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Hancock is on the march

By TOM KANE

HANCOCK, NY — People and business leaders in Hancock need to have one overriding question before their minds, according to Jerry DaBrescia. That question is: how to get the community to develop a “sense of place,” how to make Hancock a destination, how to make Hancock a place that is unique?

In the last few years, Hancock has suffered some serious blows. It’s principal employer, Becton-Dickenson, with 900 employees, closed down. The plant made surgical products for more than three decades. A famous baseball bat company, the Louisville Slugger, closed its satellite plant, Larimur and Norton, that had been open for 70 years.

To counter these setbacks, five years ago, DaBrescia, the owner of an insurance company on Main Street, and a small group of business people formed the Hancock Partnership, an organization to help the Hancock area capitalize on its beauty, its unique character, its position as the entrance to the Delaware River Valley, the Scenic Byway and its close proximity to large urban areas.

The founders of the partnership used their own money to initiate the partnership, paying Shepstone Management Company of Honesdale, PA about $5,000 to help the organization develop a business and marketing plan.

“We can’t say that we have been totally successful, but we have some encouraging things happening,”

DaBrescia said.

“The acquisition of the $200,000 matching grant for the development of Main Street is a real step forward,” said realtor Chris Gross, a Hancock partner. “It’s for a lot more than just facades of the buildings. Locally, we are going to match that amount. Over the next three years you’re going to see substantial progress in the village.”

Acquiring the property for the village square is another major step, he said. The former Great American supermarket, which has been closed, will be the site of the square, he said.

“We want people to have a reason for stopping here,” DaBrescia said. “Large numbers of people come through here, on their way to New York City or Binghamton, going down the Delaware River valley, or crossing the river to get to Pennsylvania.”

A brand new hotel called the Hancock House has opened on Main Street, with a fine dining restaurant, a luncheonette, two floors of rooms and a décor reminiscent of the early days of the town. It is the creation of Russell Bass, owner of Bass Enterprises, the French Woods Golf and Country Club and Bass’s Mountaintop Cabins. Bass is the former president of the Hancock Area Chamber of Commerce and former town councilman.

“A sense of place grows out of the unique history, economic base, cultural interests and natural setting of a community and taps into the collective memories, experiences and activities of its residents,” DaBrescia said.

“I think a major factor is that there is awareness and interest in the town to make it better,” said Mike Argiros, another partner who is the president of the Family Foundation School. “You can’t fix something if you don’t know there’s room for improvement.”

A big part of revitalizing Hancock, or any small town, involves building up the activity levels downtown so that everyone has a reason to visit it at some point during the day or week, whether they live or work here, or go to shop, sightsee, worship, obtain services or for dining and entertainment, DaBrescia said.

“State Senator John Bonacic has been extremely helpful in getting us several such grants that have made an enormous difference in the town,” he said.

Besides the partnership, the town has been especially aided by a study conducted by Syracuse University’s SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“The study has outlined seven goals for guiding the development of the town into the future, and laid out specific recommendations that all of us are attempting to fulfill,” DaBrescia said. “People like Charlie Ross have been an inspiration in making all this happen.”

What is encouraging is that so many people are working together like never before to turn the fortune of the town around, he said.

“We have the Mee Foundation supporting local development, the Hancock Community Education Foundation and the folks at the Family Foundation School, Hancock’s largest employer, and so many others working as one in making change happen,” DaBrescia said. “With help like this, we have to succeed.”

TRR photo by Tom Kane
The Hancock House hotel, a new building that captures the flavor of Hancock’s historical architecture, is part of the downtown revival currently under way in Hancock. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Tom Kane
Businessman Jerry DaBrescia stands in the middle of a busy, developing Main Street in Hancock, NY. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Tom Kane
Hancock partners Jerry DaBrescia, Mike Argiros and Chris Gross stand before the Great American supermarket that will be razed for the construction of a new town square. (Click for larger version)