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Chamber: 'We have some vacancies we need to fill downtown'

Chamber: 'We have some vacancies we need to fill downtown'

Business climate in Saratoga Springs is changing
Chamber: 'We have some vacancies we need to fill downtown'
One Caroline in Saratoga Springs closed in February.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The business climate in Saratoga Springs is changing, particularly the restaurant scene.

Several eateries have closed in recent months, including One Caroline, Park Side Eatery and The Merry Monk, while others are opening or relocating.

"It's surprising that it's all happening at once," said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus. "While I don't think there's a common reason for each individual closure, collectively, it says we have some vacancies we need to fill downtown." 

Shimkus said there are a number of restaurants for sale, including Scallions, on Lake Avenue; the former Circus Cafe, on Broadway; Limoncello, on Ballston Avenue; and Cantina, which is moving to the former Lillian's restaurant location, at 408 Broadway. 

Jeff Ames, co-owner of Cantina, said Lillian's, which closed in December 2016, originally opened where Cantina is, at 430 Broadway, before relocating 100 feet away. 

"Lillian's outgrew the space and moved," he said. "We've had a successful run, but we've outgrown it, too."

Ames said he jumped at the chance to purchase the old Lillian's building. 

"There will never again be another stand-alone building available in the city," he said. "I was given the chance to dial it in and live my restaurant dream."

Cantina, which has been open since June of 2007, is slated to open in its new space in May. 

Ames said the new location, which is 1,000 square feet larger than the Cantina location, will be more open. 

"This is our opportunity to make things better," he said. "It'll be Cantina 2.0."

Kaffee House debuted in Saratoga Springs at the end of February at 120 West Ave. in the former space of The Fortunate Cup. 

Owners Sabine Solga and her husband, Matthias, a neurologist, moved to the area from Germany because Saratoga Springs was an underserved area for their business. 

Solga said it was a dream of Matthias' to open Kaffee House, which not only offers a selection of coffee and tea, but German specialties like German meatballs and Bratwurst. 

"We've traveled a lot, and we like American food, but many people have European roots," she said. "Some people also served in the military in Europe, so they get to have the food again." 

Another new business includes Taverna Novo, which is expected to open under the ownership of Patricia Pendergast Novo and her husband, Jeff Novo, in mid-March in the Beekman Street Arts District. 

There have been several business closures in the city, including One Caroline Street, a live music venue, restaurant and bar that shut down on Feb. 26 after nearly 25 years in business. 

RAW Fitness Saratoga, at 51 Caroline St., also closed its doors Feb. 28 after nearly three years. 

Owner Jennifer Ricupero said she will turn her attention to life coaching and personal training in order to help clients with nutrition, stress and fitness. 

"One of the biggest reasons I'm closing is the level of stress in the area has gotten so big," she said.

Ricupero said residents who live around her studio complained about her clients doing fitness activities outside, like running on the sidewalks. She added that she would also often get yelled at by patrons leaving area bars.

"I felt like I was fighting against a cause that's bigger than mine," she said.

Ricupero said that, despite closing her studio, she still plans to do business in Saratoga Springs. 

"I'm going to be working with other local businesses to host a running program and a hiking and adventure club," she said. "As soon as I announced I was closing, local businesses reached out to me and said, 'We know the stress, and we'd love for you to be part of our business.'

"I feel lucky to follow my dream of owning my own studio, and I couldn't have done it without the support of the community." 

Shimkus said there is competition among Saratoga Springs businesses. 

"We've grown the restaurant industry and expanded the offerings, which has caused people — especially longtime restaurants -- to rethink their business," he said. "They either have to reinvest or turn it over to someone else.

"There are a lot of options, so people have to find a way to make their business stand out."

Beth Alexander, co-owner of Hattie's, said the main reason her Phila Street restaurant has remained successful since opening in 1938 is the right mix of consistency and change. 

"We keep certain things the same, which we have to, because of our history," she said. "We'd never take fried chicken off the menu, but we put fried chicken and waffles on our menu for brunch."

Hattie's also renovated the back patio, added tap beers to its menu and hosted special events, like rum, bourbon and beer pairing dinners to stay competitive. 

Alexander said she spends a lot of time researching restaurant trends in major cities. 

"You've got to see what's hot," she said. "Once you get people in the door, it's our job to get them to come back." 

Shimkus said he's not sure whether the solution to long-lasting success in Saratoga Springs is to cap the number of certain types of businesses. 

"We're a city of 28,000 people during the bulk of the year, so I'm sure there's a limitation as to how many local restaurants, health and wellness facilities and hotels we can support, but I don't know what that number is," he said. 

"We have a lot of options, which makes it challenging, and space here isn't inexpensive, so that's an added issue people have to deal with."

The key to supporting businesses in the city, Shimkus said, is a new parking garage. 

"We have more demand for parking than we have supply," he said. "The City Center wants to build a parking garage at no cost to the city, so let them build it.

"It will help all the businesses, and the fact that it's taken so long is an abysmal failure in the city."

The owners of the Mouzon House, a restaurant at 1 York St., filed a lawsuit against City Council over its April 2016 approval of a long-term lease of land to the Saratoga Springs City Center, which has plans to build a 480-spot parking garage there. 

The lawsuit is still in litigation. 

Shimkus said a parking garage would help fill storefronts that were previously home to One Caroline and The Merry Monk. 

"It would make those spaces more attractive and viable," he said. "That's the one thing standing in front of us when it comes to filling those spaces and attracting people to our downtown." 

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