Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Low Beat lowered energy costs--and so can you

The Low Beat lowered energy costs
After opening The Low Beat at 335 Central Avenue in April of 2014, Howard Glassman contacted National Grid to find out more about their energy efficiency programs. Like any business owner, he was looking for ways to lower overhead and boost his bottom line. A perfect fit for National Grid’s Small Business Services Program, Howard upgraded all the lighting in the Low Beat using substantial incentives from National Grid.
“It wasn’t just the savings. The lighting was more than 30 years old and needed to be upgraded anyway. Now I have better lighting and lower maintenance costs in addition to significantly lowering my monthly electric bill,” said Glassman.
The total cost of the upgrades including materials and labor was $6,978, of which National Grid covered $4,041. The Low Beat was responsible for only $2,937 of the total. Because the newer, more efficient lighting will deliver almost $3,900 in yearly savings, that amount will pay for itself in about 9 months.
People often overlook the fact that saving money is a way to boost profits, says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "Saving energy is the same as making money," Capece says. "Analyzing your energy consumption through National Grid's Small Business Services Program is a no-cost way to find out if you can save money on energy." The Central BID signed up for an energy audit and found the process to be seamless and easy, and the cost-savings was substantial. "We probably saved hundreds of dollars a year in our small office," says Capece.
Better lighting, less maintenance and lower costs; what’s not to like? We encourage all of our Central Avenue business owners to contact National Grid for a no-cost, no-obligation energy efficiency assessment. Call 1-800-332-3333 to get started.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chester's Smokehouse eyes spring opening

Chester's Smokehouse, the new meat store on Watervliet Avenue, is eyeing a spring opening, and Mark Altarac, a representative for the company, couldn't be more excited. "Get your mustard ready!" he says with a laugh.

The new business will offer a wide selection of smoked meats and cheeses. Kielbasa, knockwurst, liverwurst, beef jerky, hot dogs (six different kinds!), bacon, ham--in fact, if you can name a smoked meat, they will have almost certainly have it. 

The rear of the Chester's Smokehouse, where the guts of the operation 
(the smokers, fridges, and ventilation systems) can clearly be seen. The project, 
which required significant time and outlay for equipment and facilities has been 
in the works for two years. 
Chester Rozycki, the business's namesake and master butcher says everything they sell at the European-style meat store will be made on-site, in brand new state-of-the-art facilities. During a recent visit he was able to provide a top-to-bottom tour of the business, taking me from the door where the meat will arrive, past the room where the mixing, grinding and curing will take place, through the chopping and stuffing room, and into the last room, where two enormous smokers dominate. Rozycki took a moment to chat about the relative merits of different types of wood (Chester's will use primarily apple, hickory, and cherry), touching on the fine points of flavor and color provided by each, before showing me the water cookers, and the gargantuan refrigerator units at the rear of the building. 

Rozycki, who immigrated from Poland in 1982, attended butcher school for four years in his native country, and it's clear from the way he talks that the training he's received was rigorous. He enumerates the requirements of different products, the special chemistry of fats (hard vs. soft), protein, spices, curing, and smoking that goes into making your favorite meat. 

"The man is a meat scientist," Altarac says. "He's been perfecting his craft for 35 years." 

"You got to have the heart and the passion for it, to be good at it," Rozycki admits.  

The basement, which was dug out to allow for additional work and storage space, will house a drying area (for dried beef, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, and dry cured ham), a cheese cooler, where they will age their own cheese, and a walk-in freezer. There is also a mixing area for pierogis and glumkes--and like everything else in the store, Rozycki will offer his own special take on this traditional European food. "My mother, in Europe, in the summer, she and the women would make fruit pierogis. Strawberry, apple, blueberry, with a little farmers' cheese. So we will try that. We'll also have potato, potato and sauerkraut, bacon and potato." 

It is hard, I quickly discover, to not feel hungry when you're talking to Rozycki, who is fond of listing the store's offerings, which are, I also quickly learn, extensive. 

