The corner at South Church and State streets in downtown Schenectady has seen a lot of change in the past two decades, and Steve Sargent has been around for all of it.
Sargent owns Steven M. Sargent Inc, an income tax and bookkeeping service at 20 South Church St., and while other businesses have come and gone in that immediate area, Sargent’s has endured.
“There’s been a lot of turnover, so many changes in the last 20 years,” said Sargent. “Everything’s gone that was here when I started.”
The building that houses Sargent’s office was for much of the 20th century a warehouse for Freed’s Auto Exchange and then Young’s Auto Parts. Both of those businesses were at the northwest corner of State and South Church and are now long gone, along with a series of sandwich shops that also occupied the building. In that location now is the Stockade Market and Deli, which has been under the same management for six years now.
“I ran the deli there myself for a while,” said Sargent, referring back to the early 1990s. “I knew the guy that had been running it and told him I was looking for a spot for my business. He told me about this place, which was vacant, so I grabbed it. While I was running the deli, there was a screen printing shop on the second floor, but that business died, and then I stopped running the deli to concentrate on my business.”
A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School graduate, Sargent went to Hudson Valley Community College for two years and continued taking classes at Siena College while working for the accounting department at Coradian Corp. in Latham. He then worked at Schenectady Tax Service before deciding to leave there and build his own business.
The building at 20 South Church St., which has apartments on the second and third floor, is owned by Schenectady attorney Paul Lefebvre.
“It was built in 1905 as a single-family home, and sometime in the 1920s they lowered the basement and the first floor about four feet to convert it to commercial space,” said Lefebvre. “It’s been used as retail ever since. I bought it about 30 years ago, and Steve moved in about 20 years ago.”
A varied retail history
Lefebvre said the building may have also been a clothing store at one time, and Sargent picked up a bit of the place’s history during the first year he was there.
“I had this customer who used to come in and tell me how it was a meat market,” he said. “He was an old guy and he was remembering back to when he was a kid. He’d come in and point out the different spots, and show me where the workers would wash their hands.”
Across South Church Street from Sargent’s office is Kelly Glass, which was Douw Beekman Auto Parts when he moved in, and at the northeast corner is the Campbell Mansion. While the building has endured since Daniel Campbell constructed his elaborate home in 1762, it has had a series of different tenants in the past 100 years. The home of McNamara Realty for much of the second half of the 20th century, it now houses the offices for Campbell House Psychological Associates and the Albany Chapter of the Autism Society of America.
Bridge brought changes
That particular area was originally the southern end of the village of Schenectady, and for centuries was a residential area. That all started changing when the Western Gateway Bridge was built in 1925.
“Planning for the construction of the Western Gateway Bridge, the YMCA and the Van Curler Hotel in the early 1920s would have sparked interest in developing commercial properties at the western end of State Street,” said Rob Petito, an architect who has studied many of the house histories in the Stockade. “In many cases, a commercial shop front was installed at the first floor only; in others, the entire facade was removed and replaced with a new facade that was more commercial in appearance than residential, and the first floor lowered to sidewalk level to gain ceiling height and for convenience of shoppers.
“I think it is fair to say that lowering first floors in residential townhouses as part of conversions to commercial use was not uncommon,” said Petito. “In the case of 20 South Church, we can speculate that the present brick building was built circa 1900 as a residence, and that the house was altered with the addition of a storefront at some point afterwards, perhaps around World War I or during the early 1920s.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org