SCHENECTADY -- Lower State Street is changing. With the construction of the Mill Artisan District Project, as well as the recent opening of boutique/gallery Bear and Bird, the street has been a flurry of activity in the last few months.
Amanda Magnetta-Ottati and her husband Tate Ottati recently moved to Schenectady in the hopes of becoming part of the action.
“We felt like this was a good spot for us because . . . there’s potential for growth,” said Magnetta-Ottati, who owns Bear and Bird.
The store is an eclectic mix of art supplies and books, quirky kitchen accessories and gifts of all kinds. Prints and illustrations adorn the walls, including both modern works and vintage illustrations.
The couple opened the shop in November, after moving to Schenectady from South Florida, where they still own and operate Tate’s Comics, Toys and More.
Tate opened the store back in 1993. Magnetta-Ottati, who has a background in graphic design, brought a gallery element to the business in 2007, calling it Bear and Bird. She worked with local and national artists on rotating shows and commissioned artists to do specific pieces, focusing on illustrative works and pop art.
A few years ago, both Tate and Magnetta-Ottati felt overwhelmed by how crowded South Florida was becoming. Since Tate has Schenectady roots—his father was a turbine engineer at General Electric and his mother’s family owned Garofalo’s Meat Market for more than 100 years—they checked out the Electric City.
“One thing we really liked about the Capital Region was it had a sense of community that was missing in Florida. . . There’s not a lot in terms of support for the arts there. Here, I feel like there’s so much support [for] the arts, it kinda takes me aback a little bit,” Magnetta-Ottati said.
They moved to Schenectady with their two children in 2018 and after renovating the space at 107 State Street, they opened the business late last year.
The building was first constructed in 1900, and while the bricks on the wall are original, Magnetta-Ottati used salvaged wood from a Stockade home to replace the floor. All the furniture has been collected from local estate sales and restored, including the checkout counter, which was once a watchmaker’s desk.
The brick wall features prints like Brian Reedy’s “Totoro Ferris Wheel,” with creatures from the film “My Neighbor Totoro” riding a Ferris wheel with seats made of acorns. In another, birds pop out of a tangled, egg-shaped nest.
“The type of artwork that we show is different than what anybody else is doing around here. It’s more accessible in some ways because it’s illustrative art as opposed to fine art,” Magnetta-Ottati said.
While most of the artists are from outside of the Capital Region, Magnetta-Ottati hopes to bring in works from local artists in the coming months.
Along the back walls, there’s a motley collection of vintage illustration work, from an original cover of a 1980 harlequin romance novel to colorful greeting cards.
It’s part of an exhibit called “Created to Captivate: Obscure Vintage Illustration Art,” to which Magnetta-Ottati recently added the original artwork for “It Came From Schenectady.”
The book is a collection of science fiction stories written by Barry B. Longyear and published in 1984. It has since inspired an online fan group and a local group that celebrates fringe cinema and cult favorites.
The original book jacket artwork features a pink and purple sky with a figure clad in a red suit standing atop a building. The piece will be displayed at the gallery alongside the other vintage illustrations. In the coming weeks, the store will also offer prints of the “It Came From Schenectady” book cover.
“I got in contact with the writer and got his blessing. . . It’s a neat way to tie illustration together with Schenectady,” Magnetta-Ottati said.
Another local connection is Barry, the eight-foot-tall fiberglass bear that greets customers when they walk in the store.
“We rescued him from Magic Forest,” Magnetta-Ottati said.
When the Lake George theme park put its fiberglass animals on sale in 2018, she scooped up the towering bear, which was created by Leo Nelson in the 1960s. She restored Barry’s fingernails and nose, as well as its base. The sculpture is a striking way to welcome people in, and some might just recognize the creature from long-ago visits to the park.
Recently, there hasn’t been a high volume of foot traffic in that pocket of Lower State Street. However, that could change later this spring when businesses open in the Mill Artisan District Project, which is across the street from Bear and Bird. The project includes apartments and eateries like Bountiful Bread, which is slated to open in March. It also includes Frog Alley Brewing Co., which opened last year.
Magnetti-Ottati hopes the project will draw in more people who would appreciate the shop and the illustrative art that it offers, noting that there’s a “spark” of artistic businesses in the area, like CREATE Community Studios, which is just a few doors down.
“It does seem like small boutiques are . . . coming back,” Tate said, adding that the Jay Street shopping district seems to be thriving.
“There [are] really so many great small businesses here in the Capital Region. It is not something you see too many places anymore and should not be taken for granted. Coming from South Florida, where big box stores and strip malls have all but taken over, I really have an appreciation for all the fantastic little ice cream shops and long-standing family-run businesses here. This is a special place, which is getting better all the time,” Magnetta-Ottati said.
The gallery will hold an opening reception for “Created to Captivate” on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 4–6 p.m. For more info visit bearandbird.com.