Kielbasas, knockwursts, liverwursts, bratwursts, pastrami, corned beef, salami, prosciutto, pancetta, bacon, dried beef, garlic steaks--the list goes on and on, and each item seems to offer infinite variety. For instance, Rozycki plans to offer a boiled ham, layered with bacon and breakfast sausage, chicken patties ground with spinach and broccoli, hot dogs in different sizes made with beef, pork, veal, and chicken, and dry aged jerky, done in a variety of spices.  

So much, he continues, depends on just the right spices. Unlike other butchers, Rozycki will mix his own spices, so he gets exactly the right blend. "You don't want to buy pre-mixed spices because the leftovers get thrown in, and then the flavor is not there," says Rozycki. He also wants to be able to customize according to his customer's tastes. "Some people, they want less salt, other people they don't like fennel seeds, they like ground fennel." Indeed, everything about the business, from the time Rozycki took selecting meat suppliers to the front of store experience, which includes an inviting lunch counter and shiny new hanging meat refrigerator units, seems to have been chosen with the express goal of making his customers mouths water. 

The business has been in the works for two years, and Rozycki, who worked at the Albany Pork Store in Schenectady for 15 years before it closed in 2001, has built up a large following in the area who are eager for the doors to finally open. "My old boss, he keeps asking, 'Chester, when are you going to be open. We got everyone asking,'" Rozycki says with a laugh. When the place does finally throw open its doors, he envisions a wave of customers streaming down Central and off I-90 into their waiting arms. 

They also hope to capitalize on food connisseurs who routinely shop at Honest Weight Food Co-op just down the street on Watervliet Avenue. "That's why I put the smokers on this side of the building, so the smell would float out, and people would say, 'What's that? Maybe I'll stop and see.'" No doubt there is cross-over potential there, with both stores catering to discerning customers who are looking for high quality, local foods.

With deli sandwiches, hot dogs, and lunch specials that focus on different nationalities -- Polish Day, Irish Day, Italian Day -- Rozycki also hopes the business will pull in a nice sized lunch crowd.  

"It's something different," Rozycki says. "You're not going to find this anywhere else." 

Chester's Smokehouse is located 15 Watervliet Avenue, Albany. For more information, please visit their website at

Local film group returns to the Linda for second international film forum, adding to Central Ave's canny cultural scene

The Capital Cinema Cultural Exchange is returning to The Linda, for the second year in a row, to present the international Filmmakers Lab. The lab gives learning filmmakers the world over, the chance to work directly with a veteran filmmakers, directors, and other experts in the field. 

"The lab is designed to surround filmmakers with individual attention to help sharpen their story and increase marketability at an early stage," said Mike Camoin at a news conference announcing the schedule, which was held Jan. 16. Camoin is the found of the CCCE and co-founder of the Upstate Independent Filmmakers Network.

Albany County Film Commissioner Debby Goedeke also spoke at the event, saying, "Film is alive and well in the Capital Region." 

The forum will offer a mix of workshops, panel discussions, and of course, films. Many of these films feature rarely told stories, in the form of documentaries, comedies, and short films. Topics include women’s hardships in Costa Rica, a documentary about Albany pianist Lee Shaw, a sci-fi comedy about the insects that wreak havoc on the population in the wake of a space crash, and a heartfelt feature-length film about a banker that was given another chance to relive his life in 1969.

There were 9 film projects chosen to participate in this year’s international Filmmakers Lab, including Bug Hunt, Hugs from God, Lee’s 88, Life on the Run, Rockwell, The Coffee Dance, The Highwayman, The Universal, and Upstate Grounds.
Along with the evening screenings of the films, the filmmakers/writers also talk with industry professionals about how to overcome the different obstacles with selling films to different audiences, budgeting and financing, marketing, and how to produce a big crowd.

The event is another example of the exceptional events being held on Central Avenue, which has become a destination for canny, one-of-a-kind entertainment options. The street offers great live music performances in intimate settings, outstanding international cuisine, and it also opens its doors to a wide array of active local artists, including the Albany Poets, Urban Guerilla Theatre, Upstate Independent Filmmakers Network, Tsehaya and Company dance theater, and the Pine Hills Review. These groups produce a refreshing array of engaging entertainment, including Albany Word Fest, Sunday Fundays readings at the Low Beat, Nitty Gritty Slams, and the Food for Thought film series at The Linda. 

