Editor’s Note: Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired 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 each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”
In between rain storms in May I walked North Salina Street, reminiscing and searching still for some answers. During my search, I stopped for a Gelato at Biscotti’s. This wonderful pastry shop is a new addition for me. In contemporary times this is one of the older more established businesses on North Salina, but in the 1950’s it was Zirilli’s Paint Store. Tom and Joe Zirilli ran the store during my era. Zirilli’s was founded by their Grandfather who came to America from Italy on the same boat as my Grandfather. Needless to say we bought all our paint at Zirilli’s. It was a small business but they had a larger impact on the small business community. A more significant part of their business was as a supply house to paint contractors and home remolding businesses in the area. They also sold tile, carpet, and wall paper along with all the tools and equipment to get the job done. This small business reflected the general economy in Syracuse. In a sense it was a boom town driven by large manufacturing businesses. We have all heard the old stories about the General Electric assembly line turning out thousands of black and white television sets. In addition, Carrier, Smith Corona and other manufacturing companies provided good paying jobs with good benefits, something all of America yearns for.
Fast forward to 2017 and the new economy, for which creativity, flexibility and knowing your customer are the priority. Can anything be more customer oriented than a custom made cake for your special occasion? A business like Biscotti’s requires a different kind of entrepreneur. Managing not just the cash flow but the creative process that makes your product special as well as nurturing your staff and expanding your customer base. This is not a business that employs thousands but it does have an impact, especially in the post industrial economy. The Northside is an incubator. It is a special combination of the old and the new.
Young people, whether they are native to Syracuse or immigrants or refugees, are the future. How will they embrace this transition? I do not have the answer. One of the reasons I have restyled this Blog is to search for answers. It is important to all of us.