SCHENECTADY — For a little while on Saturday, Stella Myers was the most popular person on Upper Union Street.
Myers, 11, a sixth-grader at Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna, wore a red and green strawberry costume. White gloves, black “freckles” and a red nose completed the berry attractive look.
“I got to take a lot of selfies,” Myers said. “I felt really important and it was great to bring smiles to peoples’ faces.”
Smiles are in season on Union when red fruits are in season: Thousands of people visited the Schenectady street for the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District’s annual Strawberry Festival.
The sidewalks filled with people shortly after the party started at 10 a.m., some walking dogs and others rolling baby strollers.
Visitors checked out vodka, salsa, candles, essential oils, jewelry, baseball cards. They watched dancers twirl and jump, martial arts students kick and break and chefs sizzle and season hamburgers on a warm, sun-filled late spring day.
“Saratoga has Broadway, Schenectady has Upper Union Street,” said Shane Mahar, vice chairman of the Upper Union Street BID and chief operating officer of the Lecce Group.
Mahar loves the variety on the street — merchants offer food, clothing, jewelry, collectibles, dance lessons and pet comforts, among other things.
“The vast majority of these businesses are independently owned and operated by our neighbors,” he said. “It’s a great little spot.”
Saturday’s festival put people and businesses in the spot’s spotlight.
Luke Splendido, a sixth-grader at Van Antwerp Middle School, sang the National Anthem. Riley White and Danielle Dunne, seniors at Schenectady and Niskayuna high schools, respectively, were awarded $1,000 scholarships.
Businesses celebrating milestone anniversaries were honored: Head to Tail, a pet wellness center, is celebrating 10 years this year. Domani Spa has been in business for 20 years and Gershon’s Deli is observing its 65th anniversary.
Mahar said the festival, along with the BID’s October harvest festival and November’s holiday tree-lighting event, gives people the chance to discover, explore and shop the street.
A team from Buhrmaster Farms brought 800 quarts of fresh-picked strawberries to the festival. By late morning, business was brisk.
“It’s a beautiful day and we’re the only strawberry vendor here,” said James Buhrmaster, who operates the farm with his father, Keith.
People lined up to pay $8 for each quart. Cheyenne Bratton of Schenectady made her strawberry statement by buying four quarts.
“We like shortcake,” she said, positive the berries were going to end up on biscuits topped with whipped cream.
Bratton walked Union Street with her family. “We live in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s something nice to do on a nice day.”
Jamie Doriguzzi, program director for Schenectady Home Furnishings, helped people choose new accessories for their homes. She had 14 tables full of merchandise in front of Gayne Optical.
“It’s been a great day,” she said. “People seem to be in a great, happy mood.”
Ethan Garcia, 4, of Schenectady, was in a great, happy mood. He was fascinated with a blue, twisted balloon “snake” that was taller than he was.
“It’s a nice day for families to get out of the home,” said Ethan’s mother, Maribel Garcia.
Toni Nelson, who owns Gershon’s with her sister Bridget Battease, worked the hamburger stand in front of the delicatessen. “They’re flying out of here,” she said.
Nelson also appreciated the BID’s acknowledgement of the landmark business. “It was so nice,” she said. “When they told me that, I started crying.”
There were no tears at Dance Me. Young people on the studio’s competition team showed off their moves on the sidewalk outside the business and on the dance floor inside.
Celine Hodges, Dance Me’s marketing director, said the Strawberry Festival helps promote registration for summer and fall classes. It also gives studio personnel the chance to tell visitors about Dance Me’s upcoming expansion.
The kids like the extra attention.
“It raises their confidence,” Hodges said. “Performance is such a joy for them. They jump at any opportunity to perform.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]