After being denied new store: Stewart’s will close its V’ville shop

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
One last cup: Karen Finnessey, Voorheesville’s deputy clerk treasurer, prepares her last cup of coffee from the Stewart’s shop across from village hall. She gave the manager a good-bye hug on Wednesday morning.

VOORHEESVILLE — Stewart’s Shops announced on Monday that its Voorheesville store on South Main Street, across from village hall, will close on Sunday, Jan. 13.

“It’s really because we were unable to seek approval to change the zoning from the property that we purchased,” said Erica Komoroske, a spokeswoman for Stewart’s Shops, referring to the former Smith’s Tavern at 112 Maple Ave.

In May 2017, the company purchased for $750,000 the property next to the Vly Creek and across from the elementary school, with the intention of building a convenience store and gas station on the site. However, in June, the village adopted a comprehensive plan that included stipulations the Vly Creek floodplain would not allow a gas station, nor would Stewart’s “standardized architecture” be accepted. That same month, Stewart’s announced that it would be selling the building for $850,000, which reflected the $750,000 it paid for the building and $100,000 in cost for municipal review.

All Voorheesville employees are being offered the chance to move to other stores in the area, Komoroske said.

Explaining her company’s reasoning for closing the Voorheesville shop, Komoroske said that it did not have gas pumps — they were removed several years ago — nor is there enough space for the new equipment needed for Stewart’s expanded food-to-go services, which, she said, “is a big trending area for us.”

“That’s really the crux of the issue: There’s no gasoline and there’s no opportunity to expand,” Komoroske said of Stewart’s decision.

A flyer handed out to customers said: “Every effort was made to stay in the community; unfortunately, our efforts were denied.”

According to the New Scotland assessment rolls, the store has a full-market value of $230,100. Komoroske told The Enterprise that 42 South Main St., in the heart of the village, would soon be listed for $350,000, and that the deed will include a restriction that says the property cannot be used for a convenience store.

Mayor Robert Conway said of Stewart’s decision, “Certainly, we are disappointed to see them leave. Stewart’s has always been a good corporate neighbor, and they have certainly contributed a lot to the community.”

He went on, “We never want to see a business leave the village; if this business model doesn’t work for them, I respect the decision. We are hoping that it will give somebody another opportunity in the building.”

With hindsight, Conway was asked if rezoning the area around the former Smitty’s Tavern to not allow for stores like Stewart’s to be built was an error, he responded: “No, not at all. Unless you are going to say that the consensus of the village and the will of the people was a mistake.”

Throughout the adoption process of the comprehensive plan, residents’ involvement had been stressed, in part, because of the plan’s origin. About two-and-a-half years ago, many village residents were upset over the approval process that would have allowed Saint Matthew’s Church to build an apartment complex next to the church. Residents were also upset that Smith’s Tavern was closing and were divided over Stewart’s plans for the gas pumps and store next to an existing gas station.

After the community backlash, the village put its approval on hold and called for the creation of a master plan, which was adopted in June.

With the closure the Voorheesville store, Komoroske said, the company will have 334 shops. This year, she said, Stewart’s expects to build 18 new stores.

Last month, Altamont approved a rezone that will allow Stewart’s to build a new, larger store on land that it owns in the village. “The reality is, the smaller stores don’t function as well as the larger footprint [stores],” Chuck Marshall, who works in land development for Stewart’s, told The Enterprise, in November 2018, about his company’s request to have the property it owns at 107-109 Helderberg Ave. rezoned from residential to commercial to allow for a larger store to be built. In 2015, the Altamont Board of Trustees had voted against the rezone.

Asked if her company’s experience in Voorheesville was common, closing a store because it could not obtain approval to build a new one, Komoroske said, “No, that’s not a common occurrence here; usually, we can find a way to work with the village or town board to make it work.”

In June 2017, Stewart’s had threatened to sue when the Voorheesville Planning Commission proceeded with an in-depth environmental review of the plan to build at the Smitty’s site. The lawyer for Stewart’s had asserted then that none of the over 300 Stewart’s Shops across the state had been subjected to an in-depth environmental review.

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