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What you need to know for 01/19/2018

Longtime downtown store to shut doors

Longtime downtown store to shut doors

After nearly 72 years in downtown Schenectady, Rudnick’s is closing.
Longtime downtown store to shut doors
Co-owner Linda Tolokonsky stands in front of Rudnick’s in this 2005 photo. (Gazette file photo)

After nearly 72 years in downtown Schenectady, Rudnick’s is closing.

The retail business has dried up, owner Linda Tolokonsky said. And while the uniform business is still good, it doesn’t need three buildings, all three to four stories tall, and the taxes that go along with so much real estate.

She pays $25,000 a year in taxes, she said — and that’s before adding in sewer, water and trash fees. Then there’s the cost to heat the huge facility. It’s astronomical, she said.

Her business — mostly uniforms and work clothes — has simply shrunk to the point where it needs a much smaller space.

“We don’t need all this front. It’s got so many floors we don’t use,” she said. “Insulation, as far as we can tell, is newspaper.”

Watch a video about Rudnick's on the Your Business blog.

The building — actually three adjacent buildings on State Street that were joined together — has been up for sale. No one has shown interest so far, she said, but she’s leaving anyway.

She is holding a sale to eliminate her stock. Then she plans to either open another small business or continue the uniform business in a much smaller storefront. She won’t simply retire.

“I might be 66, but I am an A personality. That means I will never be able to stay home,” she said.

The buildings date from 1856. There are “magnificent copper ceilings,” marble stairs, a mahogany banister and cherubs in the walls at the entrance of a one-time hotel, she said.

But there are challenges.

“There isn’t parking,” she said. “There just isn’t.”

And she is disappointed by the progress in redeveloping downtown.

Rudnick’s grew rapidly between the 1940s and the 1970s, when General Electric workers filled the downtown during their hourlong lunch breaks.

After massive layoffs at General Electric, most of the downtown retailers closed.

Rudnick’s survived until now. Tolokonsky had hoped that the Metroplex Development Authority would bring back customers for retail businesses, though she said she never expected a miracle.

“You’re never going to retrieve lunch hour with GE,” she said. “But I think you could have a downtown that had a lot of variety.”

Instead, she said, Schenectady is not walkable, does not have a variety of interesting retail shops, and has too many “bars and grills” instead of excellent restaurants.

“They have made a downtown that won’t last,” she said. “To me, most of the money has gone to bars and grills. They close the streets for drink fests. That doesn’t make a downtown.”

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen acknowledged that there is still work to do to strengthen retail downtown.

He has said for many years that he is following a strategy that worked in other downtowns: bring in “coffee and clubs,” and then arts and entertainment, creating buzz and interest in the area. Build from that to get offices and tech firms to move downtown, putting more potential customers in the area.

Step four is building the residential base.

The final step is retail.

“We’re at step four right now,” Gillen said. “That is residential. Our plan is working.”

Each step, he said, added to the vibrancy downtown.

“There’s thousands of professional jobs downtown that weren’t here a few years ago,” he said. “They are customers for retail businesses.”

He acknowledged that Metroplex did focus on bars and restaurants first. But, he said, projects have gone beyond that now.

“New establishments open almost on a weekly basis,” he said. “They’re a mix of professional offices, retail, tech, restaurants.”

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