Behind Lyle’s Hoagies, a family-owned sandwich shop that’s stood on Erie Boulevard for three decades, is a leviathan warehouse.
OK, so it’s not leviathan by modern-day warehouse standards. But in 1930, when the newly merged GG Grocery Corp. opened headquarters inside 140 Erie Blvd. and built the warehouse out back to handle its new volume of business, it was a 20,000-square-foot harbinger of what Joseph Grosberg and Lewis Golub’s new wholesale grocery business would become — the Grosberg and Golub Co., later renamed Central Markets and then Price Chopper Supermarkets.
The most amazing thing to John Samatulski, the new owner of both 140 Erie Blvd. and the warehouse out back, is that nobody even knows the warehouse is back there. Even passers-by seem oblivious. But, of course, Samatulski is just happy to have passers-by, since he bought the property in the midst of the massive Erie Boulevard reconstruction project in 2012. Sidewalks were torn up, traffic was a mess, and an always-present contingent of construction vehicles was scaring off pedestrians and tenants along the boulevard.
“And now look at it,” Samatulski said, smiling as he looked at the new sidewalks, curb cuts, lampposts and planters. “It was painful, but the end result was worth it, you know?”
Samatulski has big plans for both 140 Erie Blvd. and its warehouse.
The two-story building that once served as headquarters for Grosberg and Golub is about to get a $100,000 facade overhaul — new paint, new lighting, energy-efficient windows and new signage — thanks to a $50,000 matching grant from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.
The structure actually dates from 1880, when it was constructed as a planing mill for a large lumber operation along the Erie Canal. It is one of few remaining buildings along the canal’s towpath that actually used the canal to ship and receive goods. It was first used for the wholesale grocery business around 1900, when it was owned and operated by Charles S. Smith. Golub and Grosberg took over in 1930 and sold it in 1965 to the Liss Family, which had a growing appliance business next door and needed the extra warehouse space.
Today, the ground floor is home to Lyle’s Hoagies, Pleasant Cleaners, Yoga Bliss and the Center for Empowering Communities. The latter three are all new tenants recently moved in, a sign to Samatulski that Erie Boulevard is on its way back, transforming before his very eyes. Upstairs, he has more than 5,000 square feet for rent. The space overlooking the boulevard used to be a dance hall.
“I would potentially like this space to be a dance hall again,” he said last week.
But his most ambitious plans are for the warehouse, where he’s embarking on a five-year, three-phase redevelopment plan that could total anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million by the time he’s done. He’s planning event space, a film venue, coffeehouse and wholesale antiques space to start. But he eventually wants the warehouse to host an art gallery, live music, a commercial kitchen for catered events, a smokehouse, juice bar, wine bar, full-service restaurant and bakery, a business incubator, and more. It’s all flexible, with nothing set in stone, he emphasized.
Samatulski grew up in Schenectady. He served as executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. in the early 2000s, charged with overseeing the reconstruction of the Proctors block portion of State Street. He helped lead the Schenectady Light Opera Company through an ambitious relocation and expansion that saved a former church, rectory and school on Franklin Street. Two years ago, he completed an interior and exterior renovation of a two-story building at 9 N. Broadway, and today he’s working to restore a three-unit building in the Stockade.
He had previously worked in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and even created and ran the Lark Street Business Improvement District in Albany. His focus returned to Schenectady at the start of the new millennium.
“When I left the BID at a very successful time to come to Schenectady, people who didn’t know it was my hometown were like, ‘John, it’s like the armpit of the world. Schenectady is never going to get better.’ ”
He smiles now when he recalls that ominous warning. Just down the road, entrepreneur Matt Baumgartner (who also runs the Bombers Burrito Bar near Proctors) is planning a second Wolff’s Biergarten location at 165 Erie Blvd., previously home to Kem Cleaners. Nearby, the lower State Street neighborhood is undergoing an ambitious and laborious revitalization.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen points to Samatulski’s renovation project as one in what will eventually be a long line of cleanups and renovations as Erie Boulevard is transformed.
“The interest in that corridor by developers and building owners is very strong right now,” he said.
Samatulski envisions his Erie Boulevard warehouse as an experimental, flexible space for creative types. He’s partnering with the warehouse’s sole tenant so far — John Notar, who runs an estate clean-out and liquidation business — to get the antiques space and art gallery up and running. On Thursday, a couple from Hudson were already checking out their wares.
Notar’s business differs from some of the big junk-removal companies that toss old belongings into landfills. He donates a lot of his finds to Habitat for Humanity, the Schenectady Home Furnishings Program and the First Presbyterian Church of Scotia. The rest, he lovingly restores and holds onto until he can find a new owner.
“As time goes on, you’re going to see this whole thing develop into a very eclectic kind of unique space,” Notar said. “There won’t just be one thing here. People can come here to look for art or architectural items or pottery. There will be food or you can just come to relax and listen to music. With John and I together trying to do some of the eclectic artsy things we have in our head, I think it’s a good collaboration of great space, great ideas and downtown Schenectady is just the perfect location for it all.”