Geneva College and Beaver Falls

Editorial from The Geneva Cabinet, Volume 135, Issue 15, February 3, 2012

This is the second week in a row that we’re reporting on the closing, or possible closing, of a business operation in downtown Beaver Falls (see Huntington, pg. 1, [PDF]). There are others still rumoured, which makes for dour news. The businesses that do remain will struggle even more.

The Huntington Bank branch, which is confirmed to close, and the Salvation Army Thrift Store, which may close in the near future, are perhaps not the keystones of the Beaver Falls economy. But they’re only the most recent announcements; Kelly’s Hardware has been in the process of liquidation for some time, and a manufacturing center closed last year.

In a city struggling to attract businesses, any loss of businesses, especially those that cater to the local population, is a major problem. Jobs are lost, convenience and accessibility—some of the prime benefits of large towns and cities—are negatively impacted, and the aesthetics of the city suffer as buildings are empty and deteriorating. It makes it harder to attract new businesses, and fewer people patronize the ones that are still there.

The college, depending on who you ask, is the villain or the saint of Beaver Falls. We use a lot of public resources without paying some taxes that most landowners would pay. Any expansion of the college is therefore viewed with mixed feelings because it would reduce the city’s tax base. At the same time, Geneva is the largest employer in the city. And though the number of students shopping and eating downtown is not as high as it could be, we certainly bring more business than if we weren’t here. (And certainly, we keep Oram’s in business!)

Is the Geneva College community doing enough? Certainly not. Students are attracted to Walmart and the chain restaurants in Chippewa and the big movie theater and mall in Monaca. Few frequent Athens Restaurant downtown, or shop at any of the other second-hand stores further down Seventh Avenue, or know about the other small shops that somehow stay in business.

The problem is compounded in a vicious cycle. If there are fewer businesses to attract students, fewer students will shop downtown. If fewer students shop downtown, fewer businesses will stay open.

It’s not all bad news. Two stores have opened recently, a grocery store and a florist. City House, a venture pseudo-supported by Geneva, gets students to live in a Beaver Falls neighborhood and to interact more with the community. But it’s not nearly enough.

At spring Academic Convocation, Dr. Dittmar challenged us, the students especially, to develop collaborative relationships with the community we are a part of. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see applied research in Beaver Falls,” he said. This has been done before; a couple years ago some engineering students worked on a project to help the downtown library plan and prioritize the renovations of its deteriorating building. There are plenty of possible projects for engineers, sociologists, historians, and educators.

Possibilities surround us, even when the economic life of the city seems to continue to shrivel up. But for something lasting to happen, we need a concerted effort between the college and the city to jump-start the process. With both the city and the college in tight financial positions, though, such a jump-start seems unlikely to happen.

Thanks to The Geneva Cabinet, especially Story Editor Allie Reefer and Assistant Editor Sarah Felton for editing assistance.
Daniel Favand is the Editor in Chief of The Geneva Cabinet.

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