If you haven’t noticed, things are slowly, but surely, improving in downtown Albany.
Downtown Manager Aaron Blair, who has held the position since October 2010, hopes to see more improvement in downtown’s fortunes, thanks to new businesses — such as the downtown general store, and the Verge consignment clothing store — that opened in March.
“I like the direction that our new stores are going, as far as raising the excellence,” Blair said. “We have some good existing stores, too, that we’re building off of, but I like what I’m seeing so far.”
One business owner likes what he sees in downtown Albany, as well, in Melvin Harris. He and his wife, Dieudonna, co-own Organic Charms, a natural jewelry store that’s located within Verge.
“I love it,” Harris said when asked about doing business downtown. “Downtown (Albany) for a while has been deserted. But now the atmosphere is ‘up and going.’”
Harris added: “You’ve got a great (downtown) manager, we’ve got B.J. (Fletcher) next door, the owner of Café 230, and business, you see the entrepreneurship coming along, and we just love downtown.”
Changing a perception
One challenge that Blair hopes to tackle is to change the perception of downtown Albany, one building at a time. He’s already off to a good start in that area.
“We’ve had a lot of buildings torn down over the years that had started to deteriorate that fabric,” said Blair. “That’s been one of our goals, is filling in the blanks there.
“The weaknesses (are) really a perception of downtown as fairly negative,” Blair added. “But we’ve been working on that, and I think it’s starting to change.”
One marketing professional and her team are also doing their part to not only change the image of downtown, but of Albany as a whole, as current members of a task force put together by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.
“More than anything,” said Lemonade Marketing Firm principal Miloy Schwartz, “is the perception of Albany in general, and downtown is definitely a part of that.
“Being a part of the Downtown Merchants Association, and just helping out the businesses, especially in (the newly-renamed ’242 Upstairs’) building,” Schwartz added, we’ve re-branded this building, which before was (Albany attorney) Phil Cannon’s law office that had some extra office suites that you could rent.”
Part of changing downtown’s image also involves a change in the name of the building where the Lemonade Marketing Firm is currently housed.
“So, we re-branded it ‘242 Upstairs’, and we did a logo for that, and anyone in this ‘242 Upstairs’ business area, we made them a logo. So, from there a sign was made, and should be going up shortly.”
New activities, housing
Blair says he hopes to attract more people to downtown Albany, not only as a place to work and be entertained, but also to have a place to call home.
“One of our goals is to continue increase new businesses, and retaining those new businesses,” Blair said. “We also are looking to increase our residential base in downtown, if we could pick up to 10 to 20 residential units in downtown, that would be an excellent goal for us to be able to reach.”
Additionally, plans are in the works to start new activities in hopes of attracting visitors to the downtown district.
“We’re going to continue to work on some additional events, and bringing people into town that will help with the foot traffic,” Blair explained. “May 21st, we’re having our first annual lumberjack event, so that’s going to be a successful event.
“We’ve been working diligently on a nighttime event called ‘Nights at D’town’”, added Blair. “That will be the last Friday of every month, and sporadic places throughout downtown.
“We’re hoping to hold the first (event) on the top of the parking deck, on Broad (Avenue) and Jackson (Street). Other than that, you’re going to continue to see us work hard on bringing more foot traffic and residents to downtown.”