Foss: What readers want from downtown Schenectady

Visitors enjoy live music on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady.
Visitors enjoy live music on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady.

Categories: News, Opinion



Places to sit. 

These are some of the things Daily Gazette readers want to see more of in downtown Schenectady. 

“I would frequent downtown more often if there were places to shop,” reader Susan Rifenberg wrote in an email. “I know we can’t bring back stores such as Woolworth’s or Carl’s in this age of shopping online but that is what is sorely needed.” 

She added, “What we do not need more of in downtown is Italian restaurants because between Rotterdam and Schenectady we are saturated.” 

In a recent column on downtown Schenectady, I asked readers to tell me what they’d like to see downtown. In particular, what sorts of activities and attractions might get them to spend time there? 

The responses covered a lot of ground, and I thought I’d share some of them. 

  • “I was visiting Asheville this fall,” reader Laurel-Le Lipski wrote. “Downtown was booming. Lots to eat, drink, look at and maybe purchase. 

So: Eclectic fashion shops that are not too expensive, move the used bookstore to downtown, consolidate some of the eateries and, I have to say this as a member of the Schenectady Art Society, we need an ‘arty’ shop and gallery. And more parking!” 

  • “You asked what downtown Schenectady needs and I agree that downtown residency is key, as is a walkable downtown,” one reader, named Paul, wrote. 

“With regard to the latter, the best downtowns typically have lots of public spaces where people can comfortably sit and rest their feet, or have a snack, or simply people watch. And without the anxiety that doing so could result in being badgered by someone for a handout. That’s a tough one to tackle humanely, but it’s an important component.” 

  • – “What we really need are outlet stores, maybe on Erie Blvd.,” one reader wrote. “We now shop at the outlet stores in Lake George and Lee, Mass. I would rather spend my money in Schenectady.” 
  • “Downtown needs places to shop,” wrote reader Colleen Michnicki. “How many restaurants does one area need? Most downtown cities have places to shop. Why would anyone hang out downtown when there is no retail — clothing or shoe stores or any stores for that matter. And as far as apartments being built, who can afford them?” She also suggested a venue for music “other than the casino. There needs to be variety.” 
  • “I always loved the Planters Peanut store downtown,” one reader wrote. “If no store location is available, how about a vendor. Would the city allow a popcorn/ peanut vending cart? Live music always encourages interest, too.” 
  • “One important aspect not mentioned in your article is seating, which is a crucial aspect of vibrant downtowns,” wrote Todd Fabozzi, who serves as director of sustainability for the Capital District Regional Planning Commission. 

“People need places to sit, relax, read, eat, talk, and people watch that are open and accessible to the stream of passing pedestrians. This can range from movable chairs to benches, stairs, and fountains (with seating), strung along the street or waterfront, or concentrated in plazas. The key is there needs to be plenty of it, and it needs to be seamlessly connected to the flow.” 

Other ideas for downtown include an inexpensive food court, more late-night dining options, a pop-up piano bar and “another theater alternative.” 

Downtown Schenectady has come a long way, but it’s still very much a work in progress, which can be a little frustrating. 

What’s encouraging — and exciting — is the passion people feel for downtown.

There’s a real desire to see downtown become a thriving, dynamic place where people live, shop, experience the arts and hang out. 

Residents know what they want from downtown.

The challenge is making it happen. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.    

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