Earthly Delights Natural Foods, a fixture on Jay Street since 1974, is closing today, citing a difficult business climate and problems competing with larger food stores.
“The financial climate does not make sense for us to proceed,” said Earthly Delights co-owner Lori Sendra. “We made tremendous strides and we had a great run at it.”
The store specialized in selling natural and organic products. It also carried health supplements, skin care products and soaps. In December, Earthly Delights switched to a vegetarian cafe format in an attempt to remain viable, said Manager Marcy Newman.
“Originally, we were a health food store and it became difficult to compete with the chains and their bulk purchasing power. We converted to a cafe, but the cash flow wasn’t there to keep us going,” Newman said.
Sendra said the larger stores with the bulk buying power made it difficult for an independent shop like hers to compete.
Newman went further than Sendra to say a lack of support for merchants on the retail block was a factor in the store’s closing. “Jay Street is not a focus for the development that is going on. I’m not sure enough attention has been given to businesses on the street,” she said.
But, Sendra denied this, adding that, “We have had nothing but great cooperation from Metroplex [Development Authority], the DSIC [Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp.] and Mayor [Brian U.] Stratton.” She said she will discuss the business closure today at news conference.
Newman said she knows there are plans to develop the street and to make it “upscale like the mahogany district across the way.” Several Jay Street merchants use the term to refer to the mahogany trim on the doors of the Subway next to Proctors and to enhancements done to others businesses, which have been subject of efforts to revitalize downtown.
Earthly Delights opened under a different name in the late 1970s. The store expanded its grocery line in the 1980s, added lunch offerings and changed the name. Sendra bought the business approximately eight years ago.
Earthly Delights experienced and weathered bad times before. In 2004, the store saw sales drop some 50 percent when State Street was torn up as part of a streetscape project, limiting access to downtown.
Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., which uses assessment money to clean and beautify sidewalks and promote downtown businesses and other activities, said he is saddened to see Earthly Delights close, but remains optimistic about Jay Street’s future.
Salengo said he is developing a marketing plan to promote downtown retail stores and to recruit new retail businesses. “We have a couple of good ideas, new marketing ideas, to freshen up and brand Jay Street,” he said.
He also is proposing to offer merchants free workshops and information seminars that can assist them with their businesses.
Salengo termed Jay Street the heart of the downtown retail in Schenectady. “Jay Street is a great example of what downtown has to offer,” he said.
Linda Scott, owner of Orion Bouquet on Jay Street, which opened 30 years ago, said she has high hopes for Jay Street, based on conversations with Salengo.
“There are some issues that are being worked out. The new director seems fairly positive to get things on a better track,” Scott said. “He is saying the right things and we hope there is substance behind what he says.”
Scott said Jay Street merchants recognize they have a unique place in downtown’s retail picture and they want to see more done to promote this feature. “We fit into an excellent time. We offer them a nice specialty and an unusual environment,” she said.
Jay Street merchants are “looking for more promotions and advertising, for more themes to get people to come out,” Scott said. “We are headed toward an upswing. It’s not there yet, it is being worked on, and there is room for improvement.”
Earthly Delights is the latest store to close on Jay Street, which has several vacant storefronts.
However, Mohawk Valley Guitars opened in mid-July at 160 Jay St., next to Earthly Delights. The company is owned and operated by Mark Pelkey and Eric Marczak, both with more than 20 years of experience in lutherie — the art of designing and building fine stringed instruments.
The company will custom-build guitars, do repairs, restorations and offer lutherie classes, according to a news release. The new business will work cooperatively with Jay Street Music, which offers music lessons through a staff of four to more than 50 students in various musical fields including guitar.
Economic development officials said an antique business will shortly announce plans to open on Jay Street.
Salengo said, “It is important we keep working to bring in new businesses and help existing businesses do as well as they can.”