SCHENECTADY — A longtime downtown business owner is being remembered as a kind and compassionate community mentor with a love for animals — especially birds.
Kurt Hellijas, owner of the Re-Collector on Jay Street Marketplace, has known Ashok “Andy” Mirpuri since the 1970s, but they became closer once the former opened his business along the pedestrian thoroughfare.
Mirpuri, 73, died Oct. 3.
“I admire him for the way he took care of the birds,” Hellijas said. “Birds gotta eat, too.”
Mirpuri was best known as long-time owner of Paisa Miser on Jay Street Marketplace, a boutique that long pre-dated downtown’s economic resurgence.
But he was also a community cheerleader and mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Abby Rockmacher, owner of the DillyBean, said the street has lost some of its spark with Mirpuri’s death, and said there wasn’t a day where the pair weren’t joking around, or he wasn’t teaching her an important life lesson — always with his dog, Princess, in tow.
She recalled when Mirpuri and Princess snuck into a fundraiser she was co-hosting at Daley’s in Yates, Moscow Mules in tow.
(The cups were really cool, she recalled, and they didn’t have his favorite, Coors Light.)
“He never had to say it,” Rockmacher said. “I know he was proud of me.”
And, she added: “He wasn’t scared to tell me to add curry to everything.”
Kenneth Manmohan viewed Mirpuri as a surrogate father, and recalled how Mirpuri took a chance at a young minority entrepreneur when no one else would, renting him space for his upstart restaurant, the Executive Lounge.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see,” Manmohan said. “He wanted to be there for minority people, and that’s why he’s a great person.”
Mirpuri even paid for his mother’s medical care without batting an eye, Manmohan said.
Maria Papa, owner of Perreca’s Bakery and More Perreca’s, said Mirpuri was more than a community staple.
“You knew all was well when he was sitting outside of his shop with his dog,” Papa said.
Helen Rowley, a retired city worker, recalled passing him on daily walks in front of his perch on the Jay Street Marketplace, always with a smile.
Local business owners and residents recalled the “Mayor of Jay Street” during calling hours Wednesday at Gleason Funeral Home.
“He was always friendly,” said Anthony P. Carotta III.
There were drum circles, his dogs, and the birds — always the birds, even rehabilitating injured ones, often to the chagrin of naysayers.
Mirpuri was born in India in 1946 and moved to Vietnam at the age of 16 to work at his family’s business, according to his obituary.
After a brief stint in Hong Kong, he moved to New York City in 1971, where he found work as a tailor, a job which took him around the U.S.
Mirpuri eventually settled in Schenectady in 1981 after relocating his business, Islip International Boutique, which became Paisa Miser, a place where he flourished among his neighbors.
Items changed over the years, from samurai swords to t-shirts, but mourners recalled a selection that reflected a loving and caring eye for curating products.
“You can tell he was thoughtful by the items he chose to sell,” Papa said. “They were a reflection of him.”
A makeshift vigil took shape outside Paisa Miser following his death, with candles flickering before the store’s now-dark interior.
Princess wagged her tail when a passerby approached.
“I promise I did not want to leave you all!!!” read a note taped to the door. “Thank you all for making my life rich with love. I love you all.”
It was signed, “Love, Andy.”