Michael Suguitan / Sun Senior Photographer

The storefront at 301 South Meadow Street serves as a hub for the Tompkins Republican Party.

November 3, 2020

Small Ithaca Storefront Provides Political Home for Tompkins County Republicans

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While run by a husband-wife duo, the small corner storefront located at 301 South Meadow Street in downtown Ithaca is not your typical mom-and-pop shop by any means. For one, they do not sell any goods, and they give Trump signs for free upon request.

For two months, long-time residents and Tompkins County GOP members Nancy and Jim Crawford ’78 have been running a Republican storefront right off of heavily trafficked Route 13 in Downtown Ithaca with support from the Tompkins County Republican Party. 

“My husband and I start the day together — we talk about things, we actually pray, and both of us felt that we had to do this,” Nancy, 72, said. “We thought that we needed a storefront, some visibility so that there would be some way to bring encouragement to people that are kind of like the ‘silent majority’ right now.”

And that is exactly what they did — the Crawfords contacted county legislator and Tompkins County GOP Chair Mike Sigler, who gave them the green light on the project. 

According to Sigler, this is not the first time a temporary Republican headquarters has been established in Ithaca, which has the highest concentration of Democrats in a county where Republicans are already outnumbered three to one. 

Despite Ithaca’s liberal lean, Sigler said that putting up the storefront was a challenging but necessary step in reestablishing the GOP brand. 

“Ithaca is the center of the county and that’s why the county seat is there. It also has the largest population — granted, our lowest population of Republicans are in the city — but how do you change that? I think it helps to have a presence and to say, listen, we’re here for you.”

In order to maintain this Republican presence, the galley-style storefront has spent the past two months fundraising among its members to distribute campaign materials like yard signs and organize rallies in support of Republican politicians. 

“We have people coming in from different places all over the county … Somebody took 24 signs for Trump yesterday to Newfield (9 miles from Ithaca), so something good is happening,” Crawford said.

On weekdays, the storefront has usually been open for visits and staffed by volunteers from 4 to 8 pm; since the chaotic counterprotest in response to the Trump rally that the storefront organized on Oct. 16, the organizers have cut hours short and have looked into providing security during open hours. 

To the organizers, the storefront’s location right off of a highway like Route 13 was ideal for multiple reasons. Positioned on a major road that is also a stone’s throw away from a number of big-box retailers like Walmart and Lowe’s ensured that the storefront and its “Vote Republican 2020” banner are visible to motorists running errands or traveling between neighboring towns.

While the contentious presidential election was a strong motivator for the Crawfords to establish the Ithacan GOP storefront, its efforts are just as focused on uplifting the campaigns of Republican politicians seeking reelection like State Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-N.Y.), Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), in addition to newcomers like State Senate candidate Peter Oberacker.

“[The storefront] is giving us an outlet to have our elected officials come to Tompkins in a way, frankly, that we haven’t had before,” Sigler said.

But as election day grows near, tensions between Tompkins Democrats and Republicans have risen with the storefront as a familiar backdrop. The Trump rally organized by the storefront on Friday, Oct. 16 and a visit by Rep. Reed on Oct. 22 both faced fierce resistance from counterprotesters. The second event saw contentious clashes between counterprotestors and the Ithaca Police Department, which culminated in multiple arrests. 

Nancy Crawford expressed frustration that the rally ended with Republican supporters being pushed into the storefront’s wall: “We’re trying to say just honk your horn and that’s all that we wanted to do,” referring to passing motorists on Route 13 showing their support for the Trump rally.

“But [the counterprotesters] had something else in mind, saying ‘you don’t belong here,’ ‘there’s no room for you in this city.’ I said really? I’ve lived here longer than you have. Than all of them,” continued Nancy, who has lived in Tompkins for 45 years. She noted her spouse and co-founder moved to Ithaca in the 4th grade and attended Cornell as a history major.

The storefront and the Tompkins County GOP have reiterated that they are not associated with events like the Back the Blue rally  held in the Ithaca Commons last Saturday. That rally was organized instead by Tompkins GOP member Rocco Lucente, but did not receive official GOP endorsement. 

The storefront expects to ramp up its campaign efforts as election day nears, and intends to support candidates at the storefront up until results come in on Nov. 3.

“On election night we’re going to have people [at the storefront]. We’re going to be watching results come in — if people want to come by the headquarters in the next week we will definitely be putting them to work. There will definitely be a whole get out to vote campaign we will be devoting ourselves to,” Sigler said.