As Tina Wachsmuth munched on a breakfast potato from More Perreca’s on the stoop in front of Patricia’s Room Antiques, she thought about the last time she attended Merchant Mashup in downtown Schenectady.
The semiannual event that pairs restaurants with retailers has been held five times so far, each time attracting a decent crowd — never too big, never too small and very much dependent on the weather.
“I remember sitting over there,” said Wachsmuth, pointing to a nearby storefront on the Jay Street pedestrian mall. “There was music, there were people all over, families and kids. I have photographs from that night of just lots of people.”
On Thursday night, there was music and there were people, but not a lot of them. Earlier in the evening, gray clouds threatened rain and a few drops fell.
Evelyn Urys of Schenectady wondered if it was the weather that affected the turnout. Or maybe it’s that the event was on a Thursday, she wondered aloud.
“Didn’t it used to be on the weekend?” she asked.
“I honestly think it’s the ticket,” responded Wachsmuth. “You have to pay to eat now.”
The event did used to be on a Friday, before the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation moved it to Thursday to accommodate restaurateurs who had less time to devote to offering samples for such an event during their Friday night rush.
The event also used to be free. This year, visitors had to purchase an $8 ticket to participate in the event, in which people sample food from downtown restaurants that set up shop inside downtown retail shops. Students could get in for $5, children under 6 for free. The tickets would defray the costs of running the event, DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo said. Besides, plenty of other food-tasting events come with a cost.
Retailers were mixed as to whether the new ticket system was affecting turnout Thursday night. Marc Renson, of Ambition Café on Jay Street, said the crowd seemed promising about one hour into the three-hour event.
“I think we probably had about 80 people come through at the last Mashup when it was free,” he said. “So now, we’ve had 40 people come through and it’s only been the first hour and they had to pay. I think that’s amazing.”
Renson set up a food booth inside Hermie’s Music Store, which was previously located on upper State Street for more than six decades before moving to Jay Street last year.
The food samples are offered from inside retail shops to create more exposure for the shops and get people browsing. Hermie’s owner Chris Trombley didn’t exactly expect to sell any guitars Thursday night but he was happy to report that he sold a pair of drumsticks.
“We’re not going to sell an instrument at an event like this, but people may come back and buy a guitar or sign up for lessons,” he said.
Patricia Greenwood sold a tie tack in the first hour. The owner of Patricia’s Room Antiques couldn’t quite tell if the ticket system had affected attendance. About halfway through the event she had seen about 30 people filter into her Jay Street shop, most of them obviously there for the food, but some to browse.
“It’s all about exposure,” she said. “People come back later in the week or month and say, ‘My wife saw this and I want to buy it for her,’ so that’s great.”
Casey Blum, owner of Backstage Pub & Grill on Smith Street, thought the crowd seemed thinner than in previous years, but he couldn’t say whether it had to do with the tickets or the suspicious-looking rain clouds that had gathered earlier in the evening.
Deb DePoalo, a first-time Mashup participant from Rotterdam, had stopped inside Hermie’s Music Store, Lennon’s Irish Shop and Patricia’s Room Antiques to sample potato-themed food samples. She turned up because, well, it was something to do on a Thursday night.
“I like it,” she said. “I like downtown Schenectady. It’s starting to turn around. It’s starting to be OK to come to.”