Until I visited the Schenectady Trading Company, I had no idea how much stuff gets made in Schenectady County — how much food, clothing, art, crafts and other household items is produced right here.
"If you think of Schenectady County as a factory, a factory has a factory store," Caroline Bardwell, owner of the Schenectady Trading Post, explained. "I want to be the factory store for Schenectady County."
It's an interesting concept, and it's beautifully executed.
The store, which opened at 609 Union Street at the end of September, is stocked with goods produced in Schenectady County. To step inside and look around is to be amazed by the county's wealth of talent, which now has a terrific showcase.
Here's a small sample of the items you can find in Schenectady County's new factory store:
- Apple cider from The Hungry Chicken Country Store in Rotterdam
- Pierogies from Codin's Italian Food Specialty in Schenectady
- "Electric City" pint glasses and sweatshirts designed by Bardwell
- Coffee products from Electric City Roasters and Mohawk Coffee Company
- Handcrafted wall carvings and kitchen tools from Niskayuna woodworker Michael Consolo
- Mittens, hats and gloves from Newberry Knitting on Curry Road
- Colorful handmade quilts from Schenectady-based Beyond the Pines
Bardwell hopes that people come to the Schenectady Trading Company to shop.
But her vision for the store goes beyond retail.
She wants the Trading Company to build community — to be a place where people can gather and interact.
The shop has a welcoming small front room, which Bardwell refers to as the parlor, that can be used by small groups, such as a book club. There's a playroom with toys, books and games for children. Hot coffee is available, and there are tables to sit and enjoy a cup.
On Tuesdays, the shop hosts a "creatives' coffee hour" from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. The hope is that creative people will get together, talk and forge connections.
Bardwell also hopes to host events — readings and signings with local authors, performances by local musicians.
A signing with Schenectady writer Johnny Rockenstire, author of "Crucible Along the Mohawk," a work of historical fiction that brings to life the events surrounding the Schenectady Massacre of 1690, is scheduled for Nov. 30.
The store will also host a "coffee with a cop" event, where members of the public can chat with a Schenectady police officer, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 15.
"Schenectady gets a bad reputation that clouds the positive stuff that a lot of hardworking people are doing," Bardwell, 40, told me, when we chatted in the parlor on a recent weekday morning.
Bardwell believes her shop can instill hometown pride while also giving visitors a deeper understanding of the diversity of talent and skill in Schenectady County. Based on my own reaction to the store, I'd say she's right.
"The shop represents the community," Bardwell said. "A lot of people want to buy local, but it's a lot of work to buy local. It has a greater impact when the stuff is all together."
Bardwell is working to establish an online store, which should be up and running later this month, and her ribbon cutting ceremony is this Thursday at 4 p.m.
You can see Bardwell's own work at the shop.
Her photograph hangs from the walls, and her book of poetry and photography is available.
A 1997 graduate of Schenectady High School, she is a geologist by training, and spent much of her career in environmental remediation. The store is the result of a "period of personal change," that saw her shift her focus from science to writing poetry and to "paying more attention about what's going on in Schenectady County."
"I felt very compelled to change what I was doing and do something very community focused," Bardwell recalled.
She's certainly succeeded.
The Schenectady Trading Company is a nice place to visit and shop, and it does an excellent job of promoting the unique and interesting goods produced and made in Schenectady County. (To learn more, check out the store's very informative Facebook page.)
Hopefully the Schenectady Trading Post will receive the support it needs to thrive, and be a presence in downtown Schenectady for years to come.