Ithaca, N.Y. — Louis “Lou” Cassaniti wheeled out his equipment Wednesday morning for another day of grilling.
His vending operation is surrounded on all sides by construction on the Commons, which has been ongoing since July 2013.
“How’s business?” I shouted over the sound of backhoe scraping against concrete.
“What are you, a stand-up comedian?” he replied with a smirk.
Cassaniti, 70, has been vending in the Ithaca Commons for 17 years. Displaced from his normal post in “Bank Alley” (near the Tioga and State St. sidewalk intersection), he has made an arrangement with the owners of Madeline’s to vend from its property.
Although Cassaniti has been able to continue vending downtown, he says his business has taken a serious hit in sales since construction started a year ago — down 50%, or about $35,000 for the year.
Cassaniti says he just wants his old post back.
“I want to be on the Commons by next spring,” Cassaniti said. “That’s where the people want me. The location makes all the difference.”
But Cassaniti’s worried that that when the Commons Advisory Board meets with city officials on Friday morning, they’ll move to further postpone or exclude vending on the Commons. Cassaniti said that isn’t going to fly.
“I have rights,” he said as he produced a grease-stained vending contract from his stand. “After 17 years, I think I’ll be able to make my case.”
The meeting on Friday promises to showcase different ideas about what priorities should guide the Commons development, according to Cassaniti. Should vendors be allowed to return? Does there need to be a $500,000 water fountain installed? What sort of community is the city hoping to create in the downtown’s center?
Cassaniti is, by all estimates, a member of the Ithaca Old School. He greets his customers by their first names, charges leniently and accepts IOUs from loyal patrons. He’s a local’s local. In May he’s planning on holding the 15th anniversary of his SPCA fundraiser.
But what weight does this sort of respect carry in a city experiencing massive growth and change? Cassaniti expects to find out this Friday.
Members from the Common Council, the Ithaca Business association, and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will all be in attendance at the meeting.
In addition to Commons construction, the meeting will cover planning for upcoming events such as the Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled for August 1, will be held in the Common Council Chambers in the City Hall Friday morning, beginning at 8:30 a.m.