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Silver Fox: (L-R) Fred Shapiro and Camille Gibeau.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

Move Over, Home Depot

By Miriam Axel-Lute

With three businesses covering three complementary niches, Albany is becoming the place to go for architectural salvage

Interested in vintage wallpaper at a third of the price it’s going for online? And a Gothic-peaked doorway from a former church? And an iron railing for your restored 19th-century porch? You might not have to go searching over as much of the countryside as you think. For homeowners looking for a bargain, historic-preservation buffs, and those with a reuse-and-recycle ethic, a cluster of businesses in northern Albany, all less than three miles from each other, are becoming a destination point that’s drawing customers from across state lines and as far away as New York City.

Covering three distinct niches, Albany Historic Foundation Warehouse, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, and Silver Fox Architectural Salvage could hardly complement each other better if they’d gotten together to plan it.

AHF’s warehouse is the far senior member of the group, having started soon after Albany Historic Foundation itself formed more than 30 years ago. It was a key part of the organization’s mission to “save as much of Albany history as possible,” stepping in to save parts when demolition couldn’t be prevented.

AHF’s focus is enabling historic renovations. To that end, its cavernous Lexington Avenue warehouse is filled exclusively with salvaged parts that are at least 50 years old, mostly donated from renovations or teardowns (which AHF always would prefer to avoid) or grabbed out of dumpsters by sharp-eyed volunteers. Hundreds and hundreds of doors line the back wall, as do shelves upon shelves of windows. Toilets, tubs, stair rails, and cast-iron radiators are interspersed with boxes of doorknobs, hooks, and sash lifts. There’s a film of grime over much of it, giving a store visit the feeling of poking around in the world’s largest garage for buried treasure.

“It’s not like shopping at Lowe’s,” warns manager Mark Brogna. “Almost nothing here is ready to install. Much of it needs some TLC. There’s no packaging.” On the other hand, many people do find treasure here, and when they do, Brogna wants to make sure they take it home. As long as the warehouse breaks even, he’s more concerned about getting its contents into the hands of people who will use them, so he prices accordingly.

Albany Historic Foundation Warehouse: Mark Brogna.

Brogna’s customers are mostly contractors and owners of old homes, but he also gets people who want “to build some character into their [new] cookie-cutter homes,” as well as artists and set designers. The artists, he says, are why “I never throw anything away.” Doors, windows with wavy glass (much of which he gives away, he has so much), shutters and clawfoot tubs are some of his most popular items.

If Brogna gets an offer of less-than-historic but still-functional salvage, he refers it to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.

Over at ReStore’s North Pearl Street digs one busy morning, manager Emily Collins tells a caller, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any gas stoves,” while she rings up a chest freezer for a customer. “Yes, I’m very interested in taking your stove,” she tells another. ReStore was launched about two-and-a-half years ago by two Habitat volunteers who had been holding increasingly popular garage sales to sell off items donated to Habitat. Today the store is a major funding stream for the affordable-housing nonprofit, as well as a place dedicated to making home remodeling affordable and keeping waste out of the landfill.

Cabinets, porch columns, vinyl windows, major appliances, vintage wallpaper, lumber that contractors mismeasured, full cans of paint, and hardware store oversupply from caulk to screwdrivers make up only a portion of the bounty that fills ReStore’s warehouse. One week there might be a gorgeous complete set of cherry cabinets or a granite countertop, the next a motley assortment of press-board cabinets missing hinges. Everything sells for 40 percent of retail. Collins searches catalogs and skims the Want Ad Digest and Craigslist to figure out how to price things. She’ll lower a price if something really isn’t selling, but a sign at the front counter warns against attempting to negotiate on the already low prices.

ReStore is open to the public on Friday and Saturday, and other days Collins drives as far as Great Barrington, Mass., or Saratoga Springs to pick up cabinets or dishwashers. If someone offers her something more historic, she steers them to AHF. And if they offer her something that’s in no shape to be reused, she declines. “Having quality merchandise is important or no one comes back,” she notes.

Meanwhile, a homeowner who has scored a few bargains and found a few missing parts and is looking to celebrate with an indulgence can drop by Silver Fox, on Learned Street, a block east of Broadway. Silver Fox specializes in more decorative salvage items—stained glass, intricate molding, dramatic mantelpieces—and they also make original furniture and artwork out of parts less likely to sell on their own, such as custom-sized tables, with porch columns for legs and salvaged lumber, even sometimes a door, for a top.

