Candidates for mayor in the Glove Cities say new development along the Route 30A arterial is a great thing for the local economy, but the success of their downtown commercial districts also is important.
Nobody claims to have figured out the perfect way to balance the two priorities.
Gloversville Mayor Dayton King, whose administration has seen the final phases of the long-awaited Walmart Supercenter project fall into place, also has promoted the development of a proposed new commercial road that would run parallel to Route 30A near the Walmart site on South Kingsboro Avenue. But he says maintaining a healthy downtown also is vital.
"I personally promote downtown businesses any chance I can get," King told The Leader-Herald in an email message. "I have also been working with local Realtors and landlords to bring in businesses to fill vacant storefronts. I also presented the idea about tax breaks for mixed-use [buildings] downtown that was passed by our council and passed by the county. The school district has yet to take any action on it."
King said he thinks city officials and downtown merchants have a good working relationship, but they have an uphill battle, considering market forces and many consumers' preferences are stacked against downtown shopping.
"Ultimately, private businesses are going to locate where they feel they will have the best chance of making a profit," he said. "Throughout the country, people are shopping where it is convenient, such as the arterials. Towns such as Amsterdam, Colonie and Clifton Park are good examples of this locally."
Jim Handy, a former councilman-at-large and one of King's challengers for election as mayor, said the key to revitalizing Gloversville's economy might be attracting an outlet store with name recognition, such as an L.L. Bean or Cabela's. The burning questions are whether such a retailer would be interested in opening a store in Gloversville, and whether it would prefer to locate on the arterial or on Main Street.
"I certainly want to see the downtown flourish, though I don't know if it will ever be what it used to be," said Handy, a member of the city Planning Board. "I want to see the proper balance struck so everybody shares equally."
He says the community should continue to support local retail stalwarts that have maintained stores downtown for many years, such as Rossbach's Shoes.
"My hat's off to them," Handy said. "Vacant storefronts certainly are not pleasing to the consumers or to anybody else who sees them."
Mike Ponticello, a retired school administrator and county supervisor from Gloversville's 5th Ward, also is a candidate in the city's mayoral race this year.
"City government needs to be proactive and look at all the financial resources available to escalate [downtown]," Ponticello said.
He said the opening of the Walmart Supercenter started a "novelty period" when the new store will attract a rush of shoppers to the area, and some of those consumers may be tempted to come to downtown Gloversville.
"I'm optimistic that it would bring some people downtown," Ponticello said. "If we're doing something downtown [developmentwise], now would be a good time to get it done."
Johnstown 3rd Ward Councilwoman Helen Martin is one of three Republican candidates running for mayor this year, as incumbent Sarah Slingerland has decided not to seek a third term.
"The continued business development on the arterial, including the new Walmart Supercenter and the new TJ Maxx store currently under construction, is a very positive sign for our individual communities and the entire county," Martin said in an email to The Leader-Herald. "Johnstown's downtown is home to different types of businesses than are normally found on the arterial. These include specialty retail businesses, professional offices and apartments. The city of Johnstown ... will continue to work to market our downtown and seek avenues for funding - such as the grant we are in the process of applying for that will enable us to address structural and cosmetic issues - that will only serve to enhance the overall charm of the downtown area."
Martin said city government must "actively concern itself with development of the entire city - be it downtown or the burgeoning business district on the arterial."
Marketing the city to developers and outside businesses is critical, Martin said, but it would be "problematic" for city government to invest taxpayer dollars in a professional promotional campaign.
"Short of that, I feel there are other ways to give our city increased exposure, including our newly redesigned city website (scheduled to go online by the end of August), availing ourselves of the vast resources of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce ... and creating in-house economic development and marketing tools for self-promotion."
Scott Jeffers, a member of the Johnstown Water Board and another candidate for mayor, has said promoting locally owned businesses is a priority of his campaign.
"I think our local and arterial businesses will hold their own," he said.
Will there be competition between Main Street and arterial businesses? "Of course," Jeffers said. "And I don't think that's a bad thing for consumers in a free-market society, but all our locals do a great job and will continue to offer quality."
City government's role should be one of "interested concern," he said, and the whole business community should "know that the city government is here for them and values their concerns and ideas."
"Our established businesses will continue to do well because they are run by hardworking, intelligent people who care, and they'll continue to grow and provide as long as the city works along side them."
Larry Razzano, a longtime area businessman also running for mayor, said he fears the new, larger Walmart and continued arterial development is bound to have a negative effect on both Glove Cities' downtowns.
"It's going to hurt both of those downtown areas," Razzano said.
The jobs created by corporate retail businesses along the arterial are important, but they are squeezing out the small local retailers, he said.
"I'm not trying to knock anybody, but if you keep [developing] that arterial way, you're taking away from a lot of local merchants - you're going to put them out of business."
Razzano said if elected, he would work with other city and county leaders to try to preserve the downtown business district.
"One person alone isn't going to be able to put a stop to this," he said.
Michael Julius, the retired owner of the former Broadalbin Pharmacy, the only Democrat in Johnstown's mayoral race this year.
He says city leaders should reach out to companies interested in locating near the GlobalFoundaries chip-fabrication plant in Saratoga County, a roughly 40-minute drive from Johnstown.
"I'm looking to bring high-tech to the area," Julius said. "If we're successful in that, [prosperity] will spill over to Main Street and Route 30A."
Having owned a small business for many years, Julius said, he can relate to the challenges shop owners on Main Street are facing.
"I was an independent, and my heart is always with the independents," he said.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.