Grand openings and open-mindedness in Fulton County

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The interior of North Star, a new coffee shop on North Main Street in Gloversville, is seen here on Dec. 23, 2021.

GLOVERSVILLE – Some of the newest businesses in Gloversville host burlesque shows, serve locally sourced health food and sell witches’ spell jars.

As the city and other Fulton County municipalities continue revitalization efforts, part of the story is going to be how well less-traditional shops fare. 

Some of the newer businesses in Gloversville include:

North Star, a cafe, bookstore and art gallery that opened inside the 1880s opera house cafe building in November, has already hosted live entertainment events ranging from an indie acoustic performance to a drag show.

The Happy Mug, which is currently located inside the Agora Marketplace, opened in December and will soon feature a menu that includes a turkey sandwich made with mango chutney, brie, green apples and a Dijon sauce. The Happy Mug also plans to host community events – from kids crafts activities to musical performances.

And The East Witchery, which opened in June on Fulton Street and sells crystals, incense and other metaphysical products, has hosted a Halloween event that drew more than 400 visitors.

Meanwhile, newer businesses on Johnstown’s Main Street include Second Wind Coffee, which has a hip vibe that’s part rustic farmhouse part motorcycle bar, and McLemon’s Boutique, specializing in new and vintage unique women’s fashions.

Kenneth Adamczyk, economic development specialist with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, said these different kinds of businesses can be a boon to downtowns, providing additional attractions to more traditional kinds of shopping and entertainment venues, such as the Glove Theater, which will benefit from the $10 million that Gloversville received as part of New York state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. 

“Fulton County was historically agriculture based. This brings something new,” Adamczyk said inside the North Star cafe and bookstore last week. “It brings a little bit more interest in what is going on in town. When you can have a bookstore that does concerts and things like that, that’s a huge niche. And with some of the other businesses, like Agora and The Apothecary, and having them all centrally located around the theater, and then that building up, it’s all going to be something in this area that’s going to draw people and give them other things to do.”

Adamczyk said the county has many funding options to support small shops and cafes, including a microenterprise grant program that has recently sent $300,000 to Fulton County businesses.

Gloversville Mayor Vincent DeSantis said less traditional businesses help downtowns like Gloversville’s become “sticky” rather than “slippery” – meaning they offer reasons for people to hang out rather than get in and out.  

“The most important thing for a downtown is that synergy between businesses. Each business augments the business of the other businesses,” DeSantis said. “Synergy creates a variety of different reasons to stay downtown,” and, DeSantis said, if you combine synergy with walkability and welcoming public spaces, you build an interesting downtown. “You have to have a variety of things for people to come down for.”

A big question that could determine the future of cities like Gloversville and Johnstown are how much pushback businesses hosting burlesque shows and selling spell jars receive. So far, owners say, the community has been largely welcoming. But that doesn’t mean their openings haven’t faced some friction. 

“More churchy-type people come in here, and they have a lot of questions, which I totally don’t mind answering,” said Stefani Brown, co-owner of The East Witchery. “Some people come in and say, ‘this is demonic.’ and I say ‘I don’t do any of that kind of stuff.’”

Brown said the metaphysical shop focuses on earthy materials like crystals and lotions that can emit positive energy. 

Brown said her shop and others like it offer a different kind of outlet for Fulton County shoppers.

“For anyone that kind of goes to their own beat of things and isn’t quite in the mainstream, that’s kind of what we love to do, and we’re able to bring that to the community.” 

Robert Tomlinson, an artist who found Gloversville by way of Catskill, after coming to upstate New York from Berkeley, California, and Portland, Oregon, said he opened North Star to be a “third place” in Gloversville. That means it isn’t home, it isn’t work, but it’s a third location where people can spend time. Tomlinson said he was attracted to Gloversville because of the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market and the city’s investment in its public library.

“When people say what are you doing, I say I’m creating a community center that’s disguised as a cafe and bookshop,” Tomlinson said. 

Tanyalynnette Grimes, whose Micropolis Development Group, owns several businesses in Gloversville – including Kingsboro Golf Club, the new Happy Mug inside the Agora Marketplace, and The Apothecary – said her priority is her employees. She said she has a “humanistic” approach to her business, meaning she starts all of her nearly 30 employees at $15 an hour, gives holidays off and even helps pay some education expenses. 

“There has to be a really good balance as a business owner between profits, profitability and how we treat our people. If I get a dollar, but I don’t treat the people who help me get that dollar well, then I have essentially stolen that dollar,” Grimes said. “It’s about how do we employ people and then continue to develop them into a higher level of the holistic person that they can be.”

Grimes said the people who work in Gloversville’s businesses are, in many ways, the faces of Gloversville because they are the people who members of the public interact with on a daily basis. So if you build employees up and support their ideas and visions, you begin to build up communities as a whole – and you start to help those communities evolve, Grimes said. 

“It’s not letting the cycle of poverty continue generation after generation. It’s providing options and having someone believe in them and telling them that no matter what their dream is that it’s possible,” Grimes said. “Maybe it’s not riding a unicorn through the fields, but maybe it is training horses, and maybe a few years from now we will have horse-drawn sleighs going through the golf course because it’s somebody’s passion. That’s really what it’s about with development – not locking yourself down to the breadth of what I can think of. It is really cultivating everything that’s out there as a community and helping to bring it to fruition.”

Fulton County residents say they have already noticed a difference in their communities. Riley King, 21, said she is now proud to be from Gloversville. 

“I was born and raised here, so I definitely want to get out and venture off. But I wouldn’t feel bad coming back,” said King, who now works at the Happy Mug. I’m not like ‘oh, no, I’m from Gloversville.’ I’m like, ‘oh, we’re rebuilding Gloversville. You should come see how it looks now.’”

Lauren Day Lathers, 39, said she wanted to stay in Gloversville after considering a move from Syracuse to Kingston, in part because of artsy spaces like North Star. She is now the manager at the shop. 

“There are people nowadays that really just want a place where they can fit in. It’s not like we are trying to push the envelope. We’re trying to change with the times. People are changing. It’s how we’ve always felt,” Day Lathers said. “We love diversity, we love art and creativity. So this kind of gives a platform for it.”

Tomlinson, who owns North Star, said a big focus for him is changing small cities in ways that can make them more attractive to people like his 30-something son, who works in theater and currently lives in Brooklyn with his new baby. Art galleries, entertainment venues, restaurants, cafes and funky shops in walkable downtowns help create a vibrant tapestry that is appealing to a variety of residents, Tomlinson said. 

“In the next few years, I think this community will be completely transformed, and it will be a livable city for local people,” Tomlinson said. “It’ll be great to visit, but it will also serve local people really well, and I hope you’ll see multiple generations enjoying that.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite. 

By Andrew Waite

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