Friday, December 19, 2014

Retail renaissance continues: 5ifth Place skateshop fashion boutique opens on Townsend Park

For Andrew Herrera, the brand came before the business.

A skateboarder, Herrera was screenprinting T-shirts and hoodies with his distinctive "5ifth Place" brand, and then selling them at local events, frequented by skaters and enthusiasts.

After the success at several local shows, Herrera decided to set up a permanent location for what had been a roadshow, and find a space where he could bring all his interests--art, clothing, skating, and design--together in one place.

He opened 5ifth Place skateshop and fashion boutique in mid-November. The store offers hand-screened T's and hoodies, created by Herrera in his on-site printshop, as well as beanies, shoes, jackets, skateboards, gear and artwork created by local artists. It also boasts a nice hangout space, with furniture crafted from old skateboards by a local maker.

Herrera chose the moniker 5ifth Place because he wanted to level the playing field, and create an inclusive scene where everyone felt welcome, not just the people who were "coming in first place," he says.

"Basically, it's just create your own avenue, your own style, your own way of life, your own way of doing things. That's why I called it 5ifth Place," says Herrera.

Herrera is one of several new retailers to join the district this year, spurring a sort of retail renaissance on Central Avenue. This new generation of shop owners is inspired by DIY, and they also know how to hustle. For these entrepreneurs, personal and professional are almost inseparable because they have created businesses that reflect their passions, and their stores are an echo of themselves.

Herrera calls his store a "lifestyle store"--a place where artists, fashion designers, skaters, and entrepreneurs can all find products that speak to them, and contribute to their lives.

With 5ifth Place, Herrera has created a collaborative space that is as much a makerspace as it is a store, and the store, which features several murals as well as a wall where colorful skate decks, designed by friends and staff, have been mounted, is a reflection of that.

Known for individuality and do-it-yourself style, skate culture has flourished in Albany, in spite of restrictions on its use in certain busy parts of the city. In November, the City of Albany announced that they were seeking funding to convert tennis courts in Washington Park into a skatepark. This announcement was warmly greeted by many, including a large contingent of local skaters. Located on the edge of Washington Park, 5ifth Place would be poised to take advantage of this development and this growing, and now anointed, pastime.

5ifth Place is located at 204 Washington Avenue in Albany. The store is open Monday through Friday, 11am-9pm and Saturday, 12pm-7p.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

One-Eleven Boutique offers surprises and style

Shanna Graham thought she'd have to wait until after she retired to open her dream clothing store business.

And yet, here she sits in One-Eleven Boutique, the beautiful store she opened in 2013, surrounded by the custom-made hats and fascinators, watching customers, her customers, browse through racks of chic dresses and coats that she hand-selected. It's all a little surreal, she says.

"It happened quickly," says Graham, 27.

She's not kidding.

Graham, who is also employed as a supervisor at SEFCU, started a jewelry line when she was only 25. This expanded into selling hats and dresses at her church, and then, last year, a storefront of her very own. "One thing happened, and another thing happened, and then, boom, here I was with the store," she says.

Graham is one of several new retailers to join Central Avenue this year, leading a new generation of entrepreneurs and spurring a sort of retail renaissance on the Avenue.

To help raise awareness about this return to retail, several of these merchants banded together for a pop-up retail event at the annual Albany Holiday Market, held December 3 at the Heritage Visitors Center. 

The One-Eleven boutique is located in a former bowling association office, which Graham remodeled. Graham wanted--and achieved--an intimate feel in the store, where low lighting and comfortable poufy chairs give the room the feeling of an elegant living room or a to-die-for walk-in closet. Inside, floor-to-ceiling racks fill one wall with elegant fur and leather-trimmed coats, suits and classic shifts, sheaths, and A-line dresses. Graham also maintains a large inventory of hats and fascinators, many custom-made by the same milliner who creates hats for Saratoga socialites. Hats, handbags, and jewelry are displayed on tables and counters spread throughout the store, so that each corner you turn, offers a surprise.

"I didn't want it to be too departmentalized, too broken up. I wanted people to feel comfortable. To me, it's more personal than just selling an item. Every piece is something special," says Graham.

Graham is very selective about the merchandise she brings into the store. She focuses on classic, high-quality pieces that are versatile. She gravitates toward women's styles that are more modest; she favors beautiful, elegant pieces that can be worn to dinner, work, or church (think Michelle Obama and Jackie O), and tends to focus on timeless versus trendy. Since Graham uses a distributor who also supplies Macy's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus, customers can find items here that they might find in bigger department stores, but for a fraction of the price. She points to a luxe white wool coat with black-leather trim; this coat is $300 at Macy's, she says, but retails for $179 here.

