The city’s historic downtown neighborhood is still far from bustling and prosperous, but there is some new life.
Ileana and Nicola Magaletti have opened a new night spot, La Piazza Social Club, above their dry cleaning business at 14 E. Main St.
La Piazza is membership-driven. For $30 a year, members enjoy discounts at the bar, are invited to special events, and can host events of their own in the space.
Non-members can go to the club, but don’t enjoy the same benefits as members.
The main reason for the memberships is so La Piazza can maintain its status as a social club, which allows for smoking on the premises.
Ileana Magaletti doesn’t let her husband smoke his cigars in the house, so she wanted to create a place for him to go to smoke them.
“In the winter he was freezing his butt off in our garage,” she said.
Ileana, whose family is from Spain and Cuba, met Nicola Magaletti, who is from southern Italy, in Miami, Fla., at a social club and wanted to create the same feeling here.
“We wanted our own little hole-in-the-wall place where everyone knows everyone,” she said.
La Piazza Social Club has a full liquor license and evokes the feeling of a small bar — one that may be attached to a small restaurant, but without the restaurant hustle and bustle.
The Magalettis say they won’t run their place like a typical bar. The club is open only from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday but could stay open later if there were people still enjoying themselves. The space can accommodate only 50 people and the memberships help to deter troublemakers. Ileana Magaletti said there have been times when only three or four people were in the club, but it gave her a chance to get to know them.
Former city Mayor John “Duke” Duchessi said he recently became a member of La Piazza so he could share his love of cigars with others. Duchessi said he likes the intimate feel of the social club and said it is nice to have a place to go to smoke his cigars, especially in the winter. He doesn’t smoke them in the house or in the family car.
Pat Baia of Tremont Avenue, a member of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, said he was one of the first members of La Piazza Social Club.
He said he likes to support local businesses and enjoys the close-knit atmosphere at the club.
“It’s a nice environment,” he said. “They fixed up the place and you can get a whole view of the valley from up there.”
It took the Magalettis over a year to renovate the second floor of 14 E. Main St., which they purchased to relocate their dry cleaning business, Magaletti Cleaners. However, Ileana Magaletti said she always wanted to have a social club in the city.
The small space includes a bar with about six stools, and a dozen small tables that look out over the valley from two large windows. A makeshift stage is set up at the front of the club for karaoke, open mic nights and poetry readings. There is a jukebox in the back along with some instruments and darts. The decorations blend the couple’s heritage and include fiesta flags and a mural of a Tuscan villa on one wall that Magaletti said was painted by her brother-in-law William Forte.
The couple did not use any public money to renovate their building, despite $500,000 in available funds to rehabilitate Amsterdam buildings through the state’s Main Street grant program. The city received the grant 15 months ago but city grant writer Nick Zabawsky said nearly all of it is still available.
Business owners can fund 75 percent of a facade or building improvement project with the grant money but must fund 25 percent of the project themselves, a deterrent for some downtown business owners, Zabawsky said.
Zabawsky is currently working with the owners of the former Key Bank Building and The New Paris Shop and also to expand the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, but so far none of the projects have begun.
Zabawsky said he doesn’t plan to give up on the grant and hopes to entice more business owners in the two-block stretch to participate. The timing of the grant was bad, Zabawsky said, because the economy had taken a bad turn.
“Maybe now that things are more encouraging we can get people to invest,” he said.