Niagara Gazette

November 17, 2013

CITY DESK: East Side alarm bells

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — They held the public hearing to field comments about a new liquor store on the city's East Side.

Members of the city's zoning board of appeals got those, and then some last week. 

Several East Side holdouts, backed by representatives from local block clubs, vented their frustrations about the declining quality of life in the once-proud section of the city. 

They talked about their frustrating encounters with thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers and other less-than-upstanding citizens. 

It was a far cry from the neighborhood they knew and loved, a real departure from the days when the East Side thrived. 

One man representing a club for youth wrestlers complained about a broken street light near his place that he says has been malfunctioning for months. Another man told a horrific tale about a young woman's body that was found on a nearby street corner, the apparent victim of an overdose. Then, of course, came the stuff a lot of people outside of the East Side heard about, higher-profile crimes like the robbery at the neighborhood ice cream shop and the two armed men who knocked off a local pizzeria. 

"This is where my roots are," said Joane Giallorto, who no longer lives on the East Side but remains a parishioner at Divine Mercy Church on Niagara Street. "It really saddens me to see what's happening in that neighborhood right now."

Collectively, the stories drove home a common theme: The East Side is becoming less and less attractive to law-abiding, taxpaying citizens. 

"It was beautiful," said Dave Bieszka, a long-suffering East Side resident and automobile mechanic. "Everybody knew everybody. Those days are over. It's a very rough neighborhood. It's going down very fast." 

Even Police Chief Brian DalPorto got in on the act. He expressed serious reservations about the liquor store. Like his predecessor John Chella before him, DalPorto said he's concerned about the East Side in general and he fears selling liquor there seven days per week will only make matters worse. The neighborhood is, after all, already home to a 19th Street corridor that routinely finds itself at or near the top of annual crime statistics in most categories. 

Whether the proposed liquor store would add to the trouble is certainly debatable.

One thing seems clear: the old neighborhood ain't what she used to be, not when drug dealers and prostitutes roam the streets and guys with guns rob ice cream parlors and pizza shops during regular business hours. 

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.