TIMES HERALD RECORD: May 19, 2008
LIVINGSTON MANOR — Boarded-up buildings have turned into vibrant mom-and-pop shops. Crumbling roadsides have been replaced by smooth sidewalks lined with streetlights, cherry trees and park benches. The shadowy corners where drug dealers loitered and sold cocaine are now well lit and safe for pedestrians.
The river hamlet that people once called "a tough little town" is quickly transforming into a prosperous one.
Over roughly the past five years Livingston Manor has seen a renaissance that many of our struggling cities, villages and hamlets have only dreamed of. It's been accomplished with a two-pronged approach — the town and business owners paid for infrastructure improvements, and the police surgically removed gangs and other troublemakers who soured the town with drugs and violence.
Business owners say the turning point was 2004. That's when the Town of Rockland — using grants, donations and some of its own money — replaced the crumbling, unsightly sidewalks. New streetlights, benches and roadside trash cans were installed that year, too. The improvements gave Livingston Manor residents a reason to walk about town again, and they gave business owners the impetus to spruce up their storefronts using county facade grants.
"The cosmetic changes had a tremendous effect," said Barry Foster, a longtime resident who owns Hot Corner Sports Collectibles.
"You look at a shleppy town, and who wants to be there?"
The town's beautification has lured new businesses, like the bicycle shop, bookstore and housewares store. Civic involvement is also rising, residents said. Locals chipped in $1,600 for each new street lamp. On a recent Wednesday night, Lisa Lyons, owner of the Morgan Outdoors nature and sporting shop, hosted a group that stained flower boxes to be placed around the hamlet.
"We wouldn't dream of letting go of the progress we've made," Lyons said. "That's why we spend a weekday night staining planters. We've built a nice, pretty town and we're going to hold onto it."
Police have helped the people of Livingston Manor regain control. In the past few years, through investigations and covert drug purchases, police have snaked out members of the Crips, Latin Kings and the homegrown Cash Crew street gangs. They had been throwing loud parties, fighting in the streets, and dealing marijuana and cocaine.
"The key for us was surgically finding the problem areas and problem people and directing our resources there," said Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff. Once police gained momentum, school kids started giving them tips and business owners kept the police phone number by their cash registers just in case they spotted trouble. The watchful eyes of locals and police busts have combined to wipe much of the crime from the hamlet, Schiff said.
If you're looking for an anecdote that epitomizes the changing tide in Livingston Manor, here it is: When police last year arrested Bradley Dunham, the alleged narcotics dealer and leader of the Cash Crew gang, they also confiscated his car, a spiffy 1998 Corvette. The car won't be used to deliver drugs anymore, but it will be used to deliver drug messages to youngsters. Police say the Corvette will be outfitted with decals and used as the DARE vehicle.