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By Mike Hudson

I've spent considerable time away from Niagara Falls over the past few months on a book tour that took us to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Albany, Boston, Providence, Cleveland and Ann Arbor. We read at UCLA, the Grammy Museum, the Jimi Hendrix Experience Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with public libraries, bookstores, record stories and even a few punk rock nightclubs.

Joining me on the 18-show tour were Bob Pfeifer, who was the guitarist and singer for Human Switchboard, and guitarist Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys. David Thomas of Pere Ubu joined us for a couple shows. A great bunch of guys.

The unifying theme was that we are all from Cleveland, had all played in what are now known as punk rock bands and have since all written books. A number of reviewers marveled at the fact that we were also all still alive.

We'd read selections from our books and then be asked a few questions by the moderator before the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Some of the moderators -- the author Luc Sante, former Creem magazine writer and rock critic Bill Holdship and Boston Phoenix Editor Carly Carioli -- were arguably more famous than we were, or at least more interesting.

Afterward, we'd sign books people bought or copies of our records and other memorabilia. The graciousness of the people was overwhelming at times.

Although I was always introduced as being the editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter, and the author of, among other things, "Niagara Falls Confidential," the topic of Niagara Falls did not come up one single time on the entire tour. I didn't go online to read the Niagara Gazette, the Buffalo News or the Niagara Times for four weeks. It was refreshing, almost liberating.

There is something about Niagara Falls that engenders a sort of tunnel vision. Out in the great big world, people talk about art, music and literature in the same way people here talk about municipal politics, local crime and the failure of this or that developer to do what lazy and often corrupt City Hall officials expect them to do.

The decision to avoid a Niagara Falls or Buffalo date on the tour was a deliberate one on my part, since I didn't want to become involved in some meaningless discussion about Paul Dyster or Francine Del Monte or any of the other non-entities who seem to flourish here like flies around a litterbox.

You go away for a few weeks and, when you come back, see that life went on without you. Frank Smith and Paul Morreale, owners of Third Street Liquors, moved down the block to a much larger place in a building owned by Lewiston entrepreneur Craig Avery. Frank and Paul opened their business a couple months after we launched the Reporter, and it's been something of a friendly competition between us to see who gives up first. I try to help them out as much as I can, of course.

That step up was countered by the closing of Lou's Pete's Market House, a venerable institution where I've enjoyed many a good meal. The steak and lobster, prime rib and hot roast beef sandwiches were all top of the line and served at reasonable prices.

The story of the business' failure is a familiar one to anyone who patronized John's Flaming Hearth, Dante's, the Press Box or any of the other popular eateries that have closed here over the past decade.

Backbreaking taxes, the smoking ban and the numerous restaurants contained in the tax-exempt Seneca Niagara Casino all contributed to the failure. If things keep going like they are, pretty soon the only places left will be Applebee's, Chili's and other loathsome chain hash houses I'd sooner starve than patronize.

I've covered the administrations of four mayors since coming here 13 years ago, and each new one has been more vocal than the last in claiming to be business friendly. The Dyster administration has been the most vocal of all.

But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that if any of the rhetoric were true, places like Pete's and the Press Box would still be in business. The reality is that city and state government have been the major factors in all but destroying the hospitality industry here.

Dyster's plan for a tax-exempt culinary institute downtown, complete with a large restaurant, will likely be the final nail in the coffin for several other Niagara Falls restaurants that are now hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

There are currently 10 restaurants operating at the casino, and Dyster's plan for the culinary institute will create an 11th, all unhampered by having to pay any sort of taxes at all. The patent unfairness of this is appalling.

Also joining the ranks of formerly successful Niagara Falls businesses that closed while I was gone was Celenza Florist, owned and operated for the past 42 years by the great MaryAnn Fernandez. Although the Pine Avenue business didn't suffer from the same sort of crushing, inequitable disadvantages as Lou's Pete's Market House, Fernandez was simply unable to find anyone willing to buy the popular shop, Niagara Falls being Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 26, 2011