The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds as residents in Cooperstown walked up and down Main Street Thursday morning in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s visit in the afternoon.
Signs were hung, paintings were made and streets were cleaned in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in the village, which houses a little more than 1,800 residents. After all, Thursday marked the first time a sitting president set foot inside the hall.
“Since early this morning, people have been washing their store windows, putting up banners and just really excited to welcome the president,” said Ainsley McCall, who works at F.R. Woods House of Pro Sports on Main Street.
The store, which sells mostly baseball memorabilia, attracted a number of onlookers thanks to Elizabeth Kenison and Kristin Karasek, who painted a picture of Obama wearing a baseball jersey on the shop’s window.
Several children holding American flags ran up to the painting and asked their mother to snap a photo of them in front of it. They smiled and waved their flags screaming, “The president is coming!”
Down the block from F.R. Woods, tucked away on a little side street off the main road, employees at Depot Deli were cooking since early in the morning so they could be ready to serve the state police, who preordered their food.
“We are busy trying to finish up their order before noon,” said Hay Young Wilkens, who has managed the deli for nine years. “Our slicer actually broke, so now we are slicing meat by hand.”
Wilkens said many local residents were talking about Obama’s visit for the past couple of days. Although attendance has slipped at the museum since 2007, Wilkens said she believes that will turn around.
The Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and is set to induct Joe Torre, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox to the hall in July.
“I think this year will be a good year for Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, and not just because of Obama’s visit — although that won’t hurt either,” said Sal Grigoli, owner of Sal’s Pizzeria on Main Street. “I hope we get to see him.”
Local residents and business owners opposed to hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, stood with signs across the street from the baseball museum ahead of Obama’s arrival.
The signs read, “No Gas Hole,” “Renewable Energy Now,” and “Let the Sun In.” Most of the people rallying against fracking on Thursday live in Cooperstown and neighboring areas in Otsego County.
Isaac Silberman-Gorn, community organizer at Citizen Action of New York, said, “Fracking and tourism are not compatible.” He believes it could drive tourists away from the area.
“No one wants to come to a place where water quality is ruined,” he said. “People in this town and this county want to keep their water clean and keep their culture alive.”
Obama visited Cooperstown Thursday to highlight the country’s travel and tourism industries and discussed ways to boost international tourism at destinations like the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“This is a great day for Cooperstown,” Wilkens said. “Even though he is only here for about an hour, I think Obama will leave a lasting impression on this town.”