Stewart’s Shops taking over East Berne gas station after sale

— Google Maps

This Red-Kap store was formerly operated as Countryside Market 6, which leased the property from Red-Kap, before Red-Kap resumed management in the summer of 2019, according to Red-Kap Vice-President Jonathan Kaplan. Red-Kap announced this week that it has been purchased by Stewart’s, a convenience store chain based in Saratoga County.

BERNE — Stewart’s Shops has purchased Red-Kap Sales, owner of the Mobil gas station and convenience store in East Berne, which will now be managed by the regional convenience store giant, making it the first Stewart’s property in the Hilltowns. 

The acquisition of Red-Kap’s eight convenience stores and other assets, including three car washes and a gas-distribution business, will be complete before the end of the year.

Whether the Helderberg Trail Red-Kap will undergo a significant renovation has yet to be determined, according to Stewart’s spokeswoman Erica Komoroske, but she confirmed that the gas station will remain in operation. 

“Stewart’s feels that our East Berne location will be a good fit for them,” Red-Kap Vice President Jonathan Kaplan told The Enterprise.

The property, at 788 Helderberg Trail, in addition to gas pumps and convenience-store items, also has a deli.

Kaplan said that Red-Kap was sold to Stewart’s because of the difficulties posed to “smaller firms like ours” by stores like Costco, a warehouse-price club and gas-station chain that’s been approved for development on Guilderland property owned by Pyramid Management Group, not far from Red-Kap’s own Guilderland location. 

Kaplan and four Westmere residents are suing Pyramid and the town of Guilderland in federal court over that and other projects.

“Stewart’s, who is in a far better position to meet these challenges, made us a very fair offer to sell now,” Kaplan said. “We have had an excellent relationship with Stewart’s for decades and we know that they will take very good care of our customers and employees.”

Stewart’s has attempted to establish a location in Berne twice in the last two decades, but resident pushback and local architectural requirements deterred the company each time.

In 2005, Stewart’s sought to build a convenience store and gas station on a pair of properties across from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District’s campus in the Berne hamlet, but ultimately withdrew because of a recently-passed zoning ordinance that Stewart’s felt hindered its ability to do business through restrictions on hours of operation and parking lot locations, among other things.

“They wanted to put in a cookie-cutter store,” Kevin Crosier, who was town supervisor at the time, told The Enterprise, suggesting that it would be incongruous with the hamlet’s character.

Exhibiting public distaste with the Stewart’s proposal, some unhappy residents of the hamlet attended a planning board meeting that year with shirts reading “Why here? Why now? Why Stewart’s?”

Some residents were concerned that Stewart’s would put the small, long-time Berne market out of business.

Crosier said this week that the town was requiring Stewart’s to build something similar to the store that was recently built in Altamont, and said in 2005 that the withdrawal was a win for the town, insofar as it avoided sprawl.

Stewart’s considered the town’s hamlet as a profitable location again in 2017, along with Knox. Crosier, who was still supervisor at the time, was enthusiastic about the opportunity, saying that it would encourage visitors who want to take in the area’s natural beauty but need gas or other amenities.

Crosier told The Enterprise this week that the prospect fell through after residents wrote letters to the Stewart’s corporate office expressing distaste for the project.

Calling the purchase of Red-Kap “good news,” Crosier said, “I’ve always said — and I’ve told Stewart’s this — that a store would do better in East Berne than in [the hamlet].”

Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin, who had approached Stewart’s leadership in 2019 about a location but was rebuffed, told The Enterprise on Friday that she was “overjoyed for the Hilltown residents” when she heard the news. 

“It has been a long time waiting for Stewart’s to establish a store in the Town of Berne,” Conklin wrote in an email. “They will be very welcomed in all aspects of their gas and grocery products.”

Stewart’s sells its own brand of products, which, because of their regional nature, have a cultish appeal. 

“It will benefit residents on the Hill to not have to travel to other stores in the region,” Conklin said, highlighting the danger of doing so during the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently surging.

“For some residents,” Conklin also said, “having a store like Stewart’s would be compatible on the west side of the village of Berne, to accommodate [Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District] staff and its bus drivers. Also, our South Berne, Gallupville and Huntersland neighbors.”

But no matter the location, Conklin said, residents will be “happy and grateful.”

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