Two years ago today, a warm, sunny Friday afternoon in Ithaca was shattered when a runaway truck crashed into Simeon’s on the Commons. It’s been a long road, but the iconic downtown restaurant is nearly ready to reopen.
Update: Simeon’s is taking applications for line cooks, servers, bartenders, and dishwashers. They’ll have a table set up Wednesday, July 6th 11am-4pm, Thursday, July 7th 3-7pm, and Friday, July 8th 11am-4pm.
It was about 4:10pm on that day in 2014 when a truck crashed through the corner of the building at the intersection of East State Street and North Aurora Street, which also contained office space and apartments on the upper floors.
The crash, which took the life of 27-year-old Amanda Bush, a young mother and Simeon’s bartender, occurred early in the restaurant’s happy hour, when customers would have just started enjoying drinks or appetizers at the popular downtown restaurant, and staff would have been preparing for the Friday evening dinner rush.
“If this were 40 minutes later,” Mayor Myrick said the next morning, “an already tragic scene would have been far worse. Anyone who’s been downtown on a Friday at 5 knows there would be dozens of people at the sidewalk tables, dozens more at inside tables.”
“This building can be saved,” the City of Ithaca’s Mike Niechwiadowicz, director of code enforcement in the Department of Planning, Building and Economic Development, told us two weeks later. Engineers who examined the building following the crash were able to determine that most of its structural integrity was still sound. The exception was the south wall, which contained the Simeon’s facade and bay windows facing Madeline’s Restaurant and the Rothschild Building. That wall and several feet of interior structure were removed early on, and a temporary wall was built to protect the interior from the elements.
Built in 1871, the Griffin Block building that houses Simeon’s contained a candy shop early in the 20th century, followed by a clothing store, and was restored in the 1970s. Named for Simeon Dewitt, who founded Ithaca, Simeon’s first opened as a soda shop in 1975, and then evolved into a tavern and a restaurant. It was owned for a little over a decade by Alan Cohen, a former mayor of the City of Ithaca. Just a few years before the crash, the restaurant expanded into what had been a pizzeria next door, adding an additional dining room and upgraded kitchen space. The second floor has at various times contained a used bookstore, a copy shop, 14850 Magazine’s offices, and other businesses.
Two years after the crash, the south end of the building has been rebuilt, brick laid by hand, and new upstairs windows installed to match the design of the rest of the building. Simeon’s owners have been hard at work inside, as well, preparing to reopen the iconic corner restaurant this summer. The entryway has moved to the southwest corner of the restaurant, allowing for a single, larger seating space in the corner windows, replacing the two cramped spaces with the door between them. An interior staircase will take diners to a new second-floor dining room with a balcony overlooking the bar.
Structural changes inside the building include a new elevator that will serve every floor, including a basement area that will now house the restaurant’s bathrooms, according to Jerry Dietz of CSP Management. (The barber shop that occupied the basement for decades won’t be reopening.) The bathrooms built several years ago in the former pizzeria space, along with that space’s new dining room and kitchen, have been removed to allow for an expanded kitchen.
Restaurant owners Dean Zervos and Rich Avery say Simeon’s on the Commons will reopen this July. The pair have owned the business since the fall of 2007, about twenty years after former Ithaca mayor Alan Cohen turned the corner tavern into a restaurant.