"I don't want anyone to feel like they can't afford to look nice," she says. Items in the store range in price, and Graham also runs a special order business through Lily & Taylor, so that her customers can get suits tailored to fit. "These are high-quality items that will last forever," she says.

Graham has help from her mother running the store, and many days her 4-year-old daughter Salia can be found behind the counter, drawing pictures. This is how Graham wants it. She wants her customers to see her achievements, but at the same time to feel like she's someone they can relate to. "I hear a lot of complaining from people my age about there not being enough to do, not enough here for them, and so when I established my business, it was important to me to be here in the community, part of a positive change," says Graham.

"This is more than just a boutique. I really am trying to make a difference in our community."

One-Eleven Boutique is located at 253 Central Avenue in Albany. The store is open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Wednesday, 10am-7pm Thursday-Friday and 10am-4pm Saturday. For more information, please call (518) 727-4564. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jacqueline's Dominican Style Beauty Salon makes big move

Business owner Maria Crespo is proud to announce the relocation and expansion of her salon, Jacqueline’s Dominican Style Beauty Salon, located at 132 Central Avenue in Albany. 

To celebrate her successes, Crespo hosted a small celebration today, and with help from Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Treasurer Darius Shahinfar, and CBID Executive Director Anthony Capece, she cut the ribbon on her brand new location.

In many ways, the move is a significant one for Crespo. The new location is almost twice as big as her former location. It also features brand-new fixtures and posh-looking stations for her stylists. The new space will also allow Crespo to offer additional services, transforming the business from a simple hair salon to a full-service spa, a longtime goal for Crespo. “We don’t really have a spa for the Latin community,” Crespo explains.

In other ways, the move was minor. The new salon is located in the building next door to the old one, just a hop, skip, and jump away from her doorstep. “We only had to move next door. We carried a lot of the equipment from there," says Crespo. The new space, a former clothing store, had to be completely remodeled before Crespo could move in. They spent three months transforming the space into a salon. And, she says, it just didn’t feel like home until they painted the exterior the same eye-catching lime green as their former location. "It says home to us," Crespo says.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shop small, shop them all. On Central Avenue

By Lori Pelersi

Personalizing the personal touch: Rolf's Pork Store
adds their name to the Shop Small bags distributed for
Small Business Saturday, November 29. 
We don't need an excuse to shop local -- but if you're looking for one, you found it this past week.

Celebrated November 29, Small Business Saturday is a national event, sponsored by American Express, aimed at driving business into local and independent businesses the weekend after Thanksgiving. Started in 2010, it has quickly become one of the busiest shopping days of the year, taking its place alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

This year, Central Avenue merchants joined the droves of businesses looking to boost sales by banding together and pushing the "Shop Local" message. American Express distributed canvas shopping bags, doormats, door decals, and even pet bandanas to participating businesses, who made the materials, and the day, their own.

At Rolf's Pork Store, staff imprinted their own name on the canvas shopping bags and spent the day bagging up sausages, cold cuts, and imported European chocolates for customers. Center Square Wine and Spirits also had a busy day, selling eggnog supplies and cheer.

Other local shops that participated in Small Business Saturday include Blue Note Record Shop, Central Florist, Center Square Wine and Spirits, Danker Florist, Earthworld Comics, Honest Weight Food Co-op, Morris Mens Shop, and One-Eleven Boutique.

All of these stores offer great presents to give any loved one for the holiday season, whether it is a rare record, a comic book, or a beautiful wreath for the door. Small Business Saturday reminds people to shop small  around the holidays at local retail stores.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Delicious Destinations strikes again--Central Avenue restaurants hit Sage's "Night Around the World"

By Lori Pelersi

On Saturday November 15, five Central Avenue restaurants provided food at Sage College of Albany’s "Night Around the World" event. With the help of the Central Avenue Business Improvement District, approximately 120 students enjoyed the authentic cuisine from Capital Thai, Champy’s Jamaican and American Cuisine, LaZeez Restaurant, Nino’s Deli and Subs, and Salsa Latina Restaurant. 

The Menu? Pad Thai and Pineapple Fried Rice, Baked Ziti, Lasagna, Jerk Chicken, Plantains, Chicken Tikka Masala, Basmati Rice, Naan, Chicken and Beef Chimicangas. The Central BID was on-hand serving students and answering questions about the restaurants and the Avenue. We also distributed Central Avenue Dining Guides and other materials to stimulate interest in Central Avenue. 

