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Former Labor Temple reborn as apartments, retail space in downtown Schenectady

Former Labor Temple reborn as apartments, retail space in downtown Schenectady

Pop culture rules downstairs, old brickwork stars upstairs
Former Labor Temple reborn as apartments, retail space in downtown Schenectady
Developer Sal Rasizzi stands in one of the apartments in the newly refurbished Labor Temple in downtown Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Pop culture and vintage brickwork are the stars at the renovated Labor Temple.

The storefront has been home since April 1 to a trove of movie and fiction collectibles, while three upper floors now contain six apartments with extensive exposed brick walls. All units are spoken for, and the first tenant will move in May 1.

Queens resident Sal Rasizzi bought the faded downtown landmark at 105 Clinton St. in late 2017 and has been renovating it since. As a member of a trade union himself, he appreciates the building’s history. Given that his trade is bricklaying, one understands his decision to leave the century-old bricks raw and exposed. 

He and his wife are keeping the best apartment for themselves as a second home.

Rasizzi spent the past week on site doing finishing work on the punch list. Here’s what the project looks like:

DOWNSTAIRS RETAIL

The ground-floor commercial space is home to Sassy’s Satellite, and is the first real storefront operation for owner Daniel Fay’s 24-year-old venture. He has operated out of a carriage house behind his Parkwood Boulevard home, selling collectibles on eBay and at conventions to supplement income from his design work.

The new store is a mesmerizing treasure trove for fans of the genre: A beckoning devil grins by the front door, a stunningly realistic silicone bust of Heath Ledger as The Joker sits on the front counter near an 1880s National cash register, and vintage movie posters line the upper wall. A colorful rack of VHS tapes fills one corner — and they sell, remarkably enough.

“By trade I’m a product and graphic designer and I’ve done all kinds of things from toys to action figures to candy,” Fay said. “But my passion has always been monsters, superheroes, all this larger-than-life stuff. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a collector, amassing stuff. This became my real job, as opposed to design.”

Fay, 62, grew up in Schenectady and got his design education at Pratt Institute. Collectibles became his main focus after his marriage ended, leaving him with custody of his children and less ability to travel for design projects. (The fervor apparently rubbed off: Max, the younger of the children, is manager of Sassy’s retail location.)

But Fay is still active in design: The backroom at Sassy’s is cluttered with tools and projects. 

Visitors will find a frequently rotating display at the store. It’s like the proverbial iceberg floating the ocean: only a small percentage of Sassy's collection will be visible at any one time. There’s just too much to fit.

Fay’s own interests and the marketplace drive his inventory.

He’s not into comic books, so there are none on display. He loves the Rolling Stones, so there's a placcard advertising their infamous 1969 free concert at the Altamont Speedway. There’s everything from a head-and-torso cast from Arnold Schwarzenegger himself on the set of “Terminator 2” to a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” poster autographed by Gunnar Hansen. (That’s the actor who played Leatherface in the 1974 original … in case the question comes up on Trivia Night.)

“We do have high-end stuff,” Fay said, “and then we also have $5 action figures. And everything in between.”

So what’s his favorite piece? 

“My favorite thing in the world is probably the next collectible I buy. I’m a junkie, this is my junk. I’m enchanted by it.”

However, Fay admits a particular fondness for the Health Ledger bust sitting on the counter.

“The Joker? He’s on display. I don’t want to sell him.”

UPSTAIRS RESIDENTIAL

Rasizzi was faced with both engineering challenges and aesthetic choices as he converted the former office building and meeting hall for labor unions into an apartment building that could command rents starting at $1,000 or $1,200 a month for a studio or one-bedroom unit.

He resolved a basement moisture problem with pumps and a new drain system. At the top of the building, there was the 16-foot tall union hall in a space clearly designed for two 8-foot floors: There were two rows of windows in the airy space and stairs that went up the wall. Exposed structural steel in the walls allowed him weld an entire new floor into mid-air.

Each unit is open and airy, with multiple windows and without doors in the wide bedroom doorways (he’ll install doors for tenants who want them). He and his sons chipped the plaster off the walls, leaving thousands of bricks exposed, each row different from the next in their century-old hand-laid details. A coat of clear sealant was added for a minimal finishing touch.

“I was going to clean it up more but everyone loves it the way it is,” Rasizzi said.

Contrasting with the old bricks are sleek laminate floors and gleaming modern bathrooms.

Helping the Queens resident navigate the local regulatory process and get the project completed has been Schenectady developer John Samatulski.

“He’s been a tremendous help from the first day I met him,” Rasizzi said. He recalls practically chasing Samatulski down the stairs after his first Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, pumping him for more advice.

Samatulski meanwhile is redeveloping a small office building a few hundred feet away at 432 Franklin St. into a mixed-use structure. Both projects will have the effect of extending redevelopment efforts out from downtown; the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority provided grants of $22,000 for the Labor Temple facade, $21,000 for the retail space now occupied by Sassy’s and $24,000 for the facade of 432 Franklin.

Samatulski, a former director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, said some of the newer city residents he sees are people who are relocating here with no compelling need to do so. Rather than a personal connection that makes Schenectady an obvious choice, they are choosing the downtown area over other Capital Region neighborhoods because they like the options.

In a new experience for himself, he used FaceTime to give a prospective tenant in Oregon a tour of The Labor Temple apartments. 

“She loves it, even though she hasn’t actually been here,” he said of the woman, who wound up leasing a studio.

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