Union students take over downtown

Joan Sifo, owner of Chez Daisie, thought she was prepared for business Saturday, but by 3 p.m. Union
Union College students Evan Duffy, left, and Katy Osborne sample items from Aperitivo Bistro, during "Show Me Schenectady" festivities held at Proctors Robb Alley on Saturday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Union College students Evan Duffy, left, and Katy Osborne sample items from Aperitivo Bistro, during "Show Me Schenectady" festivities held at Proctors Robb Alley on Saturday.

Joan Sifo, owner of Chez Daisie, thought she was prepared for business Saturday, but by 3 p.m. Union College students had cleaned her out and a sign on her door said “closed for restocking.”

“They surprised the heck out of me,” she said, while preparing for the evening rush.

Sifo said she usually doesn’t have a lot of students patronizing her Jay Street eatery, which specializes in crepes. But nearly 200 of them had passed through Saturday afternoon as part of “Show Me Schenectady,” an initiative of the Union Schenectady Alliance with the help of several downtown business organizations to coax students off campus and into the downtown shopping district.

Various local businesses including Chez Daisie offered discounts and free samples to students. The afternoon also including a trivia challenge scavenger hunt and a poker run designed to entice students to visit as many downtown establishments as possible to see what they had to offer.

Sifo was offering free Nutella-filled crepes and $3 regular crepes to students. She wasn’t expecting to make money from all the activity, but she was hoping her delectables and students’ word of mouth would mean plenty in return.

“I guess we’ll just see if they come back,” she said.

Union Schenectady Alliance, which was founded this year by seniors Steve Walker and Josh DeBartolo, is a collection of about 25 students who either serve as liaisons to local downtown boards, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. and Proctors, or representatives from on-campus organizations.

“It’s a way to share information both ways,” DeBartolo said.

As further incentive to encourage students downtown, students were given $5 to jump start their shopping day.

“We want to get students down here and open their eyes to what’s available downtown,” DeBartolo said.

Gail Kehn, vice president of visitor services for the Chamber of Commerce, said the Union Student Alliance was good for the businesses but also a good experience for the students.

“They sit in on actual board meetings so they become familiar with the issues facing the city and become involved with solving them,” she said.

Kehn was welcoming students as they came into Robb Alley at Proctors, where restaurants were offering free food, and students could enter to win raffle prizes and obtain information.

Kehn said the chamber has been trying to attract students downtown for years, but attributed this event’s popularity to students’ initiative.

“Union’s campus has everything the kids want, so many of them are realizing what’s down here for the first time, and we have a lot to offer, including movies, Iwerks, plays and shopping,” she said.

Cara Gallivan, a junior and an editor at Union College’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, said most classmates will come downtown to either see a movie or eat at a restaurant, but they rarely spend time walking around and shopping.

“There has been a great improvement in the downtown area even since our freshman year, and it’s only going to get better,” she said.

Jessica Rudin, a senior and president of The Student Forum, was hoping for a free crepe by the time she arrived downtown and was disappointed that Chez Daisie was closed. Rudin said she often eats downtown, but in her four years at Union College she hadn’t walked to Jay Street from campus.

Rudin said event organizers did a lot of advertising on campus and had been talking about the event for weeks.

Organizers said more than 300 students took part in the afternoon, including Danielle Angueira who also walked downtown from the campus with girlfriends. She said in her senior year she is making an effort to come downtown regularly.

“I’m really trying to appreciate the city more,” she said.

Downtown business owners seemed pleased to have students visiting their stores, including Tom Lawrence, owner of Lennon’s Irish Shop, who was offering a 10 percent discount to students.

“I know this probably takes a lot to put together, but I think it’s terrific,” he said. “I hope they do it again in the fall.”

Rich St. Jean, general manager of the Parker Inn, said about 25 students had visited the hotel as part of the Poker Run.

“I haven’t seen this many students downtown in all the five years I’ve worked here combined,” he said.

As nearly 150 student gathered in Robb Alley at the conclusion of the event to recognize winners of the poker run and trivia challenge, Proctors Chief Executive Officer Phillip Morris said the event was less about bringing money into the downtown and more about changing perceptions of Schenectady.

“It’s about an attitude,” Morris said. “If the students see that good things are happening here, they will tell their friends and family. If the students grow to like this town, they’ll develop relationships and want to stay.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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