Since the Schenectady County SummerNight festival started nine years ago, Patrick and Maryanne Morris of Scotia have been to almost every one.
“We look forward to it,” Patrick Morris said after he and his wife listened to the band Grand Central Station play John Legend’s “All of Me.”
The festival takes place annually in downtown Schenectady and includes food, music and games for families to enjoy. In coming to Schenectady for the festival (“except for that one time when it rained,” Maryanne Morris said), the couple has seen the changes that have taken place downtown.
“Each year, this downtown gets better and better,” Patrick said.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy has lived in the city since 1971, and as he walked around Friday night, he too remembered what it was once like.
“Ten years ago, you didn’t have to look both ways before you crossed the street,” he said, because there was no activity downtown.
One of the big changes with this year’s festival, McCarthy observed, was more local restaurants were open for the event, which meant fewer outside vendors had to be brought in. During the festival, people were streaming in and out of downtown restaurants like Bombers Burrito Bar and Johnny’s.
“This is what can happen when you reinvest in upstate cities,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
Ian O’Brien and his wife, Tara, of Schenectady, brought their children, Eoin, 3, and Tiernan, 1. It was their second year visiting the festival, and Ian O’Brien, who grew up in Schenectady, remembered how back in the early 1990s there was no reason to come downtown because it was mostly empty storefronts. Now, he and his wife think there should be more summer events planned downtown.
Stacey Johnson of Rotterdam came to the festival with her daughter Taylor, 7, and son, Brayden, 4, as well as her parents, Gerry and Richard Tripp, of Glenville. Johnson and her parents are originally from Schenectady, and Gerry Tripp could recall when the downtown had been bustling and then gone downhill. But like others at the festival, she was happy to see the past in the past and everyone enjoying the food and reveling in the fun and music.
One of the more popular activities was the beach created specifically for the night. James Thomas played in the sand on State Street with his daughter, Raven, 4. Thomas and his wife, Blair, moved to Schenectady about a year ago and were attending their first SummerNight.
“She likes dirt, what can I say?” James Thomas said with a chuckle as Raven kept returning to the beach even after he tried to lift her up and place her on the sidewalk.
Trineice Lee of Albany and her best friend, Taffney Wallace of Troy, and Wallace’s son, Jaiden, 8, enjoyed the festival, although Lee felt the prices of some of the food items were a little high. Lee said she often visits her younger sister, who lives in Schenectady, and although she liked that the festival was a good time for the kids, she said too many of the changes in the city had been concentrated in the downtown area.
“There’s a lot downtown, but not much in the other areas,” Lee said.