George Washington was president when Arthur’s Market first opened.
At the time, it was basically a farmers market set up in a building at the center of the Stockade, and it wasn’t called “Arthur’s.” Since then, there has been some turnover — delis, groceries and the like. On Sunday, the old 35 North Ferry St. building housed another grand opening. This time, it’s a coffee shop.
“The convenience store model isn’t what the Stockade wants,” said Richard Genest, the new proprietor of Arthur’s Market and Historic Coffeehouse.
Sunday afternoon, the place was full of locals enjoying coffee, chowder and the sound of John Slovacek at the piano. A youth in plaid and thick-framed hipster glasses manned coffee pots in a small kitchen. Genest made his rounds, talking to customers and holding forth on the place’s long history.
“This is the longest-running market in the country,” he said.
He talked about how, in the 1790s, the town of Rotterdam bought the building to provide a place for Rotterdam farmers to sell their goods. In reverence for those original days, Genest plans to leave the well-worn brick walls bare, and give historic walking tours starting and ending at the place.
He also runs the nearby Moon and River Cafe and plans to operate Arthur’s in a similar way — lots of live music and caffeinated beverages.
It’s more coffee shop than market, but Gloria Kishton was just happy to see the building in use. As chairwoman of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, she keeps an eye on really old buildings.
“We’re about preservation,” she said, “and buildings have to be used to be preserved.”
Sitting at one of Genest’s tables, she talked about the market’s role in the Stockade’s early life. Genest, though, is more interested in slightly less ancient history.
He first visited the Stockade the winter of 2001. He’d grown restless in Albany and was looking for a new city. On a cold Sunday morning, he stumbled into Arthur’s. This was back when Arthur Polachek owned the place, very near the end of his five-decade run.
“People were eating eggs,” he said, “drinking coffee. They were chatting and reading the paper. It was like wandering into an impressionist painting.”
He described how Arthur, in his 80s at this point, sat down at his table and introduced himself.
“Right then I knew I found my new city,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t know I’d be running the [Arthur’s].”
Arthur seemed to have a profound effect on the local population. Wyatt Waterman watched Slovacek ranging the keys. He pointed to a faded picture atop the piano of Arthur manning the counter of his market.
“He was a big part of the community,” he said.
When he was a kid, Waterman said his parents used to drop by the market after church as St. George’s, just down the street. Back then, he said, it was a pretty regular convenience store. A box of Cheerios was visible in the picture.
“My mother just liked to say hello to Arthur,” he said.
It’s that vibe Genest is looking to resurrect. He rebuilt the small open kitchen Arthur had and plans to start a delivery service as Arthur did back in the day.
Since Arthur gave up his market, the building has housed a number of short-lived businesses. Now the name “Arthur’s” is back, and despite the location’s apparent business instability, Genest is confident about his odds.
“This is a gathering place,” he said, strolling into the back room to slip on a pair of steel-soled tap shoes. “Without this place, the Stockade is just another bedroom community. People come in and mingle. It’s irresistible.”
Slovacek stepped away from the piano, a group of local jazz musicians assembled and Genest made the hardwood floor ring with his rhythmic tap shoes.
“Let’s take it nice and easy,” he sang.
More from The Daily Gazette: