When David Ciurzynski was a kid, he and his brother would shop for school items and take the elevator at C.L. Carr’s department store, watching as the operator pulled the little stick to close the zig-zag accordion-like gate before they ascended to a higher floor. And then down again.
There were floors for the billing department, a bridal shop and other specific types of merchandise, and the basement had housewares while first floor catered to men’s and women’s clothing, children’s items, jewelry, makeup and greeting cards. There were clear tubes that shuttled payments from downstairs up to billing.
"And I just think about those memories that we had way back when ... and now the new memories that we make at the JJ Newberry's building that's now Eli Fish," Ciurzynski said during a presentation of downtown projects, including the former Carr’s building, Tuesday at City Hall. "That's what this project is all about. Right? Taking our history, taking our memories, and turning it into something that people can make new memories with, including ourselves. "
The project consultant is not alone with his recollections of Carr’s days of grandeur. Anyone who grew up in Batavia is familiar with the high-end department store, with free gift-wrapping service, seasonal visits from Santa Claus, sidewalk sales and an ice cream cart, and the personalized services of salesmen and women, especially those experienced ladies behind the jewelry counter.
Getting a gift from Carr’s was kind of special — it meant quality and style. And so very neatly and precisely wrapped with a coordinated bow. There are still offerings like that downtown, such as Valle Jewelers and Charles Men’s Shop, as those places have continued to bob and weave to miss the knock-out punches of big box stores and economic shifts.
Carr’s was the only store, however, to consume so much footprint -- more than 11,000 square feet -- along Main and Jackson streets. It was exciting to step aboard the elevator and be whisked up to look at fancy women’s dresses and accessories.
Ciurzynski’s description of the site’s future — renovating the upper two floors for apartments, installing arched windows in the front overlooking Main Street, preparing the lower levels for other commercial space by removing asbestos and making them more enticing for prospective businesses — also included a vision. The project has been titled Carr's Reborn.
“We can restore the former landmark to its former glory,” he said.
People will be able to go to a restaurant or brewery, catch a play, movie or live music, or visit the future Healthy Living campus with its new exercise and classroom space, kitchen and complete wellness center, he said.
The project would take $1 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant funding and $4 million from property owner Ken Mistler. Possible uses for the main floor have not been determined, and it’s about “what does downtown Batavia need?” Ciurzynski said.
“I could see a small department store for women’s clothing to complement the men’s clothing shop we have,” he said. “The harder part right now is getting people to commit with labor; there’s been a shortage.”
Steve Hyde of the county’s Economic Development Center said that studies have found that Batavia needs more housing — some 4,500 units over the next several years.
“People are commuting here, working and collecting paychecks, but they don’t live here,” he said.
Adding 14 to 16 market rate — higher scale — apartments would “tie a bow around us,” he said.
City Council President Eugene Jankowski said that older people have mentioned that they might like to live in a downtown apartment, but “the only drawback is a long staircase.” Those possibly semi-retired folks wish there was an elevator as well, he said.
So yes, that relic of Carr’s will be resurrected and working once again, albeit, probably not with a personal attendant.
The DRI Committee members approved a motion to move forward with the project. They were: Eugene Jankowski, Steve Hyde, Dr. James Sunser, Craig Yunker, Tammy Hathaway, Erik Fix, Tom Turnbull, Susie Ott, Paul Battaglia, Marty Macdonald and Nathan Varland.
The remaining committee members who were absent include Pier Cipollone, Patrick Burk, Marianne Clattenburg, John McKenna, Julia Garver, John Riter, Peter Casey, Matt Gray, Mary Valle, John Bookmiller and Dan Ireland.
Ciurzynski, of Ciurzynski Consulting, LLC, gave Mistler a nod and thumb’s up. Mistler said he appreciated the support, but wanted to hold off with any further comment until the project gets moving. Now that the committee approved the grant funding, minutes from the meeting will be sent to Empire State Development for state approval.
Top photo: City Council President Eugene Jankowski talks about a proposed project Tuesday morning to renovate the former Carr's building in downtown Batavia. David Ciurzynski reviews the project, dubbed 'Carr's Reborn,' with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative Committee at City Hall; Committee members Nathan Varland, Tammy Hathaway, Eugene Jankowski, Susie Ott, Dr. James Sunser, Steve Hyde and Erik Fix. Photos courtesy of Jim Krencik. Rendering of Carr's Reborn from Batavia Development Corporation.