Students also put on a fashion show that night offering bits of information about each country as students took to the runway wearing traditional garb from their country of origin. After the fashion show, students were treated to a performance by dancers from Siena College. The Night Around the World event is in its eighteenth year, but this represents the first time Central Avenue restaurants have had a chance to participate. The Central Avenue BID is always looking for events like this that offer the district an opportunity to showcase its restaurants and cuisine. Part of our Delicious Destinations initiative, the Central BID coordinates participation in these events, creating a traveling food show for off-site locations so that we can bring new audiences to Central Avenue.

If you would like more information about the next Delicious Destinations event, contact the Central BID at (518) 462-4300.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Student stars decorate our fences for holidays

When it comes to decorating, there's nothing as dazzling as the collective creativity of youngsters.

Each year, we work with elementary students from Blessed Sacrament School, Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys, Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls, and the Albany City School's Montessori Magnet School to craft stars for Central Avenue's Shopping District. This year, students will decorate 800 stars to grace the fences at the district's west end, including those in front of Westgate Plaza, Hannaford Plaza, and ShopRite.

We love this project because it harnesses the creative talents of so many, and provides an opportunity for businesses and residents to work together to beautify the district. Students work with paint, glitter, tissue paper, stickers, and other donated art supplies to craft these beautiful paper mache stars, and we get to enjoy the beauty all season long.

Each year, this project gets bigger, and it simply wouldn't be possible without the support of our generous "Star Sponsors": Hannaford and ShopRite. We also want to express our appreciation for our "Star Student Supporters": American Glass Company of Albany, Danker Florist, and Lexington Vacuum,

The stars and holiday garland will be hung on the fences in front of Hannaford Plaza, ShopRite Plaza, Westgate Plaza, Monro Muffler, and Mavis Discount Tire, beginning Friday, November 21. They will remain up through the first week of January. Please stop by and see these students' beautiful work. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

#ShopSmall, shop them all, this Small Business Saturday, Nov. 29

This year, Small Business Saturday will take place on Saturday, November 29--and we're encouraging everyone to shop small at our participating local retailers: Central Florist, One-Eleven Boutique, Earthworld Comics, Rolf's Pork Store, Honest Weight Food Co-op, Blue Note Record Shop, Center Square Wine & Spirits, Morris Mens Shop, and Danker Florist. Don't miss this great opportunity to support the independent and locally owned stores--and to find unique, one-of-a-kind gifts including:

Stunning fascinators 
Custom-made handbags
Gourmet sausages and wursts 
Designer mens' shoes and clothing
Rare records
Gorgeous flower arrangements and greenery
Comic books and graphic novels, featuring all your favorite heroes and villains
Organic and local groceries and household items
Designer stationary and calendars
Wine, and spirits for the eggnog
And so much more! 

Plus, just for the occasion, all of our participating retailers will be bagging up your goodies in custom-designed canvas shopping bags courtesy of American Express. 

Small Business Saturday is a national event, sponsored by American Express, aimed at driving business into local and independent businesses the weekend after Thanksgiving. Started in 2010, it has quickly become one of the busiest shopping days of the year, taking its place alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Customers who use their American Express credit card on that day at participating businesses will receive up to three $10 statement credit on purchases of $10 or more for up to $30 in statement credits per registered card. 

Keeping our side of the street clean on Lexington Avenue

Eugene Singleton, the new cleaner on Lexington Avenue.
When it comes to rebuilding a neighborhood, experts agree that the first step is to keep it looking presentable; that way, residents see something worth saving and visitors see something worth investing in.

This month, the Central Avenue Business Improvement District, with the cooperation and support of the Lexington Avenue Work Group, hired a cleaner for the Lexington Avenue corridor, a busy north-south pass-through that's getting increased attention as of late from community organizers and visitors alike.

The CBID has hired Eugene Singleton, a veteran with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair's Compensated Work Therapy program. Singleton is the seventh veteran the BID has hired since 2010.

"This program is a great example of a successful partnership between the BID, the Lexington Avenue Workgroup, and the VA. The VA does a great job of helping us find qualified, hard working individuals who are looking for another opportunity to serve their community, and we put them in positions like this, where they can do so much good for the neighborhood," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "Eugene is right out Lexington Avenue every day, keeping the street clean and tidy, and showing that we all care very much about the future of this neighborhood."

The new cleaning program wouldn't be possible without the support of the Lexington Avenue Work Group, a consortium of community organizations and neighbors working together to improve this busy street, which stretches from Western Avenue to Clinton Avenue. The group includes the Historic Albany Foundation, the Albany Housing Authority, Albany Community Action Partnership, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York, and Trinity Alliance, all of whom have made significant investments in the neighborhood.

