Storm-ravaged Schoharie getting back on its feet

With a quick and spirited ribbon cutting Saturday at Schoharie’s newly rebuilt Stewart’s Shop, resid

For an area already facing population loss and a struggling business community, Tropical Storm Irene was the perfect catalyst to bring those issues to the forefront in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys.

But with a quick and spirited ribbon cutting Saturday at Schoharie’s newly rebuilt Stewart’s Shop, residents and area officials said they were beginning to see an urgent sprint toward community rebirth.

“We have challenges, and clearly it will not be exactly the same as it was before,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, from the Stewart’s in his hometown. “But it will be beautiful and it will be good.”

Several hours before the noon grand opening, Stewart’s officials and workers greeted customers stopping by to fill up on discounted gas and food specials. The mood was festive, with maroon and white balloons, cake, ribbons and grinning workers and customers alike. Saturday’s ribbon cutting was just the first of many more to come in the village, said Lopez. Other Main Street operations are in various stages of rebirth.

Area favorite Little Italy Pizza and Pasta reopened a few weeks ago. The J. Lacy Hair Salon on Main Street is almost ready to open its doors. Despite significant water damage, the Parrot House worked quickly to clean up so it could stay open.

Things are headed in the right direction, said Schoharie town Supervisor Martin Shrederis. The Mobil gas station just put a help wanted sign up. And Shrederis said he spoke to someone just last week who said they are purchasing a vacant Main Street building with plans to install a laundromat.

“There’s a couple other people interested in some of the buildings on Main Street who want to open up other businesses,” Shrederis said as he munched on a Stewart’s hot dog after the grand opening. “So there’s interest here to get people purchasing these buildings and put some kind of storefronts in them to put Main Street back in business, instead of having vacant buildings down here.”

Crunch time

As Stewart’s full parking lot began to clear out, some residents stayed back to chat with their state representative.

Lopez, who grew up and still lives in Schoharie, is chairman of the Schoharie Main Street Committee, whose members worked to revitalize the village’s downtown even before Irene inundated the region. Now, that effort is more urgent than ever.

“Right now, every business in this community is making a decision whether they stay or go, whether they rebuild or not,” Lopez said.

So his office, along with Mayor John Borst, is trying to intercept those businesses and families before they leave. They are looking to address concerns that were previously difficult for businesses to handle alone, such as building codes, project financing, regulations.

Next they will work to improve housing opportunities in the community, an issue that had actually been on the committee’s agenda years before Irene.

“Part of the challenge is that Schoharie as it existed before may not be the same as the Schoharie when we finish,” Lopez said. “The footprint may change. Some of the buildings and population may change. But our goal is to make it vital and secure. So we want to be economically sustainable, and we want it to be vibrant.”

Lopez said displaced residents and business owners shouldn’t be hesitant about asking for help.

Shrederis said the hard-hit region needs encouragement now, eight weeks after Irene — especially as winter nears.

“People are starting to realize that maybe I can do this or maybe I can do that with my home and start working on it and try to get the house back together and buttoned up for the winter,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of homes that need a lot of help.”

The Stewart’s ribbon cutting Saturday was symbolic of what needs to happen throughout the region, Lopez said.

“The Parrot House is here. The pizza place is here. The dentist just opened,” Lopez said with a smile. “And so today is really, in my estimation, symbolic of a rebirth in this entire region.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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