“We think that nothing should go to waste,” says co-owner Fred Shapiro: A chair in a dumpster too broken to repair offers decorative spindles to build into another project; an unplayable piano offers keys for a wall sculpture; spare bits of molding become picture frames. Shapiro and his partner Camille Gibeau carefully take apart damaged stained glass, separating out intact sections for sale as sun-catchers or to be set into a larger window.

Gibeau and Shapiro have also shown their wares at “salvage shows” in Brooklyn, something they may soon be doing as often as once or twice a month. But big-city folks make it up to their Albany warehouse too: “They get as far as Hudson, see the prices, and it makes sense to come up here,” says Gibeau.

ReStore: Emily Collins.

Silver Fox makes a good place to relax after a morning of salvage shopping, because on weekends the warehouse’s small vendor booths—which sell art, crafts and specialty foods, including made-in-downtown-Albany honey, gourmet tea, used children’s books, handmade aprons, and more—come alive. Live music, a friendly dog, kids drawing with sidewalk chalk on the floor, artists at work on all sides, and tables scattered in the common space between the vendors make for a comfortable, cheery atmosphere.

“The space feels so good, because it’s full of so many people following their passion,” says Gibeau. “It makes the space a joy to be in.” Soon the space, dubbed At the Warehouse, will also sport a full-service local-foods cafe, and during the warm weather, a farmers market and flea market in one of its parking lots.

Silver Fox, too, refers customers and items to AHF and ReStore, and Gibeau and Shapiro bring fliers about them on their trips to New York City. They even keep a list of several other salvage businesses farther afield that they hand out to customers.

“In the salvage business it’s not like anyone else has the same item,” notes Gibeau. “If you have a mentality of competition, you’re not going to make it.”

Along with referrals, the businesses have been talking about joint advertising and other ventures to raise awareness about what they do. “So many demolition companies don’t realize there’s someone out there like us who would take this stuff,” says Gibeau, describing one contractor who told her he felt “sick” to realize too late that at a recent downtown-Albany renovation job he’d done, he wouldn’t have had to trash dozens of old solid-wood doors.

ReStore has been in its current location for only four months, and Silver Fox has been in its for less than a year, so the potential synergies of the trio may just be warming up. Brogna says that with the three businesses located so near each other, not to mention the proximity to Troy’s antique stores and a new salvage business there, he can now much more easily persuade someone who calls him from the Berkshires, for example, to make the trip into Albany. “We have a critical mass,” he says. “Now we’re an all-day trip.”


For more information and hours see:


Albany Historic Foundation Warehouse:

Silver Fox/At the Warehouse:

Load ’em up and ship ’em out: Technology Rentals of America.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

Are We Tanking Yet?

By Chet Hardin


While some small business owners remain confident, many are worried that the twin terrors of inflation and recession will batter their bottom lines

‘Anybody who knows what they are talking about says that this is inflation with recession,” says Lee Cohen, co-owner of the Daily Grind, the Capital Region’s long-time coffee-shop staple. “And the inflation is energy.”

National Grid bills for the 600-square-foot Lark Street basement shop run Cohen an average $1,300 a month, he says. “How many cups of coffee is that? Eighteen hundred? And there’s nothing I can do about it.” The heat has to stay on. The refrigerators, too.

And it is not just the direct energy costs that are hurting Cohen. It is how the energy costs affect every point along his business. His food has to be delivered, and so does the coffee.

“Here is what happened, and it is unique in the 30 years I have done business: In a normal recession, we do the best,” he says. “They have been our best years.” His explanation: You can’t buy a house, can’t buy a new car or go on vacation; at least you can do down the street and spend a couple bucks on a cup of coffee. “Maybe I go out to dinner, or to the movies. But if I bought that new house, or if I bought that new car, I don’t. In a great economy, maybe you do both. This economy isn’t like that.”

He traces the beginning of this trend of rising costs and dwindling revenue back to Thanksgiving of last year. “There was no real Christmas, nationally. It is not a great winter.” He says that everyone he talks to about this, small-business people like himself, is saying the same thing: Business is slow, and the bills are high.

The overall leeriness of small-business owners such as Cohen is well documented in national polling data, coming from places such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the Discover Financial Small Business Watch. According to the latter, “67 percent of small business owners feel that economic conditions in the U.S. are getting worse, a decrease from 74 percent who felt this way in January,” and “43 percent said they have experienced cash flow issues over the last 90 days, a slight decrease from 44 percent in January, but consistent with the past several months.”

David Veeder, president of Technology Rentals of America, has a slightly different take on the business climate.

“We have three locations, so we get three different reads,” he says. Technology Rentals headquarters is on Central Avenue in Albany, but also maintains satellite offices in Buffalo and Rochester. “For most of the company, we were doing very well in November, December, and January. We are at fairly regular numbers for March.”