"We are only as good as our partners and working with the Central Avenue BID and others in the Lexington Avenue Workgroup to improve the quality of life in this part of West Hill through a steady stream of short-term realizable initiatives such as this cleanup has been both effective and gratifying," says Darren Scott, Director of Planning and Development for the Albany Housing Authority and member of the Lexington Avenue Workgroup. 

The cleaning program was launched October 29. This follows the successful pilot program that ran during the month of August with an employee from the City of Albany's employment program. During the two weeks that it ran, there was a great deal of positive feedback about what a difference it was making on the street, with neighbors and local businesses expressing appreciation for the amount of work that was being accomplished each day.

Singleton will sweep up trash from the sidewalks, and entryways of businesses. He will also remove garbage from the stormwater drains and sweep up garbage from the tree wells, including a number that were planted earlier this year by DGS with new saplings.

"The neighborhoods to the north of Central Avenue are really making great strides, and we want to support that effort in any way that we can. Our property owners and businesses really believe 'A rising tide lifts all boats,'" says Capece. "It makes a difference to our neighbors, so it makes a difference to us, and helping find work for a veteran just makes this whole thing even more important."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Iconic Westgate Plaza sign comes down...for now

The eye-catching Westgate Plaza sign is coming down beginning today for refurbishment. It will be refurbished and then remounted in mid-December.
The 90-foot tall sign, which was first installed in 1960, is comprised of two baby blue ovals, mounted on flaired steel pylons that were brought to the city on two railroad flatbed cars. The sign has become a local icon, beckoning shoppers to the city’s west end.
Ann Moreno, Director of Real Estate at Horizons Management Associates LLC, the property manager for Westgate Plaza, says the sign will be taken down in stages, beginning with the neon today, and then, over the weekend, the two ovals will be removed using a crane. Work will continue through Sunday.
Once disassembled, the pieces will be taken to Saxton Sign Corp in Castleton for refurbishment. In 1960 Judge Neon Sign Company of Albany (now Saxton Sign Corp.) manufactured and erected the Westgate Shopping Center Sign.  As part of the refurbishment, the neon lights will be replaced with more modern, energy-efficient LEDs. The steel will also be reinforced and the catwalk will be replaced.
Moreno says the restored sign will be remounted in mid-December. The company and plaza tenants will celebrate with a re-lighting ceremony.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Scaring up business, for the fifth year in a row: Scarecrows on the Avenue

CBID's Team 10 scarecrows taking care of business at this year's 

"Scarecrows on the Avenue" contest. (We're not entered in the contest, 

but feel free to admire us here.)
Scarecrows are up, and this year's crop is the best yet!

The "Scarecrows on the Avenue" contest, hosted by the Central Avenue Business Improvement District, is under way, and this year's event yielded a record-number of registrations and installations. All told, we have 21 scarecrows installed on the fences at the west end, brightening up the district even as winter gathers.

This year's scarecrows are more detailed than in past years; several businesses built multiple scarecrows--whole families of scarecrows in some cases--and they also brought extra props to help make their scarecrow really stand out.

To get in on the action, the Central Avenue BID created a scarecrow duo. We modeled our scarecrows on "Team 10," the staff members whose efforts keep the district looking pretty. The scarecrows are wearing the bright orange Central BID shirts with sunglasses, and watering flowers.

St. Anne Institute, who won the contest last year with their comical Despicable Me tribute, was back again with another Disney tribute, this time from the movie Frozen. Their scarecrow, modeled after Olaf the snowman was constructed from boxes and an exercise ball, confessed Dan Pickel, coordinator for the agency's ERC program, and it looks every bit like the real thing.

Another contest veteran, Orlo School for Hair Design and Cosmetology, constructed a Bride of Frankenstein, with to die-for hair (or would it be "to dye-for"?). In the previous year, they constructed a scene from the sold-out show, Wicked.

The contest also welcomed several new contestants, including Honest Weight Food Co-op, with a love scene from the orchard, Fantastic Sam's, with a scarecrow family boasting great pipecleaner hairdos, Level Up Studios, with a Minecraft homage, ArtPartners/Tsehaya & Company, with a beautiful scarved dancer, and Capital CarShare's sharecrow, with a specially-designed T-shirt.

The scarecrows are set up at Hannaford Plaza at 900 Central Avenue in Albany. The plaza is part of Central Avenue's busy shopping district, which sees close to 50,000 cars a day. Participants of the event include ArtPartners/Tsehaya & Company, Inc., The Orlo School of Hair Design and Cosmetology, Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, Level Up Studios, Fantastic Sams, Mercury Screen Printing, Capital CarShare, H&R Block, Honest Weight Food Co-op, St. Anne Institute, The Albany Free School, Berkshire Bank, and the New York State Independent Living Council. 

Make sure you go and check out the scarecrows then go online and vote for your favorite at