The fortunes of the former St. James Square shopping plaza off Nott Street Extension began to change two years ago when local officials announced that the vacant supermarket space that used to house Grand Union would be redeveloped into a new supermarket, ShopRite.
The $12 million deal, announced in 2011, took a year to develop, with town and county officials working to get the space filled. Later that year the vacant space was transformed into a modern supermarket, drawing a constant stream of customers that continues today.
Officials have hoped all along that getting a new anchor store into the plaza would breathe new life into the entire plaza.
Announcements made in recent months have suggested those hopes may soon become a reality, from plans approved by the town to divide the long-vacant old CVS space into four storefronts fit for retail or restaurant space, to plans for a dialysis center in the office-oriented eastern section of the plaza.
Key to further development at the square, officials have said, is the demolition of the old Friendly’s restaurant that has always served as a barrier to traffic flow from the supermarket space to the west end of the plaza off Balltown Road. That is expected to get final approval June 10. The restaurant closed in 2010.
Following demolition, a new structure built closer to Nott Street East is expected to include a restaurant/cafe.
“There’s been a lot of changes in the last couple years,” Niskayuna town Supervisor Joe Landry said of the plaza, now known as ShopRite Square. “We’ve been working hard. That was one of my major goals when I became supervisor, to get activity over there. And there’s so much activity over there that, at times, you can’t find parking places and that’s a very good thing.”
The demolition of the old Friendly’s is expected to be the next visible sign of progress at the plaza.
When it was originally built, the restaurant was sited next to the plaza, with only a walkway separating it and the old CVS space. To get from the supermarket to the west end by car, drivers had to go around the Friendly’s and use a narrow connector road.
The new setup will put the driving lane next to the plaza, with added parking there. The change is seen as necessary for potential businesses that might locate in the subdivided old CVS space.
Officials previously announced two tenants for those spaces: Sakura Hibachi and Splash Nails. The hibachi place is now on hold, officials said, meaning it’s still expected to come, but take a little longer.
TCBY Yogurt, Best Cleaners and Giant Discount Wine and Liquor also have moved into the plaza.
The plaza actually has three owners. The part of the plaza west of the ShopRite is owned by Inland Mortgage Capital Corporation. ShopRite owns the space where it is located. The eastern end of the plaza is owned by a company called ACM Northfield, formerly known as Sopramco.
John MacAffer, an associate broker representing the east and west end owners, said the opening of ShopRite was very important in rebirth of the plaza.
“I can tell you that without the anchor store in there, especially in the front section of the plaza, we would not have seen the increase in retail activity,” MacAffer, of the Albany-based firm CBRE, said.
He noted that TCBY went in as a result of the ShopRite, and Best Cleaners did, too.
Other longtime tenants have stayed on, including LT’s Grill and the Golden Phoenix.
The eastern end, which is largely office space, is filling up as well. A public hearing on the proposed dialysis center was held last week, with final approval expected this month.
“The hope is, in the next 12 months, the thing will be full,” MacAffer said of the plaza.
There wasn’t always this much interest.
Until the 2011 ShopRite announcement, the square struggled, despite being in an affluent community and being next to the town’s center of education, Niskayuna High School.
The Grand Union had closed in 2001 and local officials and owners had to wait a decade for a replacement. There were also financial problems for the plaza’s former owner, Reginald Scott, who ultimately filed for bankruptcy.
In the meantime, tenants left.
Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex development agency, recalled the efforts through the years to fill the old Grand Union space. At one point, attention turned to filling it with office space. That idea, too, fell through. In hindsight, Gillen said, he’s glad that it did.
The traffic and activity at the plaza would not have been near where it is now.
“It’s filled a major hole in Niskayuna,” Gillen said. “It’s really breathed a lot of new life into that plaza.”
Art Rendak, president of the Chicago-based Inland Mortgage that owns the western half of the plaza, said the anchor has made it easier to invest there and interest new tenants.
“The more traffic you have, the better it is,” Rendak said. “It’s up to my tenants to take advantage of the additional shoppers and the folks parked there.”
Hoping everything works out well for his business is LT’s Grill co-owner L.J. Goldstock.
LT’s Grill called the plaza home five years before ShopRite was announced. Goldstock noted that with the new tenants comes new competition.
He said he’s just got to keep working hard to make his restaurant the best around. He said he recently redid his interior to keep it fresh and continues with nightly events and promotions, as well as participating in frequent fundraisers.
“If you’re in this business, you have to fight, you have to fight to keep your customers,” Goldstock said. “You’ve got to be on point all the time. You’ve got to be friendly, you’ve got to make sure you keep everybody happy.”
As for ShopRite, they are more than satisfied with their choice of Niskayuna for their first store on their return to the Capital Region, officials there said.
The Niskayuna ShopRite became the first of four ShopRites now in the Capital Region. It’s also done well enough in Niskayuna to expand its ShopRite from Home service earlier this year.
ShopRite spokeswoman Santina Stankevich said the Niskayuna store continues to do very well.
“It’s a great community,” Stankevich said. “Local residents have responded really well.”