A look at Erie Refocused, through a longtime Erie business

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 at 5:37 PM
A look at Erie Refocused,  through a longtime Erie business by Mike Lantinen
Contributed Photo

Dan Serafin is the proud owner of Serafin’s Food Market located on 24th and Ash streets in Erie, a location they settled on 92 years ago in what was previously known as Marvin Town. It was a location bordering a Polish settlement to the north and a German settlement to the south. Still operating since 1926, Serafin’s is Erie’s oldest food market.

“It’s a stable thing. It’s not that you come in here and you’re here for two years or three years or a fly by the night place. We’re proud. Our names are on the building, We’re proud of the area. We’ve known people from different generations. You go to people’s graduations, funerals, everything,” Serafin said.

“We’re so tightly connected to the area. When my mom was here, she would balance peoples’ checkbooks for the older people who didn’t know how to do it. A guy comes in and has his eye busted and asks for a Band-Aid and peroxide, ya know, it’s more than just a store. It’s part of the neighborhood. You can come here and pay your gas bill. You can buy a loaf of pepperoni bread. You can do your laundry. You can buy a postage stamp. People who can’t even speak English, we help them fill out their forms for whatever it may be. We’re not a Country Fair. We’re more of a family than a store,” Serafin explained.

For the family, it’s more than just that. They understand the financial problems their community is facing. They know what it’s like to own a business in the area and deal with the problems head on; they get it.

“It’s important to have businesses that are here for the duration, that invest in Erie. We’re not sending the money out of town or anything like that. It’s the way the world used to work. Like a little step back in time,” he said.

Serafin scoffed at the idea of a city plan to revitalize the area. He spoke of Erie Refocused, the current 10-year comprehensive plan.

“The refocusing thing I hate...yeah. It’s always focused on the Bayfront (Serafin laughs). I mean, yeah, it’s great but really, it all starts here.” 

Erie’s east side is considered the most dangerous and unsalvageable portion of the city. Its crime rates are high and its poverty too, but Serafin feels it’s expanded beyond that by exaggerations and simply a repetition of how people feel.

“It’s easy for people to repeat what they hear and when people hear bad things, they repeat it. Then it becomes the main focal point,” he said. 

It’s not the first time Erie has proposed a plan to better the city’s current state or potential down the road. The Erie Downtown Master Plan was first published in February of 2007 by the Erie Redevelopment Authority. Erie County’s early 2000s comprehensive plan had seven separate plans in itself, including the transportation, housing, land use, natural and historic resources and community facilities and utilities plan. It also presented a citizen survey and a demographic study. 

Serafin elaborated: “When you go back down to city hall and you look on the shelves and how many plans there have been, I would have to think of the names of some of the other plans, but their plans down there that they pay to have people implement...this is going to be redirect Erie, or refocused Erie, or invest in Erie, they do them and they’re great ideas, but they put them on the shelves and they fall by the wayside.” 

A USA Today Report

The USA Today, in the article “These are the 5 worst cities for Black Americans” singled out Erie as the worst in the entire country. 

The report done by 24/7 Wall Street signified a major discrepancy in terms of income and employment between black and white individuals. With a black population at 7.2 percent, unemployment for black individuals is 20 percent higher than that of white. Median income for black individuals was 43.2 percent of what white individuals earn. 

Serafin was surprised when hearing of the report. In regards to Erie Refocused, they address this matter from a housing standpoint. 

“Nearly 60 percent of Erie’s black and Hispanic residents, for example, live in planning areas classified as distressed, while only 10 percent of the city’s black residents live in healthy or stable planning areas. Similarly, while 27 percent of Erie’s residents live in poverty, 56 percent of those in poverty are concentrated in the five planning areas classified as highly distressed or distressed.”

Further on in Erie Refocused, they address the civic dos and don’ts guide for collective impact.

“Making a habit of steering resources to the most deteriorated infrastructure or troubled area results in very few things being continuously well-maintained which dampens demand and the city’s financial capacity to make any investment.” it reads.

It goes on to say: “Resources to improve Erie neighborhoods are often directed to the most distressed areas - and are almost always inadequate to the task. Meanwhile, stable areas get relatively little attention and begin to slip. Investing in the short run to keep stable neighborhoods healthy will do more to strengthen the city’s finances and help demand recover citywide.”

Sefarin described his emotions after his own research into Erie Refocused.

“It was explained to me and it just rips your soul out, it’s disheartening when they go about this refocusing thing, or the redirect, there’s so many plans out there but they're all basically the same. The circle goes red, then it goes yellow, then it goes green. The red is too far gone, let’s put all our efforts in yellow so it doesn’t turn to red. You would think it would be better to get out of the red and into the yellow (he joked).”

Serafin describes them as red areas, Erie Refocused describes them as the most distressed areas, the difference? Nothing. Either way, these areas aren’t going to get the focus of the plan and business owners like Serafin have to live with that reality.

One house at a time is the motto he kept going back to.

“It’s the baby steps. Down here in the redzone, we don’t need the ten million dollar bike trail type of things. Those are great and it makes people feel good but yeah, it’s not what we need.”

He continued: “Councilman will tell me that they have different areas they have to focus on. Yellow or whatever because the red is already too far gone. It’s like, wait a minute, that’s not right.”

From painting a neighbor's house to building a planter for flowers on 26th street, what has been accomplished so far in the community Sefarin thanks in most part the Sisters of St. Joseph and Benedictine Sisters.

The Sisters of St. Joseph’s are working on installing solar lighting and cameras for local businesses. They moved into the area on 26th Street and have made their best effort to get involved going as far as getting PRI (Providing Resources for Improvement) Community to help clean of yards throughout the area.

“Their masters of getting people to raise their hands without raising their hands. To volunteer and have people take care of their things,” Serafin said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph didn’t stop there. In a combined effort with Mercyhurst University in May of 2016, they started a project to illustrate the rich cultural history of east Erie.”You are Here, We are Here.” It was a 64-page walking-tour guidebook.

“You look at old pictures or anything like that, you wonder if we ever really move forward. You look at old time photos and everyone's dressed up, I don’t care if you’re down by the docks, everyones got a top hat on. It’s amazing to think how people had pride in themselves, how they looked. I don’t know, we’re losing so much,” Serafin said.

Erie’s current plan lists the East Bayfront and Trinity Park as areas that are the most distressed. Ten other parts of the inner city are considered at risk of being distressed or already distressed. The further you are from downtown, the more the neighborhoods are healthy and stable.

“It’s the core. It’s like, you can’t change an area, you can go and pump as much money into an area and do as much of that stuff as you want, but if you don’t help the people that are in there and have them help themselves in a sense (Serafin takes a second to direct a customer to the lottery machines). To get them to care about their neighborhood and that somebody actually cares about it.”

This article is part of the work being done in Journalism 504: Advanced Electronic Journalism. Here, students are analyzing Erie’s current comprehensive plan, Erie Refocused.

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