From her office on North Main Street, Pam Farhart has witnessed a steady display of “for rent” signs appear in storefronts throughout the city’s downtown.
“I see people trying to bring it back, but there are a lot of empty stores,” she said.
Farhart works at D’Errico & Farhart Insurance Agency at 38 N. Main St. and has had a window seat on downtown’s ebb and flow since 2001.
What she has seen of downtown’s health during that time has been less than encouraging, but a venture by her new landlord is offering some hope that a mini-resurgence may be in the making.
The venture involves a group of investors who have purchased the Schine Building — a former opera house and headquarters used by the Schine brothers (J. Myer and Louis) to run their empire of movie theaters and hotels — with the goal of saving the building and bringing new life to a tired old downtown.
“We want to get it fully occupied so that it is rented and used and is a cornerstone of downtown Gloversville’s redevelopment,” said Michael H. Teetz, rental manager for Schine-Memorial Hall LLC. The for-profit corporation purchased the Schine building from the Gloversville Economic Development Corp. late last year for $92,000. The EDC bought it at auction in 2010 for $50,000.
The corporation is selling 100 shares at $5,000 apiece with plans to use the proceeds to prepare the building for full occupancy. So far, the corporation has 31 investors.
Teetz said the investors are not looking for a quick return on their money; indeed, he said, they would be happy just to break even.
“It makes operating the business nice because no one is banging the drum to make money,” he said.
The investors are not naive, however, Teetz said. They plan to rent out the first floor to commercial and business clients and market the second and third floors as a low-cost rental alternative to professional clients. They may even develop the upper floors into condominiums.
The three-story brick structure contains 30,000 square feet, but only the ground floor is suitable for occupancy at the moment. The second and third floors can be used for commercial purposes under existing codes but require some work before they are habitable.
“The selling point is that it will be affordable. We tentatively plan to rent space at between $5 and $10 per square foot,” Teetz said, depending on whether heat is included in the rent.
The market rate for commercial rental space in Fulton County, meanwhile, is approximately $15 to $20 per square foot, he said.
The corporation has already rented six of the seven ground-level storefronts. Three of the tenants, including D’Errico & Farhart, had occupied their space prior to the corporation’s purchase of the building; the corporation just renewed their leases without any changes, Teetz said.
Another existing tenant is Mohawk Harvest, a food cooperative with more than 300 members. Mohawk Harvest occupies a 3,000-square-foot area once housing a Hallmark store. It moved there last May from a smaller site across the street.
Manager Christopher Curro said business has been good at the co-op. “This is a keystone property,” he said.
He said the co-op deliberately located downtown as part of its mission. “We are here to redevelop downtown. We intentionally chose downtown in order to drive people downtown,” he said.
Farhart said the co-op’s mission appears to be working. “I do know more people are coming downtown,” she said. “And if people keep coming downtown, it may work, but it will depend on the mix of stores here.”
Farhart said downtown Gloversville needs to “reinvent itself. I hope to see the development of niche stores here.”
Teetz said another reason investors bought the building was to save it. After it went into foreclosure, the building remained vacant and was unheated. The roof leaked, pipes broke and the building sustained some water damage. The investors have since installed a new roof.
The building itself was constructed in 1881 by A.J. Kasson, a glove manufacturer. It was known then as the Kasson Opera House, and there were no second and third floors. In later years, the open interior was divided and second and third floors were constructed.
Remnants of the opera house remain, however. In the attic, decorative trim can be seen along the wall and ceiling and on several beams. Wagon wheel-shaped fixtures that once held candelabras also remain in the ceiling, as does a wall covered in posters advertising vaudeville acts from the 1880s, including “Kennedy Hall, The Great Ventriloquist, and his Phunny Phamily.”
The Schine brothers bought the building in 1920 and rebuilt the adjacent Glove Theatre from one floor to two. The brothers installed their own private screening room on the second floor of the headquarters.
The Glove Theatre — now formally known as the Glove Performing Arts Center — is a success story of its own, reopening in the late 1990s after a multimillion-dollar renovation that reversed years of serious decay.