The Fall and Rise[?] of Old Falls Street

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There was a time when Niagara Falls was a bustling city, filled with entrepreneurs looking to make their mark. They saw that tourists came in droves and that money could be made by providing services and products for them.

Much of the tourism entrepreneurialism seemed to focus on the road the led to and away from the Niagara Falls State Park – Falls Street.

My grandfather, Richard Touma was one such entrepreneur. He operated, along with other family members, Touma’s House of Mirrors and Touma’ Confectionary and Luncheonette on Old Falls Street..

His father started the business in 1905. The government bought it – to tear it down – in 1958, after 53 years in operation.

He remembers the tourist area as “stores that catered to tourists and local people who enjoyed them – the stores, and restaurants and theaters.”

And the entrepreneurs who made money from them – especially in summer when tourists came.

They took advantage of our natural asset – the Niagara Falls – after whom the city is named and to whom millions come each year to see.

Sadly, the town’s 1960s Urban Renewal plan changed the local component of making money off tourism. Restaurants, theaters, and mom-and-pop stores that tourists truly enjoyed were bulldozed and replaced by a grand governmental development plan – a convention center, a giant mall – and a series of urban planning fiascos and in some instances – the bulldozers came to knock down thriving stores to be replaced by nothing at all.

This came on the heels of the Robert Moses Parkway (now the Niagara Scenic Parkway) which cut the city off from its waterfront.

“After they tore down the street, there were very little replacements,” said Mr. Touma, “and they made the mistake of building the Winter Garden, although a beautiful building, in the middle Falls Street so traffic was affected.”

Asked whether it’s possible to recreate the ambiance Falls Street once had, Mr. Touma said, “It is possible to a certain degree, but some changes need to be made. On Falls Street everything was visible, and people enjoyed being outside and walking along the stores. The way Old Falls Street is constructed now, with the Conference Center on one side and the red and black checkered wall on the other, there are no individualized stores. People like stores they can look into and walk inside. Right now, we don’t have that.”

Dan Davis, a local historian, who has studied the decline and past success of Niagara Falls, agrees.

“The key to unlocking Old Falls Street lies with lining the sides with storefronts” instead of walls.

“If you go by the Hyatt being built downtown,” said Mr. Davis, “you will see the entire first floor on the Old Falls Street side is all glass. The reason for that is that they are going to put retail shops there. And that’s the way it should be because it interacts with the streets.”

“But then you go up another block up and you see the checkered wall across from the conference center and ask yourself, ‘what about that attracts a tourist?’ And the answer is ‘nothing.’ The same goes for the empty walls along the conference center. That has to be fixed,” said Mr. Davis.

“Jane Jacobs ,[author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities] said that the downtown business district should ‘be a focal point for natives and tourists alike,’ and, unfortunately, right now it’s not,” said Mr. Davis.

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