Doreen Stack and Ruth Dickson stood on the sidewalk in front of Proctors Friday night and looked on in amazement as more than 200 people flowed by them.
It was their first glimpse of downtown in decades, they said, and certainly their first at night.
Both were there to see Stack’s grandson perform in the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra as part of the combined events of Art Night and Schenectady County SummerNight.
Before Friday night, Stack of Schenectady and Dickson of Rotterdam said they had no reason to go downtown. “There is nothing here,” Dickson said she had thought.
Both women said the downtown they knew years ago, a place lined with shops, stores, movie theaters and eateries, a lively, bustling place of commerce and socialization, was long dead.
So when they came Friday night, they were surprised by how downtown had changed. “It is a lot different,” Dickson said.
Said Stack, “We thought it would be OK. We heard they had crowds.”
They heard correctly. SummerNight organizer Wendy Voelker said she expected the combined event to draw approximately 10,000 people. It was the third time the county sponsored its SummerNight with Art Night.
Voelker said the event costs approximately $22,000 to stage, all of which is reimbursed through rental fees and sponsorships.
This year’s event featured six big bands and several smaller bands, 11 food vendors and three craft vendors. Community groups operated booths along Jay Street and the event offered an expanded Kids Korner, a space featuring puppets, Radio Disney, football and baseball tosses and the Paige School PTO. The PTO offered crafts and games throughout the night.
Helping coordinate the event were more than 70 volunteers. “This is a big operation,” Voelker said. City police and EMS crews kept a highly visible presence. Police reported no incidents.
Among this year’s new attractions was “Merdwin the Mediocre,” originally from England and now of Schenectady.
The portly, purple-clad wizard, who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, caused young and old to marvel with parlor tricks and “frivolous fortune telling.”
“This is my first tour of duty here,” Merdwin said, stroking his nearly white beard. “I do this for a living, everything from weddings to wakes.” He said with a smile that his name reflects “truth in advertising laws.”
Before he disappeared, Merdwin said he enjoyed the event immensely. “There are lots of really lovely people and lots of beautiful children and lots of graciousness,” he said.