The upscale evolution of Stuyvesant Plaza

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Through the glass: A child looks out — a palm pressed against the logo for Stuyvesant Plaza — from inside the front door of Coldstone Creamery in Stuyvesant Plaza on Monday. The outdoor plaza just won the Outstanding Building of the Year award from the Building Owners and Managers Association. See image gallery.

GUILDERLAND — In an era when many malls are closing as shoppers flock to the Internet — about 15 percent of United States malls are expected to fail in the next decade — Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland looks to be thriving.

On May 1, the building Owners and Managers Association named Stuyvesant Plaza as the 2014 recipient of The Outstanding Building of the Year award in the retail category for the Middle Atlantic Region.

The award recognizes the plaza for excellence in building management, operational efficiency, tenant retention, emergency planning, and community impact.

The plaza opened in 1959 as suburbs, like Guilderland, grew and the old city department stores started closing or opening new branches in the suburbs.

A recent University of Virginia study, “The Changing Shape of American Cities,” maps of important shifts in American cities over the last two decades. “Most cities in the United States in 1990 had a ‘donut’ shape, with wealthier residents in a booming suburban ring, surrounding a decaying core,” the study says. “Today cities are increasingly resembling what has been called a new donut — with three, rather than two, rings.

“The center has grown much more desirable to educated, higher-income residents, especially young adults under the age of 35. Poverty, meanwhile, is migrating outwards, creating an ‘inner ring’ of urban and early suburban neighborhoods around the core, where per capita incomes have fallen and education rates are stagnant. Beyond the inner ring, an out ring of newer and larger suburbs continues to add population.”

Early suburban strip malls, like Stuyvesant Plaza, have been particularly hard hit. But Guilderland’s plaza, on the outskirts of Albany, has prospered by changing with the times.

Stuyvesant Plaza, with 60 stores and restaurants, added two new stores in 2014 — The Pink Paddock, which sells colorful clothing and accessories for women, and 25 Silver Boutique, offering trendy jewelry and handbags that can appeal to the younger generation.

“It gives Internet shoppers a reason to come out,” said Janet Kaplan, vice president of real estate for Stuyvesant Plaza, Inc. “We make it a point to keep up with the times.”

Kaplan pulled out a binder full of old photographs; Stuyvesant Plaza looks totally different now. Some photos featured large stores like Denby’s, a department store; Woolworth’s, a five and dime; and Grand Union, a grocery store, which all went up in retail smoke. There were pictures of a travel agency; a film store; and The Cheese Connection, now home to Talbots.

 

Stuyvesant Plaza opened in 1959. It’s much different now. The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael


 

The original storefronts were in red and black brick; now each shop shapes its own façade.

There are niche stores like Pearl Grant Richmans, the only business that has been here since the beginning, and chain restaurants like Friday’s, which was built in 1984.

Barry Richman, owner of Pearl Grant Richmans, was a senior at Albany High School in 1959. His parents owned the store before him and put him to work. “We’ve had to reinvent ourselves at least 10 times,” Richman said on Monday. “We’re competitive; we want to be the first to have it. Somebody has to have the best.”

Since Pearl Grant Richmans is so diverse — everything from gourmet foods to baby clothes — shoppers could run the risk of getting overwhelmed. Sisters Julie and Katie Rotolo were shopping for birthday gifts for their cousin and a friend, but didn’t have much time; their respective jobs in downtown Albany beckoned their return from lunch.

The Rotolo sisters told The Enterprise that they come to Stuyvesant Plaza at least once per month. “There’s all different types of things here, so you know that you’ll find something,” said Julie, who had picked out a purse and a scarf for her cousin. “Boutique shopping is better than mall shopping.”

Part of the mall’s success is because of its location, near a state university, a growing polytechnic school, and the Northway, which funnels traffic from the upper reaches of the area. While there has been some friction with McKownville residents over the years, the mall attracts shoppers from the neighborhood as well as from afar.

About 400 of the roughly 1,000 malls in the United States are seeing business hold steady or improve as they market to upper-income shoppers while the lower-end malls are being hit with store closures.

“It’s like a little bit of Manhattan,” Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House, says of Stuyvesant Plaza. She has run an independent bookstore there for decades, often hosting visits from authors.

“The better educated customer knows the trends of New York City, Chicago, and London,” Richman said. “It’s a universal experience.”

Julie Rotolo shops with her sister, Katie, at Pearl Grant Richmans at Stuyvesant Plaza on Monday. The sisters said they come to the plaza at least once a month. The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael


 

For more photos of Stuyvesant Plaza, click here.