SCHENECTADY – The lights will soon be on again at Arthur’s Market, which has been the Stockade’s gathering place on and off for decades.
The historic cafe and market is slated to reopen on March 4, after more than a year of restoration work.
“It’s such an old building and I knew it was in pretty poor condition but everything did take longer than I had initially estimated,” said owner Haley Whalen.
She purchased the building at 35 North Ferry Street at the end of 2018 and began restoration work the following year. The building dates back to the late 1700s and according to previous Gazette articles has housed stores in various forms since then. Perhaps the most notable iteration in recent memory began in 1952 by Arthur Polachek, who sold groceries and fostered a sense of community in the neighborhood.
“I remember Arthur’s when Arthur owned it and it was a small grocery store,” said Suzanne Unger, the president of the Stockade Association. “It was always a treat to run down the street and pick something up for your grandmother or your mom and he kept a tab so that he’d just put it on the tab.”
She’s lived in the Stockade on and off nearly her entire life and has seen Arthur’s Market go through several versions since the Polachek family owned it. In the last decade, several other proprietors have tried to make a go of it, but each time it fell through for one reason or another, and the condition of the building deteriorated.
“Arthur’s has been through some hard times in the last 10 years or so,” Unger said.
“We explored the possibility of trying to get some neighbors together to invest in the building. That’s a big commitment to ask people to do and that really hadn’t gone too far. Then Haley just appeared on the scene and we really lucked out. She could see that Arthur’s was really the heart of the Stockade . . . a place for the community to gather. It hadn’t done that in many, many years.”
According to Unger, Whalen took the time to do things right when it came to everything from the renovation to the menu.
“I wanted the overall aesthetic to feel appropriate for the history of the place,” Whalen said.
The cafe/shop is bright, with a mix of modern features with antique touches. There is light pine flooring and a dark wood antique cafe counter, as well as an exposed brick wall, and of course, plenty of seating.
When it comes to the menu, patrons will find traditional soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods, all with a twist.
“We focused a lot on two things: recipes that felt familiar and comfortable but also recipes that we could elevate a little bit. For example, our breakfast sandwich is the classic bacon, egg and cheese in many respects but we’ve got it served on a housemade English muffin, with a really delicious special sauce and an egg souffle,” Whalen said.
“Take and bake” dishes are also available.
“The take and bake is something I’m really excited about because our neighborhood is a lot of couples or single people so people cooking for one or two . . . the take and bake items are a way for us to let people enjoy something that tastes just as good and fresh and healthy as a homemade meal without any of the hassle,” Whalen said.
The “market” part of Arthur’s, namely the grocery section features a range of products, from basic items like milk and bread to more specialty gift items. It’s a selection that may change in response to what people in the neighborhood need, according to Whalen.
“We have tried to be really thoughtful about the grocery and giftable items. But once we open, a big part of what we’re going to be doing is listening and seeing what people gravitate towards so if anybody has a wish or a desire, whether it’s something we’re not serving that they wish we had, we’d love and welcome that feedback because we’ve obviously put thought into things but realize that we may not have thought of everything,” Whalen said.
Stockade residents have been vocal about Arthur’s from the start and throughout the restoration process, many have shared their memories of the market with Whalen.
“Some of the memories are really specific like, people remember [Arthur] having . . . a butcher every Thursday, things that are kinda nostalgic and harken back to a different type of grocery shopping. But a lot of the memories are more general and the most common theme really is that people felt like they knew Arthur and they trusted him and he trusted them. There was this real sense of community . . . That’s something that makes me feel really excited because those are hopefully attributes that we can kind of continue to build in our shop,” Whalen said.
In the future, Whalen hopes to host community events and groups.
“COVID, obviously put [a] cramp in some of those plans, but we absolutely imagine having community programming,” Whalen said.
While the restoration work was planned well before the pandemic, the building has a few different design elements that might come in handy during this time. There’s a patio as well as sidewalk seating so patrons can sit outside when the weather turns warmer.
“We also have the to-go window, which is a really lucky thing that we had actually planned before covid but turns out to be a very covid-friendly feature. If somebody either wasn’t comfortable coming inside or wanted to take a dog [for a] walk or meet a friend and go for a walk, we are able to service people outside,” Whalen said.
During the first five days of business, from March 4-8, Whalen is asking people who want to shop and explore the market to reserve 45-minute time slots. This way, Whalen said, customers can walk around and not worry about more people coming in, and it gives employees time to sanitize in between groups.
“We really were trying to be sensitive and careful about opening and encouraging people to come by but maintaining safe numbers,” Whalen said.
Neighbors are certainly excited about the opening.
“A lot of people say to me ‘When is Arthur’s opening?’ We’re all champing at the bit . . . That’s why I think it’s good that she’s doing these appointments because that’ll cut back on this built-up anticipation,” Unger said.
Starting March 10, no reservations will be required. Regular business hours are 7 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Wednesday – Monday.
“Long-term, in my mind Arthur’s hopefully will become not only a resource to the community and not only a place for neighbors to come regularly but also a destination for people from wider Schenectady, the Capital Region or people visiting from further afield. The bike path brings a lot of people through the Stockade who are traveling that path from all over. We are in a historic neighborhood which I hope that we can help to promote as a destination,” Whalen said.
For more information, visit arthurs1795.com.