Much of the headway that's been made on this front can be ascribed to the curatorial talents of Howard Glassman, Graeme McKenna, and John Mancini, proprietors of The Low Beat, The Linda, and Pauly's Hotel, respectively, who have worked tirelessly to seek out and promote local talent.

"We're always trying to be that community for artists," says McKenna, who is the general manager of The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio. "It's a reflection of the station's goals. Our interest is to reach out to local groups seeking greater exposure, seeking an audience for something they want to say." By supporting groups like CCCE, and providing them with access and support that they might not otherwise get, the Linda, and other local venues, are nurturing talent that could pay big dividends for the surrounding community, where customer crossover is not only hoped for, it's expected. They are also laying the groundwork for a thriving creative economy, right here on our little strip.

The international Filmmakers Lab will be held February 26-March 1, 2015 at The Linda: WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio at 339 Central Avenue in Albany, NY with the exception of Thursday’s screening held at the Spectrum 8 Theatre at 290 Delaware Avenue, Albany, NY. Please visit CCCE’s website for more information.

Central Avenue Business Improvement District's board prez named President of the Capital District Funeral Directors Association

David Parente, Vice President of McVeigh Funeral
Home, President of the Board for the Central Avenue
Business Improvement and recently named President
of the Capital District Funeral Directors Association

The Central Avenue Business Improvement District is proud to announce that the agency's board president, David Parente was recently named President of the Capital District Funeral Directors Association. 

Parente, who is the Vice President of McVeigh Funeral Home, one of the oldest funeral homes in the Capital District, says he looks forward to serving the larger community in his new position. "I believe you lead by example, and in some ways you become the face of the organization.  I am prepared to be available to our members, the media and entire Capital Region for information and guidance about funeral service," says Parente. 

Parente has belonged to CDFDA for over 25 years, but was far more active on the state level than locally. When a call went out in the fall for more member involvement, he says, "
I felt it was my turn to pitch in.  Little did I know, the place I would land was in the President's chair!"  

"I have a strong belief that if one is going to talk about the problems, then they better be part of the solutions, too.  And I have never felt comfortable with just being a 'seat warmer,' or letting others decide for me what's best for my business.  I like being involved.  A man one said, 'decisions are made by those that show up.' I prefer to show up," says McVeigh. 

His immediate goals for CDFDA are two-fold: he wants to take care of some housekeeping issues including developing a new logo, updating bylaws, and changing the due structure. He also wants to help the organization develop better ways to communicate with its membership about issues, meetings, and special initatives. "This year, we will endeavor to develop real-time communication tools, like email and text blast practices," says McVeigh. 

All of this will go a long way toward making the organization into more of a resource for local funeral directors. "CDFDA is made up of members who practice funeral directing in our neighborhoods.  We can bring local answers and solutions to local problems," he says. 

The Capital District Funeral Directors Association is a membership organization for funeral directors practicing in the Capital Region. The association sponsors continuing education events, and holds monthly meetings where members can meet, discuss best practices, government regulations, current trends and issues, and learn from one another. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Terra firma: Many identities, one restaurant

The new Terra International Cuisine will be many things-- a raw bar, a vegan restaurant, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant, a pescetarian restaurant, a Kosher cafe--and all of them will be new to Albany.

“It doesn’t exist anywhere else,” says Howard Katz, a representative for the new restaurant. The restaurant opened in the former Townsend Park Bakery on Washington Avenue January 1, and so far the reception has been warm. The restaurant was in the works for more than a year, and the grand opening was postponed in March after a fire damaged the upper floors. 

The restaurant's Executive Chef Chavez Gibbes is an alum of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, a prestigious culinary program that is also where Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence, and Michelle Bernstein trained.
This new restaurant offers two kinds of dining experiences and two different menus: a casual eatery at the front of the restaurant, featuring smoothies, juices and salads, and a more formal dining experience at the back of the restaurant that includes upscale and gourmet dishes.

