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Two card-carrying downtown residents with a passion for the city have launched a guide to share the love.
Jason and Stefanie Schwingle have quietly begun a movement. Their online guide, the Rochesteriat, features interviews with small-business owners, residents and others who have dug in to stay downtown.
"The Rochesteriat really wants to tell the story of us here in the urban core. If you're urban-minded, that's who we want to target," Jason says. "We want to do the real work of getting the city back to where it used to be."
A half-century has passed since downtown Rochester was the shopping and entertainment hub of the region. Older residents remember the sparkle of those times-from the tea room at Sibley's to the Clock of Nations at Midtown Plaza. The era's passing has soured an entire generation on the livability of the city's core.
The Schwingles want to change people's minds.
Jason, 35, and Stefanie, 28, are excited about big developments pending downtown, including the reworked Midtown area. Several projects are planned near where they live in the Capron Street Lofts-a skate park, luxury condominiums and a waterfront park, all on the river's edge.
But as promising as these developments are, what really gets this couple going are the people. Through photos and interviews in the Rochesteriat (therochesteriat.com), the Schwingles want to tell the everyday stories of small-business owners-what drives them to open their doors, what keeps them going. In doing so, they hope to put a face on the city and silence the doubters.
"We know there's some strong opinions out there ..., and we definitely don't know it all," Jason says. "You have to have a strong vision. You have to have a solid core. We just want to be part of that."
Both spent their early childhoods in the city-Stefanie in Maplewood until second grade, Jason until middle school in the 19th Ward. They recall easy bike rides to the library, the corner store and the park. When their families moved to the suburbs (hers to Gates near Spencerport and his to Chili), excursions usually involved the family car.
The Schwingles are emblematic of a generation of Americans who grew up primarily in the suburbs and are migrating to cities. Nearly 80 percent of the under-30 Gen Y population-the largest generation since the baby boomers-plan to live in an urban core, according to a study last year by Robert Charles Lesser & Co.
"It's those perspective changers that we want to show. Downstate they don't have an issue with living on the 100th floor with no yard," Jason says with a smile.
He moved to New York City in 2001 after earning a marketing degree from Rochester Institute of Technology. Jason worked in retail, bouncing back to Rochester and then returning to New York to pursue a master's in social work at New York University. After a semester he knew the career wasn't for him-but he says the desire to help build community has stayed with him.
In 2005, he landed a job with JetBlue Airways as a flight attendant. Living in Brooklyn, he missed home and family and started looking into Rochester Young Professionals. He moved back in early 2009 "to make a difference," he says, and now is on the RYP board as co-chairman of community development. Based out of JFK, he flies red-eyes to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and other quick trips so he can be at home as often as possible.
Stefanie graduated from Clarkson University in 2007 with a degree in communication and media. In high school and college she worked part-time in the corporate pharmacy call center for Weg-mans Food Markets Inc. After college she joined Wegmans full-time, and she works as an administrative assistant with responsibilities in event planning.
Stefanie says she wasn't familiar with the city before she met Jason at church a few years ago, but his enthusiasm proved contagious. It reminded her of stories of a lively downtown that her grandfather told.
"We would love to ... be able to see our children enjoy the city," she says. "We want to merge our passion. We want to live what we believe."
"We can do the same thing in Rochester as they did in Williamsburg," Jason says, referring to a revitalized section of Brooklyn that he laughingly calls "Disney World for hipsters."
The Schwingles launched the Rochesteriat last week. For now it's just the two of them, but they are already discussing collaborations with other websites and downtown business owners. Eventually they hope to offer advertising opportunities.
The secret is "being open to not having it all right now but being part of the process," Jason says about transforming downtown. "We can complain ... (or we can) positively influence that process."
Adds Stefanie: "You can be part of shaping your city."
8/02/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.