Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The Home of the Fair Deal
The entrance to Binghamton doesn’t look so grand on Main Street nowadays. The arch proclaiming “The Home of the Fair Deal” was erected in 1920 by the workers of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company. This company was unusually progressive for its time, providing healthcare and low-cost housing for workers. The shoe company was one of the engines of the local economy for decades, and left a lasting legacy to the local municipalities - swimming pools, libraries, and free carousels. But the company did not adjust to the changing competitive environment, losing market share to cheaper footwear produced overseas. The family of the the original Johnson and Endicott founders brought in outside management in 1957, but this step couldn’t save the company. In 1998 the closure of the last local shoe manufacturing plant was announced.
IBM was also founded in this region, and still employs 1,000 people here - but it’s a mere shell of what it used to be. Binghamton had roughly 45,000 residents in 2007, a 4.6 percent decline since the 2000 census. To be honest, Binghamton was in rough shape when I left two years ago, and there are even more empty store fronts now. One of the last restaurants on Main Street is now a head shop. Neighboring Johnson City is even worse off. Fat Cat Books has moved from its distinctive triangular building on Main Street to 15 Avenue B. I didn’t do a store census, but the clear impression is that closed store fronts in that town far outnumber operating businesses on Johnson City’s Main Street.