AUBURN | A few new eateries moved into downtown Auburn in 2013: A.T. Walley & Co., Wildforyogurt and Osteria Salina.
Is there room for more? Many downtown business owners believe so, but on a few conditions.
Connie Reilley, executive director of the Downtown Auburn Business Improvement District, said new additions like Osteria and Walley are just that: Additions, not replacements, that cater to new audiences and carve new niches. Along with Moro's Table, which opened in 2010, the new venues provide comfort, quality cuisine and quiet conversation, Reilley said.
"I do think that A.T. Walley and Osteria Salina have raised the bar for restaurants and downtown," she said. "These places are doing well accommodating the different types of dining that the public requires."
Many owners of downtown Auburn's bars and restaurants see new business having a synergistic effect, not a saturating one — so long as it adds, and doesn't replace. Carol Hendrickson, manager of the Auburn and Seneca Falls locations of Parker's Grille & Tap House, finds value in having Walley as the Auburn bar's new neighbor, and feels that Parker's supports the new establishment as well.
"A.T. Walley customers might not have come to Parker's before to eat, but now it's there and people realize we're next-door," she said. "I think you do see people who wouldn't have come out."
Walley owners Jeff Campagnola and Bernie Simmons believe that effect is a two-way street with both Parker's and new neighbor Osteria Salina. The latter's cuisine has brought some new faces to the Walley counter, Campagnola said.
"People will be here and they'll be leaving and we'll say goodnight, and they'll say 'No, we're just heading to Parker's for a drink' or 'We're going over to Swaby's, but we'll be back,'" Simmons said. "We didn't open thinking we were going to put every other bar out of business."
Jim Daddabbo, owner of Mesa Grande Taqueria, likened the downtown dining scene to a pie not to be sliced, but to be grown.
"The more eateries there are, the more this becomes a destination. Look at Destiny USA — they have how many eateries in there? And it draws thousands of people," he said. "I actually think we don't have nearly enough eateries down here yet."
Most business owners agree that Auburn could reach a saturation point — not by having too many bars and restaurants, but by lacking the other ingredients downtown needs to become a bigger destination. For Reilley, it's the Schwartz Family Performing Arts Center.
"I think we need to remember that much of this investment is based on the theater becoming reality," she said.
Simmons and Campagnola feel retail and available parking are other essential parts of a healthy downtown ecosystem. Without shopping destinations, would-be diners may go to Skaneateles or Destiny USA instead, Simmons said — especially if they can't find a place to park.
"They need to push that parking garage," Campagnola said. "People don't utilize that enough. It's a short walk."
Having new bars and restaurants provides Auburn's longer-standing businesses with another benefit: healthy competition. Hendrickson feels the Auburn scene is cooperative, not cutthroat. She contrasted it to the Geneva Parker's, whose business suffered when Eddie O'Brien's moved in nearby and provided much of the same service, she said.
For now, Hendrickson said, the new faces are welcome ones in downtown Auburn.
"It's hard to say where that limit is," she said. "More and more people are going out to eat in Auburn every day though."