Its longtime Schenectady storefront may have closed, but Rudnick’s is still alive and well.
Or, at least the Rudnick’s that sells uniforms. The retailer sold uniforms and clothing by Levi and Carhartt out of a downtown storefront for 72 years before closing up shop in spring 2013. Owner Linda Tolokonsky never intended to get out of the uniform business, though, so she kept selling uniforms to police and fire departments — heading out into the field for sizing appointments and filling orders from home.
That was until two weeks ago, when she brought on a new partner in the business and opened a much smaller storefront at 140 Erie Blvd.
“I just can’t sit home,” said Tolokonsky, 68. “First thing in the morning, I’m out of bed. I’ve gotta keep going. And I get to deal with so many people in uniforms that I just really love dealing with.”
The space she occupies on Erie Boulevard — a two-story building that also houses Lyle’s Hoagies and Yoga Bliss on the Boulevard — is about 20 times smaller than her last space.
Yes, 20 times.
The whopping space she was contending with at 308 State St. — three connected, multistory buildings spanning 20,000 square feet — is what made the business so untenable, she said. Taxes were high, and maintenance of the old buildings was difficult. Now, she rents about 1,000 square feet from John Samatulski, who’s giving his Erie Boulevard building a makeover and planning a massive, multi-phase redevelopment of the warehouse in the back.
She also brought on Jim Friello, who owns Holly Marine in Glenville and was eager to learn more about the uniform business, to help out with the new storefront. Between the resurgence downtown and the impending casino to be built on the other end of Erie Boulevard, Friello said the uniform business should fare well in its new spot.
“You’re going to see more police officers, sheriffs, security, people who need uniforms,” he said. “And the whole downtown is just coming alive with all the stuff that the city and the mayor are doing to revitalize Schenectady. It needs the change. It needs the uplift. It needs the boost.”
Tolokonsky’s parents, Sidney and Thelma Epstein, opened downtown Schenectady’s first Rudnick’s in 1941. General Electric’s workforce in the city was at its peak, as more than 40,000 workers churned out huge volumes of war equipment.
“Rudnick’s was just one floor at the time,” Tolokonsky recalled. “On one side of the wall was all Lee Chetopa Twill work shirts and Lee Chetopa Twill work pants all for the guys that worked at GE. My father worked from 8 to 8 every day to cover all of those shifts at GE. Men did not wear jeans to work in those times. He started doing uniforms and it wasn’t as big as the amount we were pumping out in clothing for the workers, but the GE guards came and asked my father to do their clothes and it just evolved from there.”
Over the years, after nearby stores moved out, Rudnick’s became a three-building operation. But with GE’s workforce in decline and the city’s population loss, the overhead of running such a large operation — the heat, the taxes, the sewer, water and trash fees — came to be too much.
By 2013, after suffering through the recession, the retail side of Rudnick’s was stagnant. Tolokonsky listed the building for sale and held a going-out-of-business sale for the Levi and Carhartt items she had left in stock. While the building sat on the market, she focused on the uniform side of the business. A small fire broke out in early 2014, and she said she’s still struggling to get the insurance company to pay.
On Thursday, she was scheduled to show the State Street building to an interested buyer. Anybody who buys the place with intentions of occupying it will have to bring it up to code, she said.
“We had somebody look at it who said they could put seven apartments upstairs and three stores in the bottom,” she said. “It’s a huge space.”
The new space on Erie Boulevard, hardly grand and without as storied a past as the old space (which housed a hotel featuring marble stairs and cherubs on the walls and a friendly ghost at one point), is just right for a Rudnick’s revival, she said. Inside are racks of dress uniforms for fire, police and ambulance workers — pants, shirts, jackets, shoes, caps. There’s also tactical gear such as belts, holsters, flashlight and handcuff holders.
Rudnick’s has filled orders as far west as Syracuse and as far south as Pleasantdale. These days, Tolokonsky is working on uniforms for a fire company in Beekmantown, near the Canadian border.
“Generally, uniforming is not as affected by the economy as let’s say a retail store is,” she said. “If the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office needs to hire three new people, it doesn’t matter what the economy is doing. If your pants wear out, you might not buy a new pair because you have five other pairs in your closet, but if your uniform wears out, you need a new one.”