Schenectady businesses rally as race season starts

City officials say they're looking forward to the summer season
Michael Stomp of Albany creates a circle of fire at Centre Street Pub on Broadway in Schenectady Saturday
Michael Stomp of Albany creates a circle of fire at Centre Street Pub on Broadway in Schenectady Saturday

 As the Saratoga Race Course opened its season in the Spa City this weekend, Electric City businesses made efforts to attract visitors.

There’s a noticeable difference in Schenectady when the summer season hits its stride. Many people go on vacations, hang out in the Adirondacks or make their way to Saratoga for the track or to see a concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

So, Schenectady needs to make an effort to keep things lively in the city, according to Mayor Gary McCarthy.

He said there’s “a fluctuation” in the amount of people coming through the city each summer. But traffic into the city has been growing every year, and McCarthy said he thinks the city is primed to have an even better summer season this year.

 For one thing, Rivers Casino & Resort has gotten over some of its first-year challenges, and Mohawk Harbor has more activity coming online. And the county tourism organization, Discover Schenectady, is working to highlight the many businesses in and around the city.

“Things are happening,” McCarthy said. “This is the first year all pieces have been in place.”

McCarthy mentioned several local businesses that will try to take advantage of any traffic going to the track. Those tactics include dinner specials by restaurants, creative marketing by retailers and other attractions and broader efforts.

An example of a local business trying something new to attract people to the city: Centre Street Pub on Union Street hosted its first ever Beer Carnival on Saturday. The event featured carnival games, a dunk tank full of beer from Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers, caricature artists and a trio of people who can eat, breathe and spin fire.

Stacey Mercer of Albany can be seen in a maze of flames and fire at Centre Street Pub on Broadway in Schenectady Saturday. (Photo: Peter R. Barber) “I honestly just always wanted to do something that was over-the-top, carnival-themed,” said Courtney Berlin, front of the house manager for Centre Street.

The bar will always get an uptick in customers when the summer begins, Berlin said. While part of the reason is because of the various food and drinks Centre Street offers, it’s also because of its large outside patio, she said. 

But when the track begins its season, Berlin said the management has to come up with innovative ways to sustain the business.

“It’s been a more prominent thing for us over the past couple of years to find ways to keep people in Schenectady,” Berlin said. “For the people that don’t want to travel to Saratoga or are looking for things to do close to home, we’re giving people something to do, but to also try and keep people around.”

Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. Executive Director Jim Salengo said his organization tries to do everything it can to benefit from the influx of people coming to the area for the Saratoga meet.

One way is by putting together a visitor’s guide each year to highlight the different businesses downtown. Whether it’s the restaurants, the retail shops or attractions such as Proctors and miSci.

Salengo said the organization pays a professional distribution service to send the guide to hotels and other public venues where similar brochures on display in Saratoga Springs.

“We feel that it’s important to have a presence up there,” Salengo said. “People are looking for different opportunities, and Schenectady is a close and viable option with a lot of stuff to do, if they want to get out of town.”

And if people do decide to try out Schenectady, Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, pointed to the fact that it’s now even easier to get to the city from Saratoga.

He cited the completion of the $32.5 million Rexford Bridge project, which opened a year ago. It’s a bridge that carries approximately 22,000 vehicles over the Mohawk each day, according to state estimates.

“There used to be major traffic jams there every day,” Gillen said.

He also mentioned The Landing Hotel, which celebrated its first full year of operation this month. The hotel is making an effort to attract people to the city, even offering a package that includes a trip to the track. The Saratoga Race Course special offers transportation to and from the race course, two clubhouse tickets and breakfast for two at The Landing Hotel.

It’s all part of the effort to draw the connection between the city and Saratoga, Gillen said.

“We see the track as bringing people to the Capital Region, and it’s a very strong positive for Schenectady,” Gillen said. “Increasingly, people are taking a look at Schenectady.”

Salengo agreed, saying there are a lot of pieces that have been put together to make for a successful summer. He also cited attractions such as the casino and Mohawk Harbor, where people can now go to concerts like the weekly Harbor Jam summer series, rent out kayaks, or even dock their boats and explore downtown.

If the distance between Mohawk Harbor and downtown is too far of a walk, there is the Electric City Trolley, a free shuttle that takes people between both areas, Salengo said.

“This summer probably is one of the most exciting times in recent memory because of all of those things happening,” Salengo said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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