Pinhead Susan’s up for sale

Owner ready to retire, will keep business open until it is sold
Pinhead Susan's in Schenectady.
Pinhead Susan's in Schenectady.

SCHENECTADY — Whether Susan remains a pinhead could soon be up to someone else.

The owner of Pinhead Susan’s, a longtime fixture of the downtown dining and drinking scene, has put the Irish-themed pub up for sale — 18 years after he opened it.

The reason? Retirement, or at least semiretirement.

“I’m ready to do what I’m doing now: Sitting by the pool with my two grandsons and playing Wiffle Ball,” Dennis McDonald said by phone Tuesday.

When McDonald and his brother Jack renovated the 1800s two-story building into an old-timey tavern in 2000, they took its name from two famous scrawls that had, for years, greeted passing motorists on nearby Erie Boulevard: “Susan is a pinhead,” and later, “Susan remains a pinhead.”

The graffiti was painted over in an early effort toward revitalization of downtown Schenectady after decades of decline. The McDonald brothers were pioneers in that effort, among the first to invest in a shiny new business downtown. Revitalization was a goal by that point, but it had barely begun, and its success was not guaranteed.

“We weren’t sure it was going to happen,” he recalled. “We thought it would. It looked like it was turning around.”

Dennis, now 65, got into the restaurant business in 1979, when he opened the Park Inn on Michigan Avenue. So he’s been at it 39 years, and he worked full-time at General Electric for 27 of those years.

“I’ve been doing it for 40 years,” he said. “We met some great, great people. I haven’t got a bad thing to say. Time just catches up with you. I’m 40 and out, I guess.”

Except not really. He expects to hop back into the remaining McDonald family businesses if they need help, or if he gets bored.

Jack McDonald still owns the Van Dyck and Mad Jack Brewing. Jack’s son Jeff operates the Stockade Inn. Dennis’ sons Tommy and Billy work at Pinhead Susan’s and Mad Jack as well.

Pinhead will remain open until it is sold, said Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, the real estate agent marketing the property.

The building at 38-40 Broadway — including the business and the fixtures — are for sale for $450,000 through Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Blake Realtors. 

Zalewski-Wildzunas said she has heard a lot of interest from potential buyers, but also from people who want to know if it’s closing for good.

“He’s operating it until we get a viable buyer in there,” she said. “It’s a good little business, and I’m quite confident.”

Dennis McDonald said it’s a turnkey restaurant operation, ready to go, so it will likely be purchased as such. But whether it remains Irish-themed or retains the Pinhead name is up to the buyer.

He would like to see it retain its character, if nothing else.

“I hope they keep it ‘Schenectady,’” he said.

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

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