The back of the house will be known as Terra, and its menu will be devoted to more international fare, with a focus on vegetarian cuisine and pescetarian, a diet that includes seafood, but not other kinds of animals. Many of the dishes on this menu will make use of the restaurant’s monumental brick oven, crafted from the blue stone quarried from the nearby Helderberg Escarpment. “There will be gourmet pizza, and we are going to deliver,” Katz says.

The front of the restaurant will be known as New Wave Raw Bar and Cafe and will offer a menu centered mostly on vegan and raw foods, many of which will make use of a dehydrator for cooking, Katz says. This is a craze that’s hitting many of the bigger cities, but this cafe will be the only one of its kind in the Capital Region. “The flavors are like a budding in your mouth,” says Katz. This part of the restaurant will open later in the spring.

The restaurant is being run by Sonny Brar, owner and operator of Zaika, a well-known upscale Indian restaurant in Clifton Park that closed in August. Brar is known for his warmth and friendliness. “People will come back because Sonny’s there,” Katz says.

The restaurant is near Central Avenue's Townsend Park. Townsend Park has been the site of increased business development as of late. Last year, two new restaurants, Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar and Flavors of India opened on the park. Parkside Apartments, a new upscale apartment whose beautiful units face the park, opened with much fanfare, and fully leased apartments in the summer. In July, Central Avenue BID announced that the National Association of Realtors had awarded a grant of $2,200 from the Greater Capital Chapter of New York State Commercial Association of Realtors to install outdoor lighting in Townsend Park, moving the needle even further in the right direction and hopefully attracting additional investment.

The restaurant will be obtaining a liquor license and may also offer live entertainment in the evening.

Terra and New Wave are located at 238 Washington Avenue in Albany. For more information, please visit their website at

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Central Avenue loses bid for REDC funds

By Lori Pelersi and Molly Belmont

Central Avenue storefronts
In December, the Regional Economic Development Council announced its picks for New York Main Street funding. This competitive program, administered annually by New York State’s Office of Homes and Community Renewal, and run in cooperation with the NYS Regional Economic Development Councils awarded more than $4.2 M to villages and cities across the state for economic development projects.  

The Central Avenue Business Improvement District (CBID) applied for the New York Main Street Program grant in spring of 2014. Monies would have been used to upgrade facades of individual businesses on Central Avenue, with the goal of making it more inviting, and attracting additional investment. Unfortunately, the CBID was not selected for funding.

“I am extremely disappointed that Central Avenue, the busiest commercial district in Albany, has been overlooked,” Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District, and president of the New York State Urban Council said of the announcement. “We hope to make a stronger showing in the future, and make them see Central Avenue the way we and our stakeholders see it.”  Central Avenue generates nearly $50 M in sales tax annually, making it one of the largest revenue drivers for the county.  

This represents the fourth time the agency’s application has been denied. “We see so much potential here, with just a little bit of help. We are long overdue,” says Capece.  

Of the 24 organizations that received funding, only one, Capitalize Albany Corporation, is located in the Capital District.

Capitalize Albany’s application for $236,250 to remodel 58 North Pearl Street into condos was approved. Other recipients of note include Syracuse’s West Fayette Main Street Project, where $250,000 will be used to renovate five mixed use buildings, Elmira, where $200,000 will be used to renovate two mixed use buildings on the South Main Street section, Kingston, where $250,000 will be used to transform a historic lace factory into 55 affordable live-work lofts, the Village of Jordan, where $200,000 will be used to restore facades on Main Street, and New York City, where $250,000 will be used to revamp commercial units and building facades along Myrtle Street. Some other recipients of the grant include the City of Oneida, the CNY Arts Center, Inc., Elmira Downtown Development, Inc., the City of Auburn, and the Greater Lockport Development Corporation. The complete list of recipients and how much they were awarded can be found on the New York State Homes and Community Renewal website.

The CBID will attend the soon-to-be-scheduled exit conference presentations in order to learn how to make future applications for funding more successful. 

If you have any questions about this program or how your business can get involved, you can call the CBID office at (518) 462-4300.

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.