Sharon Springs was an internationally known tourist destination in the 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to its naturally occurring mineral springs. The village took a downturn during the Great Depression but experienced a post-World War II resurgence with investment from the Hasidic Jewish community. By the 1980s, however, Sharon Springs had once again fallen into neglect and disrepair.
But starting around 15 years ago, the quintessentially American village, nestled among vast tracts of farmland in rural Schoharie County, began to attract investors who were drawn to the historic significance and potential of Sharon Springs.
In the past several years, plans to rejuvenate the village's many spas, bathhouses and hotels have progressed in fits and starts, with glimmers of hope marred by doubt when plans fall through. But after some recent publicity, and steady investment from a core group of residents, local business leaders and officials believe the village is on the precipice of yet another comeback.
Related: Outlook 2017, The Gazette's annual guide to business and technology in the Capital Region
Below are several projects and initiatives that the people of Sharon Springs are looking forward to in 2017 and beyond.
South Korean-based company Sharon Springs Inc. created a lot of buzz when it purchased the once-majestic Imperial Baths bathhouse on Main Street in 2004. The company also acquired several other properties, including the Adler Hotel, Columbia Hotel and the now-demolished Washington Hotel.
But an embezzlement scandal within the company derailed plans to renovate Imperial Baths and the other properties, and for years the project stood stagnant. In the past two years, however, with its house brought into order, Sharon Springs Inc. is working steadily on renovating Imperial Baths into a Korean-style spa.
"We're very pleased because the property sat there for almost 11 years deteriorating and we began to lose hope that anything was going to happen," said Sandra Manko, a county supervisor for the town of Sharon (Sharon Springs is a village within the town). "They're moving ahead and they've been working every week since last summer."
Ron Ketelson, who owns and is renovating the Roseboro Hotel, also on Main Street, said he's working to open a tea shop in the hotel this spring before completing work at the hotel and eventually opening a restaurant on the premises.
"It's going in phases," said Ketelson of the renovation project. "So the next phase will be to finish the shop area so we'll be able to open more specialty shops."
Ketelson, who is also the president of the Sharon Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he's also looking to open two antiques shops on site in the spring. He added that the ballroom and the dining room are currently under renovation, while restoring the guestrooms at the historic hotel is still a ways off.
"I think great things are happening and will continue to happen. It just takes time," he said.
Plans to open the restaurant won't come to fruition until next spring, he added. "I don't want to jump into a full-service restaurant. We need to phase things a bit," said Ketelson.
FESTIVALS, RECENT PUBLICITY
Ketelson said the chamber is excited about two festivals that have been added to Sharon Springs' events lineup. For years the village has held a Harvest Party, Garden Party and Victorian Festival, but has recently added an antiques festival and Fourth of July event.
The village has also benefited from recent publicity in the form of the Dancing Farmer, local farmer Jay Lavery, whose video of him dancing in his barn with farm animals went viral. The video earned Lavery an appearance on "The Ellen Degeneres Show" in January.
Ketelson said he's been getting an increased amount of inquiries around real estate and people who are interested in filming in Sharon Springs.
"I think more and more people are becoming familiar with Sharon Springs. As they see or hear things, I'm getting more calls," he said, noting that two producers recently inquired about shooting fi lm projects in the village.
He's also received calls from people wondering what the real estate market in Sharon Springs is doing.
"There is property for sale," said Ketelson, noting the availability of everything from residential buildings to farmland in a variety of price ranges, from $20,000 to over a million.
"Every day we're seeing new things come along and new people looking to open a business or move [to Sharon Springs] because it's such a unique community," said Ketelson. "Once they come, they just kind of fall in love with it, and we're seeing more and more of that, which is really exciting."
There is also a push in the village for business leaders and officials to support year-round tourism. Currently, many of the shops and hotels are operating on a seasonal basis, but there's an effort underway to make tourism a sustainable, year-round operation.
Antony Daou, owner of the Black Cat Cafe, also on Main Street, said much of the excitement now is centered on Sharon Springs Inc.'s plans to open Imperial Baths year-round.
"I think the big story about [Imperial Baths] is that it's going to be a year-round business," said Daou, noting that although Sharon Springs Inc. is remaking the bathhouse in a Korean style, there will be something for everyone. "They're bringing back the feel of what the bath used to be like and that's what's exciting."
Ketelson said he's also excited about Sharon Springs being more active year-round.
"We get a lot of people through there and the only reason there's quiet this time of year is everyone decided to close for the winter," said Ketelson. "If everyone stayed open year-round we'd have business."
Ketelson said once his Roseboro Hotel is up and running he plans to be open all year long, as does Sharon Springs Inc. with its various ventures.
"The more that people do that, the more we're going to have regular business coming through there," he said. "People don't realize what's there and it's becoming more of a destination spot."
Among Sharon Springs Inc.'s many projects is the renovation of the historic Columbia Hotel. Daou, who said he's close with executives at the company, said it has plans to renovate and open the hotel as early as December of this year or in the spring of 2018.
"They exude so much positive energy, these people. They are so serious about it," said Daou of executives at Sharon Springs Inc. and their desire to help bring the village back. "There's just activity, there's this feeling in the air of growth. ... It's like an upswell of positive actions going on."
The effort to renovate the hotel was given a boost in December when the project was awarded a $1 million grant from the Regional Economic Development Council. The council's annual contest awards hundreds of millions in funds to projects in regions across the state that seek to improve local economies.