As life resumes in downtown Ithaca, a city registers its shock — and asks questions

Ithaca, N.Y. — In some ways, life in downtown Ithaca went on as usual Saturday morning.

The eateries on Aurora Street bustled with activity. Parents asked for help finding directions to Cornell. Old friends greeted each other with smiles.

People took their pets for walks. A runner with bright orange sneakers sprinted by, not looking up.

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But there were signs — some small, some as big as 4-story buildings — that nothing was the same, either.

“You can see how quiet it is,” said George McGonigal, a city alderperson. “I think the city’s in shock.”

McGonigal looked up. Ahead of him lay what used to be one of Ithaca’s most popular restaurants, a constant reminder of its culture and diverse cuisine and bustling downtown life.

On Saturday, McGonigal instead saw rubble.

Simeon’s sat at the heart of the city — geographically, economically — before it was smashed to smithereens by a runaway tractor-trailer Friday afternoon. A woman was killed in the accident and at least seven others were sent to the hospital.

The building that houses Simeon’s had stood since the 1870s — when Ulysses S. Grant was president — according to a paper provided by Ithaca College lecturer Charles McKenzie.

It began as a soda and candy shop from 1923 until 1930, the paper said. The shop was then replaced by a men’s clothing store, turned back into a candy shop in 1975 and then into a restaurant in 1986.

Now, what remained were chunks of bricks, splintered wood, crippled walls and dismembered plywood. The interior of every apartment at the corner of the building was visible from the street.

A piece of tarp hung off the side of the front floor. It covered the restaurant’s iconic name.

All that was visible were the letters “MEONS.”

McGonigal shook his head.

“It’s a landmark building, and a young woman has lost her life,” he said.

“It’s a horrible thing.”

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The front of the Commons has been fenced off. The cleanup has begun. Emergency personnel walked around, discussing logistics and figuring out how to deal with the destruction.

But few on the street had any thoughts of moving on.

McGonigal had driven down to the area from the west side of the city to see the damage himself. Several other city officials and the mayor gathered on the street early Saturday morning to also survey the damage.

Then there was Paul Norton and his wife, who said they had been going to Simeon’s on and off for almost 30 years.

“The real tragedy is if he had gone into the Commons he likely wouldn’t have hit anybody,” said Norton.

Dylan Rose gripped the chain-link fence blocking off Simeon’s Saturday morning.

Like so many others, he said he was filled with questions about what happened — and what could have been prevented.

“It’s so sad — I just wonder if the driver could’ve put the truck another place,” Rose said. “I wonder about the circumstances.”

Tom Forsythe had breakfast at Simeon’s about once every two weeks.

“I could have been there,” he said.

This Saturday morning, he sat in Collegetown Bagels with a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, reading whatever he could about the Simeon’s crash.

He said his mind was racing for answers.

“I feel so sorry for that bartender,” Forsythe said. “…why are the tractor trailers coming down that street?”

“There will be a lot of questions.”

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