One of the better ideas that's caught on here in the city of Niagara Falls over the past couple of years is "Pints for Progress". Last Tuesday was a good example, as 135 community-minded folks gathered under an open-air tent on Old Falls Street, ponying up $10 each ($5 for newcomers) for dinner and drinks, live music, games for kids and the opportunity to vote on one of several projects, based on 5 minute presentations (followed by Q&A) given by volunteers with ideas for helping others and improving our quality of life. Last week's winner, "Niagara Falls Forward", described on their Facebook page as "a group of like-minded individuals who are concerned with the enhancement of quality life!", intends to use the proceeds from the fun evening to help cover the cost of food banking and youth activities.
That makes for a rather good segue into a discussion of some comments made at the Pints for Progress microphone by runner-up presenter Mary Ann Hess, proprietor of Niagara's Honeymoon Sweets, an admired and highly-successful local woman-owned small business that employs 6, features an attractive web site and sells at several locations across Niagara County. A specialty chocolate purveyor, "Sweets" also does weddings and parties, corporate meetings and conventions and has been named the "Official Gourmet Chocolate" for the Academy Awards two years running. Hess has been honored locally by the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce and is well known as a civic booster and outstanding citizen.
"We've been trying to get in at the gift shop on Goat Island (Niagara Falls State Park)," she told the Pints for Progress crowd, "but those people just don't seem interested. They have their own thing going on there and it doesn't involve us, that's for sure."
It seems noteworthy that while one Pints contestant was winning over $1300 to alleviate hunger here in the city and assist disadvantaged youth, another was decrying Delaware North's monopoly in the State Park on food, beverage and gift and souvenir sales, which deliberately excludes local entrepreneurs like Hess as well as, undoubtedly, dozens of other local small businesses such as Niagara's Honeymoon Sweets, who are left out in the cold when it comes to the eight millions tourists who visit there every year without having need or reason to come into the city, much to the detriment of the local economy.
"It's a shame that they don't use local people (in the park)," Hess told us on the phone, "those people (Delaware North) are not even from around here. The State Park is in the middle of the city, and it does nothing for us!"
Pursuant to a $10.2 million contract with New York State, commencing on July 1, 2002, Delaware North, owned by multibillionaire Jeremy Jacobs, holds the exclusive right to operate food, beverage and souvenir and gift shop (with Maid of the Mist Corp.) concessions in the Niagara Falls State Park until Dec. 31, 2121.
"Nobody fights for the locals," she added, "it's difficult enough, as it is."
In other news last week, Delaware North lost its $146 million a year contract to operate fast food and other concessions at Yosemite National Park, losing out to competitor Aramark.
We would like to see a similar outcome in 2121: Delaware North losing out to competitor downtown Niagara Falls, with its family-owned restaurants, gift shops and hardworking business owners like Mary Ann Hess.