of keeping a viable business prospering in the Hornell area.  And also I wanted to show you that I’m not much different from the majority of the Hornell and surrounding area residents.  I’ve worked many jobs–from retail, stocking shelves, bartending, and even animal care to dairy production, farming, driving heavy equipment, and even some laboratory work.  I’ve been thankful that I’ve been able to use my Ivy League education in many settings, but I’ve also learned a lot on those third shift nights working on production equipment–and that humbles me.

So, I’m asking you to struggle alongside me to keep the businesses that we have prospering, and encourage the growth of our city by exploring new avenues.  Some of these avenues I’ve talked about in other formats–place identity, placemaking & tactical urbanism, tourism, etc–and I’ll continue to explain them here on this new platform for HPG.

You can expect me to blog twice a week about businesses in our district and ideas for growth.  My goal is to build a transparent relationship between HPG (and myself) and the both the businesses within the BID and the people that support it.  This blog is for you to get into my mind and personal thoughts, and also to show you the direction we will be going with the organization.  Give me a few months before you judge HPG–there’s an ABUNDANCE OF GREAT IDEAS from some great minds on the Board and from within the community that are going to be put into action, sooner rather than later.

Be a partner in growth and help us build Hornell to its full potential!


Justin Recktenwald, Executive Director HPG