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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Will Cornish’s departure resonate more than his words ever did?

    New London - All the cars passing through Bank St. have seen it for a few weeks now, the ominous, if not depressing, closed storefront of Hot Rod’s, the erstwhile flagship business of downtown New London.

    Even the most ardent cheerleader, or at least the ones who remain coherent, must view this as a kick in the ascot to the city. This was a fixture of fun in the middle of downtown, a Black-owned business, gone. And really for no other reason than Rod Cornish, the proprietor, got a better deal somewhere else.

    And now Cornish is doing in Niantic, at Charlie’s, what he used to do in New London: Encourage the masses to eat, drink and be merry. Which they are. In droves. Good for Rod.

    A few words about Hot Rod’s before proceeding: I can’t say I was a regular. But Hot Rod’s was always a fun time, a great place to watch the game. Cornish was always there for the sports community. If a youth or high school team needed a fundraiser, it went to Hot Rod’s. The girls’ basketball team at the high school needed championship rings a few years back? Cornish donated a percentage of his food proceeds to the kids. Eat wings, get rings.

    Cornish even opened Hot Rod’s one night to watch one of local heavyweight Cassius Chaney’s bouts that was pay-per-view and not necessarily affordable to all the people in the city. Cornish was a good businessman, a good man and should have been the pied piper of downtown New London. Instead, the political hierarchy ignored him, as it does all the others who doth protest too much.

    City residents deserve to know a few facts here. In August, at a City Center District meeting, Cornish publicly — and pointedly — raised the issue about public safety issues downtown. He told the gathering that more police were needed walking downtown beats because even the regulars weren’t feeling so safe anymore.

    I asked Cornish a few days later if he’d speak for the record. He respectfully declined, fearing retaliation, which ought to suggest the level of tolerance, or lack thereof, some of our fearless leaders show toward their perceived detractors.

    The result of the meeting, in which Cornish reiterated the feelings of many downtown business owners who question public safety: nothing. Crickets. Denial. This is a recording.

    Indeed, it seems the only thing leaving New London faster than downtown businesses is any sense of objectivity about downtown’s current state.

    There are two echo chambers: The cheerleaders, who lecture the detractors. The detractors, who lecture the cheerleaders. All firmly entrenched, nobody willing to listen or acknowledge that they are both right and wrong at the same time.

    The cheerleaders are correct when they celebrate all the new housing and more people than ever living downtown. The detractors are correct when they question why downtown businesses (surely more than just Hot Rod’s) are closing with more people around than ever. It makes no sense.

    Except that it does, if the people don’t feel safe.

    I’ve always thought it obtuse to expect downtown to thrive without more police presence. It shows the inability to understand how things really work as opposed to how they should.

    How things really work: If people don't feel safe, they're not coming. This is why Cornish understood that more police presence was required. Too many folks from the region with money to spend simply don't feel safe. 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 many of the local restaurants and gin mills intimately, 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.

    This is the point Cornish was trying to make. Forget that his views are correct for a minute. Cornish’s history and effort in building a business on Bank St. merited him more respect than he was given. And now he’s gone.

    Maybe this is why I nearly vomited the other day when Gov. Lamont said New London has had “a bigger economic transformation than any other place in the state.”

    Holy Spin Doctoring, Batman. I can make a case that for every new apartment building that rises, a downtown business falls. That’s called spinning one’s wheels, not economic transformation.

    I suspect that many of the departed businesses would still exist if somebody here would heed Cornish’s words. Meanwhile, I’d like someone to give me a reason other than public safety that explains how we have more downtown residents than ever — and fun, successful and historic places like Hot Rod’s are closing.

    Many of us love this city. We criticize because we care. And we’re sure going to miss wings, beers and the ballgame at a city institution. Maybe now that he’s gone, Cornish’s silence will resonate more than his words ever did.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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