Written by Carol Godette, Photos Provided
"Broadway was bleak" states Nelson Avenue resident Bill Finlay. With 22 vacant downtown storefronts in 1973, the odds of ever achieving an award winning Main Street were slim. But Saratoga Springs, being a gambling town, doubled down on multiple fronts and eventually beat those odds.
Downtown Saratoga Springs faced many challenges. In fact Ken Jones’ loan application for local AM station WKAJ was turned down by Glens Falls National Bank. At the time, the bank felt “Saratoga was a dying city.” Newman Wait of The Adirondack Trust Company instead financed the operation.
The October 1973 opening of Saratoga’s Pyramid Mall lured a few Broadway businesses such as Erlanger’s Fashions to relocate to the advertised
“1 Fun Place to be.” Initially downtown merchants were hopeful the mall would bring more people to the area that would first shop at the mall and then head downtown. However, that did not happen. “The impact was fairly drastic. The mall hurt our business a lot,” recalls David Carr Jr. whose parents owned Starbuck’s Department Store.
“Fear is the greatest catalyst in the world,” believes Charles Wait, CEO and chairman of the board of The Adirondack Trust Company. Wait was referencing the October 1973 opening of Pyramid Mall as being the catalyst that got mom and pop merchants to band together and fight against the competition. The Saratoga Downtown Merchant Association joined the Adirondack Trust Company and the Chamber of Commerce to create the 1974 “Plan of Action. “Led by Bob Bristol of Saratoga Associates, the plan had three stages. First was to rally public opinion to put
money into downtown and build a political climate for infrastructure improvement. Skidmore students created a 6 by 18 foot scale model of downtown. Local residents were invited to a vacant downtown Broadway storefront to manipulate the model
and create an ideal downtown. Nothing can be accomplished without funding. Three sources raised 1.2 million dollars: the creation a special assessment district; a one percent increase in sales tax; and $400,000 in Federal Community Development funds. Two public parking lots were developed, and the Saratoga Preservation Foundation led by Julie Stokes was established. Buildings facades were restored, street trees planted and benches were installed.
“Mom and Pops” are the heart of small communities. Clearly our local “Mom and Pop” bank was integral to downtown’s revitalization. The Adirondack Trust Company bought and leveled a row of dilapidated brick buildings along Church Street and hired Bob Bristol of Saratoga Associates to design an addition to the back of the original marble structure. The three arched brick addition came at a time when several downtown banks such as Mechanics Exchange had moved to Pyramid Mall. The Adirondack Trust’s 1974 decision to invest in downtown gave merchants hope.
Another overlooked factor in Saratoga’s success was Urban Renewal. “Even though it’s often criticized, Urban Renewal did a lot for Saratoga Springs.
Pre- 1974, Lee Roohan headed Urban Renewal.
The money we got from the federal government helped clear out run down, dilapidated wooden buildings and created open space lots for Saratoga Springs future development,” reflects Charles Wait.
In addition approximately 2.7 million dollars of Urban Renewal money was spent in widening several streets, including the section of Broadway from Lake Avenue running north to the arterial.
Another major factor in our success was the establishment of an anchor at the north end of Broadway. The parcel of land once occupied by the Brooklyn Hotel was closely examined and debated about. The Zoning Board considered several options- a large supermarket, a sports arena, and a convention center to replace our former Convention Hall, destroyed by fire in 1965. The goal was to attract people to our downtown to spend money at locally owned “mom and pops.” Twenty- five years later, many Broadway business owners appreciate the choice of a City/Convention Center.
All of these efforts would have fallen short of today’s award winning downtown if we did not have hardworking, innovative “Mom and Pop” retail owners. Norman Fox, founder of N.Fox- the oldest surviving store on Broadway, David Carr (Starbuck’s Department store), Edward Lenz (Megnes & Curtis), Harry Covkin (Covkin’s Little Folks Shop), Alfred Gardner (Globe Supply), E. W. Heckman (Saratoga Men’s and Boy’s Shop), Jerry Albert (Glickman’s), (Mr. Jack’s) Nate Berkowitz (BerKowitz Jewelers), Bernie Serotta (Farmers’ Hardware), Vito Suave (Suave Faire) and Mark Strauss (Mabou) are examples of small business owners who gambled their livelihood in the 1970s. One could speculate that they are the heroes of Saratoga Springs’ downtown. SS
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