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How do you fix a city? Look at its issues

By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor Once again, Springfield is in the barrel and there appears to be plenty of people willing to beat it. Mayor Domenic Sarno has said the recent shooting at a downtown strip bar has given the city "a black eye." That is an understatement, of course. It was a second time that a downtown strip club was the location of a murder. Like the first one, this appears to be gang on gang violence and like the first one, the killer has been caught. The unsigned, unknown editorial writers of The Republican decided on Wednesday to call for the immediate closings of all of the city strips clubs. I'm sure there are plenty of people who support such a stand. The new publicity isn't good for downtown businesses and restaurants who rely on attracting folks from other parts of the city and other communities. The city will be conducting a joint entertainment license and liquor license hearing in about two weeks. The date will be set for sometime 10 days after the police report on the shooting is completed. A hearing such as this one conducted in a timely manner is the city's logical and legal response. I've heard that some city councilors are exploring the creation of an ordinance that would establish a special permit process for a strip club. The legality of such an ordinance has yet been worked out. I'm troubled with the notion that if you close the strip clubs you'll cure the issue of violence and the perception of violence that downtown Springfield has because it's na ve. It makes a snappy headline, but such a move doesn't address the real problems. What I would like to see happen is a comprehensive look of what crimes have been committed, where they were committed and who committed them. Then let's ask the following question: could a change in policing or a change in ordinance have prevented any of them? For instance, if the 18-plus events in the city cause crime, shouldn't we eliminate them? Sarno has spoken about that tactic, but I don't think he has employed it yet. If police presence is an issue, shouldn't we establish a police sub-station in the middle of downtown? If a new bar wants to open, do we deny its liquor application and try to get a restaurant in the location instead? If any business is a spot for recurring trouble, shouldn't we seek to close it? If young people under the age of 21 make up the majority of either those arrested or victims, shouldn't we have a curfew? Several months ago, a group of downtown business owners met with City Councilor Bud Williams on the subject of safety and made a number of what I thought were worthwhile suggestions. Have any of these been implemented? A taxi stand? Restricting the traffic flow? Policing parking lots for under-aged drinking? For the record, folks, most of these headline-grabbing crimes have happened late at night. Adults looking for a great meal will find it downtown without encountering problems. *** On July 3, Tower Theaters in South Hadley will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In the movie business that's significant, as two-screen, independently-operated, first run theaters are not the normal business model. I know, as I was the founding manager of that theater and worked there for its first three years in business. As a movie nut, it gave me the chance to actively participate in the business on the exhibition end. John Morrison and Richard Pini, the then owners of the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton, had leased the theater and were my two bosses. How come I frequently wind up with two bosses? It was a bumpy ride as we struggled to get first-run product, figured out who was our audience and what they wanted and carved out our niche here. Believe it or not, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which we showed once and sometime twice a week, saved our behinds many weeks, providing the money for payroll. For that I easily put up with guys in corsets and fishnet stockings. Despite the challenges, I really enjoyed it. I had a great staff, some of which are still friends with my wife and me. My proudest moment came when a big corporate theater chain threatened Orion Pictures it would pull "Dances With Wolves" from their theaters if the studio didn't make us stop charging just $3 on Monday nights for the film. I guess we were considered a threat! Congrats to Bob Adam and his staff for carrying on the spirit of independence. This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to Reminderpublications.com or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.
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