By Gary S. Howell
Oct 16, 2003, 18:28

Lost in the brouhaha of a nasty Democratic Party campaign is the fact that the Village of Lancaster is experiencing a renaissance. The Democratic candidates want residents to focus on fictitious issues to make William Cansdale and Ken O'Brien look bad. But it's impossible to overlook the rebirth of Central Avenue. For decades, downtown Lancaster was in decline. In the last few years, it has become the business and cultural center of the Town of Lancaster.

It would be blatantly biased to give all the credit to William Cansdale and Ken O'Brien. The majority of commendations rightfully belong to the independent entrepreneurs who chose to locate their businesses in the village. The entire village board deserves their fair share of praise. Without the board's support, some of the business owners might have been lured elsewhere. As the Mayor, William Cansdale deserves recognition for leading the Board's efforts to entice new businesses to the village. Ken O'Brien deserves to be acknowledged for working with his fellow board members to bring the new shops downtown.

Every successful commercial center needs an attraction that is unique. Downtown Lancaster is blessed with a matchless attraction, the Opera House. At one point in American history, town halls were multifunctional. They often contained meeting and music halls. (See Lancaster Town Hall and Opera House, by Karen Kossmar ) The vast majority of opera houses were destroyed by urban renewal. Lancaster's Opera House was spared. After it's recent renovation, it became an unparalleled center for cultural entertainment.

Thanks to the efforts of William Cansdale, Ken O'Brien, and the entire village board, the empty BOCES building is now a thriving business center. Renamed the "Lancaster Mall", 80 percent of the building is occupied. The recent addition of a Save-A-Lot supermarket to the mall, exponentially increased commercial traffic. Save-A-Lot's success inspired other businesses, like Rite-Aid, to extend their hours of operation. Central Avenue used to roll up it's sidewalks at 6:00 pm. Now many of the businesses are opened until 10:00 pm.

At one point in time, the Opera House was the sole source of Central Avenue's night life. Lancaster entrepreneur, Ed Church, showed amazing prescience in opening a full service restaurant, Eddy Ryan's. It compliments the Opera House's productions. People from all over Erie County visit downtown Lancaster to see a show and enjoy a fine meal.

While commercial development in the town of Lancaster is slow, new businesses are flocking to the village. These new businesses are not violating virgin greenspace. They are rehabilitating existing structures to accommodate their needs.

Some of the recent additions include the uniquely idiosyncratic home of handmade hamburgers - Lindy's Cafe. Also included are the Tattooed Cat, an Antique store, and a Styling Salon. (My apologies to the owners of the antique store and the Styling Salon for not taking the time to research their store names.)

The Lancaster Fireman's Museum will soon be opened on West Main Street, adding another cultural attraction to downtown.

At this very moment an independent businessman is remodeling an existing structure on Central and Laverack.

West Main Street is home to the new Fitness Factory. Many village residents, including Mayor Cansdale, visit the Fitness Factory to work off the extra calories gained enjoying the pleasures of Eddy Ryan's, Lindy's, China Gardens and the Fireside Inn.

Scarletta's Secret Garden graces the corner of Central Avenue and West Main Street. The Secret Garden sells exquisite gifts that compliment every style of decor. The proprietors are especially helpful to "bull-in-the-china-shop" men like me.

It would be totally irresponsible to discuss the rebirth of downtown Lancaster without mentioning the merchants who stayed on Central Avenue through thick and thin. Stores like the New York Store, Carson's Jewelers, and Twin Village Music. The steadfast faithfulness of these tenacious businessmen saved Central Avenue from falling into total ruins.

Those of us who love the village of Lancaster owe a debt of gratitude to the independent merchants who improved the quality of our lives by locating their businesses in downtown Lancaster.

If it wasn't for the accommodating and helpful attitude of the village board, including William Cansdale and Ken O'Brien, many of these businesses would have located elsewhere.