V'ville organizes again as residents react to sale of Smitty's

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Smith's Tavern, an iconic pizzeria in Voorheesville, is slated to be sold to make way for a Stewart's Shop.

NEW SCOTLAND — Residents from Guilderland, Bethlehem, and Albany have joined Voorheesville villagers in mourning the anticipated loss of Smith’s Tavern in the heart of the village along the Vly Creek, and across from the elementary school. The iconic pizzeria may soon be sold to Stewart’s Shops.

“I’m trying to retire,” Smith’s Tavern co-owner Jon McClelland told The Enterprise. “I thought we had it sold to a group.”

The sale did not go through, he said.

Rumors have swirled in Voorheesville for over a year that Stewart’s Shops was interested in the creekside pizzeria, but a representative confirmed the rumor two weeks ago.

“We are in conversation with the owner of that business,” Maria D’Amelia of Stewart’s Shops told The Enterprise of Smith’s Tavern. She said that nothing has been finalized, and that discussions are “in the early stages.”

Stewart’s has a Voorheesville shop at 42 South Main Street, near the American Legion, the Voorheesville Diner, and Village Hall. The location used to have gas pumps but no longer does. The shop, however, is out of the main traffic thoroughfare through Voorheesville on Route 85A.

In addition to its Voorheesville shop, Stewart’s has a larger store with gas pumps two miles away in the hamlet of New Scotland on Route 85, and a third store, also with gas pumps, two miles away in Guilderland off Route 155.

McClelland and his business partner, Jon Mellen, bought Smith’s Tavern from Frank and Gert Smith 25 years ago, in 1991. The tavern opened in 1946.

Smith’s Tavern, at 112 Maple Ave., has a full market value of $257,600, according to the county’s assessment rolls.

“We had a plan of action” for when the time came to sell the business, McClelland told The Enterprise. “We weren’t able to work it out financially.”

Up until three months ago, McClelland had hoped to sell the restaurant to a local group that may have kept the business going, he said.

“We could not work out the numbers with them,” he said.

Stewart’s had contacted McClelland and Mellen early in 2015, and the convenience chain “did come through” this spring with a higher offer, McClelland said.

His motto is “Work hard, and invest wisely,” he said. “It’s been a great run.”

The partners have made friends, but it is time to sell the investment, he said.

“We are taking the higher offer,” McClelland said. “I think most people would make the same decision.”


Since The Enterprise broke the story on May 5, McClelland said, “Everyone’s got different ideas.”

Some wonder if the pizzeria owners will swap sites with Stewart’s, but McClelland cut that idea short, and said, “There’s no parking there.”

McClelland said that he is “walking a thin line,” saying that he does not need to defend himself for selling his business, but that he feels obligated to residents who are loyal to the tavern as a landmark.

“It’s really too sad,” he said.

“Most people are favorable,” he said, but most also ask, “Why Stewart’s?”

“It could be anybody, and you wouldn’t be happy,” McClelland said. “I don’t blame them. That has been very difficult for both my partner and myself.”

News of the sale spread across social media, sparking an online petition that had garnered more than 700 signatures by Friday, May 13 — most from Slingerlands, Voorheesville, and Altamont, but some from as far away as Australia.

“Teams, scouts, class reunions, showers, and friendly gatherings all happen here,” one person commented about Smith’s Tavern on the change.org petition. “Every child in Voorheesville grew up watching the trains circle the front area. It would cripple the essence of the village to lose Smitty's. Please allow it to be sold as a tavern.”

Former New Scotland town councilman Daniel Mackay, who moved out of state last year, read of the pizzeria’s impending sale — and of residents’ dismay — on The Enterprise’s Facebook page.

Mackay, who, before he left, spearheaded efforts to move the Hilton barn, suggested ways to save the tavern, including buying an option to purchase Smitty’s; buying the restaurant outright; finding a sympathetic buyer; or buying it as a community effort.

Other Smith’s Tavern customers have expressed concerns about the position of the restaurant next to the Vly Creek, if Stewart’s Shops puts in gas pumps that fuel the chain across the state.  
“It rains a lot; the place floods,” said Zia Rehman, who owns the Mobil station next to Smith’s Tavern. “Putting a gas tank up is a bad idea. It’s going to contaminate the whole area.”

Asked if Stewart’s was also considering purchasing the Mobil station next to Smith’s Tavern, D’Amelia confirmed this week that Stewart’s is having “normal business-to-business” discussions with the fuel company. She said that the conversation was not a negotiation with Mobil, or its corporate owner, Sunoco.

The Mobil station’s full market value is $440,000, according to the county’s assessment rolls.

“I do have to share that a big concern is our neighbors, the family that runs the Mobil station,” McClelland said. “We’ve been friends. They do a good job.”

Reactions to the potential sale, as recorded on The Enterprise’s Facebook page, are as varied as the ideas proposed to save the restaurant.

“Great — crappy coffee for all!” was one response referring to Stewart’s Shops’ well-known to-go beverage.

Another Enterprise reader offered McClelland and Mellen his regards.

“I wish John and Jon an enjoyable retirement, and thank them for all the years of running a family restaurant that was the heart of our village, against the odds and New York State's hostile business environment for so many years,” he wrote. “Good luck, and happy retirement, guys!”
McClelland said that Stewart’s must obtain state and local approvals, which could take six months or more.

“Right now, we are under a purchase-option agreement. We have an actual deal for a set price,” he said.

“I have to put my retirement first at this time in my life, and that’s pretty much it,” McClelland said. He is 72.

“Most people like Stewart’s. They are friendly, as well,” he said. “They are one of the larger employers in the Capital District.”

Smith’s Tavern will remain open until the sale goes through, he said, and he apologized to his employees for the unknown.

If the sale does not happen, he said, “We’ll be back to square one at that point, and will work on the next deal that comes along.

“I’m just doing what I feel is best in my life,” he said, adding that, in retirement, he will address the items on his bucket list.

“There are travels my wife and I still want to do,” he said. McClelland hopes to golf, garden, and spend time with his two daughters and four “grandboys,” he said. He grew up in Altamont, and he and his wife live outside Voorheesville.

“Taking away an icon from the village of Voorheesville has been most difficult,” McClelland said.  


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