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Rebirth Revisited

Written by Joe Russo5 Comments • September 12, 2012

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear a couple of times each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside”.


I am a lifelong resident of Syracuse. I have lived in many different neighborhoods and went to a suburban high school. However, whenever I describe myself I always say, “I’m a Nortsider”. The misspelling is intentional, it’s a part of the neighborhood dialect. I grew up on Mary Street directly across from the old North High School. I attended Our Lady of Pompeii school kindergarten through eighth grade. During that time my father, Armondo, maintained a family business on North Salina Street. It was a camera repair shop. He was an old world craftsman, a toolmaker. His ability to repair and rebuild tiny watch-like mechanisms was legendary. When I grew up I wanted to be just like him.

I went into business with my father in 1974. An economist had just finished a study of the North Salina business district. The result of the study labeled our business district a victim of “urban blight”, distressing bad news. However, it made us eligible for certain kinds of state and federal money in the form of both loans and grants. The city Department of Community Development directed a “facade improvement” program for the 300-900 blocks of North Salina Street. We received a grant and were able to strip off 50 years of paint and expose the natural brick. Many other North Salina business owners were able to do the same. It spurred a great deal of activity and interest. When I first joined my father in business there were 37 vacant store fronts on North Salina. Within a few years after the facade improvement program the vacancies disappeared.

We brought the dormant Northside Business Association back to life, organized a street festival, and advertised cooperatively to promote the business district.  It was our hope to interest urban professionals to live and work in the neighborhood. We believed having the street declared a national heritage zone would both preserve the architecture and attract investment.  We never had a coordinated effort to achieve that goal. It was sporadic at best and not able to pull all the community interests together.

Eventually a changing economy and changing technology made it impossible for our family business to function. We closed our doors in 1992. I always felt the effort we made in the 70’s and 80’s had a chance to succeed. At times I wanted to go back to finish but never got the chance. Finding out about Northside UP has been an inspiration to me. The movers and shakers with Northside UP appear to have pulled many important ingredients together and formed a vision that can truly succeed.


Comments (5)

  1. Torin Crissey

    Do you have any “before and after” pictures of the storefront? I would love to see them.
    Thanks for the story. I enjoyed it.

    • admin

      Hi Torin!

      Trying to round some photographs up for you! We have many of the current storefront, but will have to speak with Joe about locating older photographs.

      Thanks for your interest,
      Northside UP

  2. admin

    Joe found an old photograph of the storefront and it is now featured in the article. Additional photographs can be found on syracuse.com (http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2012/08/north_side_joe_russo.html).


  3. First off I would like to say awesome blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Cheers!|

    • Joe Russo

      Bill, you are exactly correct. I sometimes find my self looking at a blank page for a very long time. I have found that one of the reasons I am unable to begin writing is because I have so many random thoughts I am unable to focus. I don’t know if this will work for everything but it seems to work for this memoir style writing. After looking at some old photos I make a list of things I want to say, then I whittle the list down to maybe the 3 most important ideas before I even begin to write. Thanks for reading the Blog. I appreciate your comments.