Two entrepreneurs and Spa City newcomers decided to take a chance on the Beekman Street Arts District during the pandemic.
They discovered a rich cultural landscape, one they’re hoping more people will visit this summer.
Denise Shabtie, a retail veteran, moved to Saratoga to open The Vintage Shop at 65 Beekman St. last year. Not too far away, Cassie Fiorenza opened Collective 131 (74 Beekman St.) just weeks beforehand.
“This street has tons of history [and] there’s like five good restaurants, really top edge restaurants that people come to. Besides just us, there is an art gallery and then there is a textile shop at the end of the street. There’s a lot more here than people realize,” Shabtie said.
Fiorenza agreed: “I want people to know that it’s not just Broadway in Saratoga. [There are] great local places on Broadway but this is kind of an untapped area.”
The Loudonville native opened Collective 131, a gallery and gift boutique, in October, though the business began online several years ago, while Fiorenza was working at galleries in New York City. She presented and sold work by contemporary women artists, people that she met through her gallery work, or various friends.
The business has grown over the years and when she moved back to the area last year and saw the space available on Beekman Street, which had formerly been a gallery space, it seemed like the perfect place for Collective 131.
“My main thing is showing women artists, especially, and having affordable artwork. Pretty much everything is under $1,000; that’s really the cap. [I’m] just trying to be accessible for everyone to collect art or decorate,” Fiorenza said.
The 750-square-feet space has a minimalist aesthetic, featuring paintings from local artists like Tatiana Schynoll and Maddie Hinrichs, as well as home goods and small-scale sculptures.
“It’s my first brick and mortar. It [was] kinda crazy to open up a physical space then but so far it’s been really great,” Fiorenza said.
Five stores in five states
As Shabtie puts it, The Vintage Shop is not her first rodeo. She grew up working in retail and her parents were antique collectors and dealers, often taking her to shows. Over the years, she’s owned five stores in five different states, including Idaho, Montana, Florida, California, Tennessee and Massachusetts.
The Vintage Shop is packed with clothes and accessories that she’s collected throughout her career. Most of the garments are from the 1920s up to the 1980s, with a few exceptions made for denim from the 1990s.
“I have over 20,000 items in this store, [that’s] my guesstimate. I’ve never done an inventory because I have one of this and one of that. I have a photogenic memory so if somebody says, ‘I want something in particular,’ I’ll go right to it,” Shabtie said. “My phrase is ‘Everything from head to toe for men and women.’ ”
That’s not an exaggeration either. The racks are filled with vintage garments, from dressy to cocktail to more casual styles.
“I repair whatever I can and send out [what I can’t],” Shabtie said.
Each garment comes with a story, or as much information as Shabtie can find on it.
“On my tags, I write tons of stuff about it and nobody leaves without me telling them how to take care of something,” Shabtie said.
Shabtie cares about where these 20th-century garments and accessories end up because there’s a limited supply.
“It’s hard because, in 20 years, this business is going to be dead because . . . there’s only so much left,” Shabtie said. “My fantasy is to have everything I’ve sold find its way back to me. I can still remember pieces I sold that I regret. I have seller’s remorse every day. [Customers] don’t know and I don’t tell them but I’m physically and mentally attached to each piece because of all the work . . . and then it leaves.”
Shabtie and Fiorenza are two of many entrepreneurs who decided to open businesses last year. Perhaps surprisingly, more than 487,500 new businesses have been listed on Yelp between March 11, 2020, and March 1, 2021. That’s down only 14% from the previous year.
Setting up a shop in the middle of a pandemic has come with unique challenges.
Shabtie got the keys to the shop in September but didn’t open until after Election Day. “It took me two solid months of unpacking a 26-foot truck by myself and setting up the store, by myself, and pricing everything by myself and steaming everything by myself,” Shabtie said.
For Fiorenza, the holiday season was successful, however, she closed the month of January because things were so quiet. During that time, she continued operations online.
“I think it’s so important to support artists who are actually painting right now. This is their livelihood, and a lot of them were really affected by COVID — they had shows canceled. And art, even if it’s affordable it’s still an item that you don’t buy every day. So they were really affected, so I tried my best, I did a lot more online,” Fiorenza said.
With the nicer weather, they hope that there will be more foot traffic.
“Of course, we both don’t know how busy it may be or we haven’t experienced it. Right now, you could read a book in the middle of the street and they’ll just drive around you,” Shabtie said.
“This is the Arts District so I’m hoping that once things open up a little more we’ll get some more people over here, more tourists in the summer,” Fiorenza said.