Downtown businesses voice concerns, plan association

At least five businesses located in Amsterdam’s downtown Main Street area were represented at a meeting held Saturday at La Piazza Social Club. The meeting was also attended by Mayor Ann Thane, Community and Economic Direcotor Rob von Hasseln, and council members Ed Russo, Ron Barone and Valerie Beekman.

Ileana Magaletti, who owns La Piazza with her husband Nicola, opened the meeting.

“We used to have a downtown association,” said Magaletti. “Richard Leggiero was also the alderman and used to come to all our meetings. Unfortunately back then we were only maybe…five businesses. And we were kind of a ghost-downtown back then and we weren’t of much interest to a lot of people so we didn’t get a lot accomplished. But now we have brought more life into downtown.”

“We really need to show a united front as one community,” said Magaletti, “We are the downtown community.”

Magaletti then proposed that business owners move to form an association again by electing officers and holding monthly meetings. According to Magaletti, several other are businesses not present at the meeting had also expressed interest to her in joining. She then invited the businesses who were present to talk about their ideas and concerns.

Dan Weaver, owner of the Book Hound, said “I’m very happy to see [the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency] getting involved in downtown… focusing on downtown is a great thing. So we need to connect with AIDA as well as the city council.”

Weaver also said, “We have buildings down here that are vacant but they are not being rented. There seems to be no mechanism for getting those buildings rented, nobody seems to know what’s going on. Some of them are being used for storage [on the] first floor.” Weaver also went on to say that he felt some of the building owners were asking for too much in rent for spaces that had been vacant for years.

“Parking has been a minor issue, really,” said Weaver. “When parking becomes an issue, I’ll be thrilled because then I’ll know the downtown is really booming. Like Saratoga – you can never park in front of where you want to go. You always have to park and walk. And when that happens that’s a good thing.”

Dawn Jobin, owner of Nana’s Bakery said that the parking situation in front of her store was affecting her business and said that some of her customers had complained about it. She said she had asked repeatedly for snow to be removed from the street but so far nothing had been done. She also pointed out that there are signs for 20 minute parking, but says the rule is not enforced.

“If they want this to thrive down here, they’ve got to do something,” said Jobin.

Sherri Bardascini Crouse, who works at Emmy Lou’s Diner, said that she has observed people parking on Main Street and then getting on the bus to Albany or going to work at Riverfront Center.

Other issues brought up at the meeting included tractor trailers traveling down Main St, the clearing of sidewalks in front of vacant buildings, repainting the parking lines on the street, the possibility of re-laning the street to allow parking on the sides, and the possibility of clearing out the alley behind the Main Street for parking.

Tony Vellano, owner of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, said that the re-opening of the downtown hotel was an important issue to him. He said that especially during his annual Induction Weekend, which is timed to correspond with the city’s Spring Fling event, that a significant amount of business was being lost to other hotels outside the city.

After the meeting, von Hasseln said he was also concerned about the progress of the new owners of the hotel and said the window of opportunity for taking advantage of their $800,000 grant from NY State was closing. Von Hasseln said that he is in regular contact with the owners of the hotel and has done everything he can to help them.

Vellano also said, “I don’t really get the help I need from government. I haven’t had a government that hasn’t tried to get me out of here so far.”  He claimed that AIDA wanted him out of the building to get someone else in.

“I can assure you, as liaison to AIDA, there’s nobody on that board that wants to see you leave,” said Barone.

According to AIDA’s 2014-2015 progress report, Vellano pays $1 per year for rent for their current building, where other tenants of AIDA owned buildings on or near Main Street pay anywhere from $400 to $800 per month.

The meeting concluded with a consensus to hold another meeting in the near future to discuss the formation of an association with officers and bylaws.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.