Separated at birth: Downtown NL and the 2004 Red Sox
Has anyone ever considered the similarities between the 2004 Red Sox and rooting for the city of New London?
(Now THERE is an opening line.)
Think about it: The 2004 Red Sox probably didn't deserve the unwavering loyalty of their fan base, what with 86 years of torment as evidence suggesting perpetual misery. But on the doorstep of history's repeat, their tormentor, up three games to none, began to inhale the fumes of kryptonite and suddenly folded like a card table under Curt Schilling. And from nowhere came the best tale yet of faith rewarded.
Hard to argue New London shares the same characteristics, except for the faith rewarded part. Does the city deserve the unwavering loyalty of its residents, what with its potential counterbalanced by dizzying levels of dysfunction? And yet much like the Fenway Faithful, we still believe, by golly, that our version of Dave Roberts is coming soon.
And now another hopeful soul arises, another youngin who believes in the potential of downtown, despite years of Bank St.'s wheels spinning furiously, but with no traction. Sal D'Angelo, 35, just sunk considerable money into the old Brass Rail with the promise of the shiny new Blue Duck, a place with cultivated food and drink options and a deck overlooking the Thames.
D'Angelo and your humble narrator go way back-back-back, as Chris Berman might say. D'Angelo was a defensive end at Waterford High (he was a terror in the 2003 Thanksgiving Day game) and comes from the region's first family of deliciousness. Dad (Tony of Tony D's) and Uncle Stash (Schiavone, On The Waterfront) own two of the city's go-to eateries.
The Blue Duck's completion will give Bank St. a right-side-of-the-road of unmatched quality in this corner of the world. In a 50-yard walk, there is Social, Mambo, Fat Boys, Hot Rod's, Noble and Blue Duck: food, fun and water views worth anyone's while.
Muck like the Sox fandom packed Fenway that summer — even when they were well behind the Yankees — we lovers of New London owe the owners of the aforementioned businesses our support. No doubt they'll get it, especially when the pandemic lifts and we return to normal. But will they get the support they need from city leadership?
Downtown business owners are often rendered powerless against the "so which one will fail next?" narrative. Plenty of potential solutions get tossed around, sure. But finding consensus about steps to keep downtown thriving is harder to find than the police officer when you need one.
Ironically, this is what leadership can do to keep downtown alive: give us police officers when and where we need them.
This is probably not a popular take among the defund-the-police crowd. Sorry. But I find the local defund-the-police crowd incorrectly applying a national narrative to a local domain, whose police force is professional and efficient. There's no denying police brutality is very real and that Colin Kaepernick was right. But howling about it in New London, Ct., is misplaced, saying more about a group's cries for attention than anything factual or practical.
Then there's this: If you expect downtown to thrive with less police presence, your idealism prevents you from understanding how things really work as opposed to how they should.
How things really work: If people don't feel safe in our town, they're not coming. And why do we need more police presence downtown? Because too many non-New Londoners with money to spend simply don't feel safe there. Such distrustful outlooks on life may lend themselves to understandable criticism. Hardly the point here, though, particularly when weighed against the practical idea of: Do you want their money or not?
I have a friend who works for a local liquor distributor. He knows most of the local restaurants and gin mills intimately, mostly because inventory doesn't lie. His theory: Downtown businesses often fail because there's a finite number of people willing to patronize the establishments. That translates into a finite amount of money. Loosely translated: It's the same people spending the same money all the time. Only so much to go around.
If people (read: from the burbs) felt safer, they'd come to realize the quality of downtown and infuse more and different revenue streams.
I've seen this work elsewhere, namely Middletown, my hometown. Main St. in Middletown is seven blocks' worth of locally owned (and thriving) businesses with perpetual police presence, especially at night. Middletown has an older population that, frankly, is distrustful of anybody who doesn't look, sound or think as they do. (Sound familiar?) And yet, Main St. thrives because of a police presence.
New London leadership often balks at the premise of people not feeling safe here. That's the problem. New Londoners are the last ones we should be asking about this. Of course we feel safe downtown. But many others don't. And we need their money.
I'm rooting for Sal D'Angelo and the other business owners. Fat Boys has great food. Rod's has the best wings going. Note to people from out of town: You'll love it here. No, really.
Meanwhile, there's always hope. Papi, Manny and Dave Roberts just might be walking through that door soon, by golly.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro