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Oneida residents, visitors reflect on the city ahead of state revitalization

Carly Stone
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 10/15/22

Nearly $10 million in state funds will soon be pumped into the City of Oneida as part of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), but why does the city need revitalization?

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Oneida residents, visitors reflect on the city ahead of state revitalization


ONEIDA — Nearly $10 million in state funds will soon be pumped into the City of Oneida as part of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), but why does the city need revitalization in the first place? From business to crime and all things inbetween, let’s take a look at Oneida’s past, provide context for its present, and look toward the future with insights from visitors and residents.

Over the last several months, the Daily Sentinel has been collecting input from the public to better understand Madison County’s only city and the impressions it leaves on those who live and work in the community and walk its streets.

Oneida’s ‘heyday’

Many Oneidans have argued that present-day Oneida is not as glorious as the Oneida of the past. Its bright colors from its largely vacant storefronts have faded, and so has its life along with it. The consensus appears to be that from the 90s onward, the city has been living in its own shadow.

“The Oneida I fondly remember was a thriving little city,” shared Marcus Charleston, who grew up in Oneida in the 70s and 80s. He recalls a city that was self-sufficient in entertainment, basic needs, social affairs, and jobs.

Businesses like Garafalo’s for shoes, Hope’s for clothes, and Hinman’s Jewelers, provided local access to goods and differentiated the market. The same could be said for services at the time. “You could pay your utilities, do your banking, go to the post office, or a see a movie at the Kallet Theater,” he added.

In addition, downtown shopping centers were anchored by a variety of supermarkets throughout the city, he said, including P& C, Victory, and Foodland, to name a few.

He also recalled retailers staying open until midnight and shoppers being shuttled between the shopping centers for Midnight Madness.

John Schultz remembers a similar Oneida from his time there in the 60s and 70s. “There were many small family run business in the downtown area so residents really didn’t need to go elsewhere for their needs,” he said.

Beyond commerce, the public embraced the city’s other assets like its parks and local clubs, Charleston said. In the summer, “the parks were attended daily as if we were attending school,” he reflected.

Hard hit

If Oneida was once a booming metropolis as its residents say, what is the cause of it needing a jump start from the state to come back to life?

While the answer cannot be pinpointed, residents and visitors believe multiple factors have contributed to the city’s stagnation. In many cases, the cause and the symptoms have become blurred.

Emptiness, in general, is one of the city’s primary issues, people say.

“Oneida offers little to no entertainment and sit down restaurants,” said John Dugger, a lifelong Oneidian.

“There are few to no places to shop or sit down and eat,” said William Smith, who spent decades in Oneida.

“I believe the city needs to recruit businesses, not just wait for them to come looking,” shared Wayne Diamond, who’s been around the area since the 1960s. He added, “The city also needs to have more things to do for the residents and visitors that are low cost or free.”

“All of the economic development has been in the outlying areas and downtown has suffered greatly,” Schultz said.

Other issues cited in an online survey conducted by the Sentinel include drugs “plaguing” the city, “crumbling infrastructure,” high crime, and “high taxes with nothing to show for it.”

“I think there’s a multitude of things that happened to affect cities and downtowns, and not just Oneida. But all over the country actually,” shared Oneida Mayor Helen Acker. One of the biggest factors - shopping malls. “That really dissociated people from living in a downtown and working and buying downtown,“ she said. “That changed the face of the United States, actually.”

Silver linings

While there’s progress to be made in Oneida, it isn’t all bad.

Its small town nature has allowed for positive relationships to form, Dugger said. He added, “As of late our codes department has made the greatest positive impact on this community.”

Others in the Sentinel survey commended the city’s farmers market and harvest festival (perhaps referring to Oneida’s Fall Festival, which celebrated its second run in 2022), along with property improvements by landlords that have made a visual impact.

Many have said that the city is full of good people.

The “Oneida For Change” Facebook group, dedicated to facilitating discussion and engagement to change the city for the better, has garnered nearly 4,000 followers. At an estimated city population of just over 10,000 as of July 2021, according to the US Census Bureau, that’s a significant number of people interested in moving Oneida forward.

What Oneida do you remember?

Depicted through photographs, what Oneida do you remember? Reporter Carly Stone is seeking pictures of Oneida’s downtown from the 50s-80s to be featured in the Sentinel. Send your files along with caption information to:


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