Technology Rentals is in the business of doing just what its name suggests: It rents computers, networking equipment, projectors, monitors, and other such devices to companies for presentations or to get a company through a period when extra computing is needed. Pharmaceutical dinners, trade shows, short-term software classes, and so on. As such, Veeder points out, his company’s business is very reliant on the business environment at large.

Compared to the numbers his business has seen, Veeder says, the gloomy representation of the economy in the press seems exaggerated, and he is remaining cautiously optimistic.

“Of course we feel the pressure of fuel prices,” Veeder says. Much of the business is getting equipment to its customers. “The fuel prices have not affected revenue. They will affect profitability. However, we have a direct-cost estimation calculation for each order. We have upped the mileage rate to help us cover the extra fuel expense, and most companies have not disputed an increase in delivery pricing.”

The company has adjusted to face these new realities. It has purchased a Scion XB, which gets better fuel mileage than the older Ford Focuses that used to comprise the fleet of delivery cars.

Veeder is the vice-president of the International Technology Rentals Association, and at the association’s last conference, the president made the claim that the rentals industry serves as a leading indicator of business cycles. If a downturn is coming, they will feel it before many other places in the economy. Yet everyone that Veeder talked to had very busy months planned.

He says that although he wants to remain optimistic, he doesn’t expect it to be a big growth year.

“Everybody seemed to be more optimistic then they had been in years,” he says of his fellow rentals executives. “But that could be an indicator that we are at the top of the arc, and we are going back down. A lot of the times, when you have that irrational exuberance, that is the way it turns.”

Partners in creativity: (L-R) Local artist Petra, and shop owner Brooke Hebert in Albany's Silver Birch Trading Post.

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

The Creativity Store

By Kathryn Lange



The collaborative business model of art consignment provides a forum for local artists and a unique shopping experience for consumers

It’s not breaking news that it’s hard to make a living as an artist. Not many livelihoods come with the familiar tag: starving. But, for many artists, their work is not so much a choice as a passionate necessity. They will take jobs to pay the bills. They will make art whether the money comes or not. As the creative community continues to grow in the Capital Region, art-consignment shops and galleries are blooming as well, offering new exposure for local artists, new merchandise for art lovers, and an enriched art community fueled by collaboration.

A single artist functions as a small-business microcosm: a business with materials, expenses, labor, and product. But, in most cases, a single artist cannot afford the overhead of running and promoting a storefront, or maintain enough inventory to keep patrons coming back. Enter art consignment, in which one gallery showcases the work of dozens of artists. The art is displayed in the gallery at no cost to artist or owner. If a piece is purchased, the gallery takes a percentage of the sale to fund the business. In typical splits, 60 to 70 percent of the selling price goes to the artists and the balance to the gallery. This mutually beneficial model enables the shops to carry large inventories without an upfront investment, and unites the artists in a concentrated community that draws a bigger and more varied audience than one artist can attract alone.

With the recent advent of monthly arts nights like First Friday and Troy Night Out, the network has continued to expand. All the galleries in one city hold opening receptions on the same night each month, bolstered by events at nearby restaurants and music venues. The arts nights frequently draw hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people from all demographics, giving individual artists exposure they could not have achieved on their own. And the shops themselves fuel off the connections, gaining new audiences for their one-of-a-kind wares. The art collections at each venue, hand-selected by the proprietors, are as eclectic as the owners themselves.

Michael Fiske and Christina Stott, co-owners of Kismet Gallery in downtown Troy, have quickly made a name for themselves among area galleries. With a focus on affordability, the gallery walls are packed with the work of local artists in every medium from photography to spray paint. A wall of handmade toys grin down from their shelves. Quilts, scarves, and T-shirts hang on racks, and a back room showcases a monthly exhibition by a promising solo artist. A jewelry case more than 10 feet long snakes through the back of the store, filled with locally made items. Stott sits on a stool behind the counter in a yellow-and-green plaid hoodie, her blonde dreadlocks perched atop her head.

“We were typical artists,” she says, “going to different spaces, but no one was doing us justice. Everyone was asking too much money. We figured, you can only help yourself. And we wanted to help other kids, too, to have the confidence to share their work.” She emphasizes Kismet’s fundamental value to “keep it local.” Sixty percent of every sale goes back to the artists in the community; the remaining 40 pays the expenses of running the gallery—a split that, according to Stott, has allowed the couple to keep Kismet growing and to significantly pay down their start-up debt since opening the store less than two years ago. Stott describes the gallery as “eclectic, definitely. It’s like a visual explosion.” And it is.

Brooke Hebert is a radiantly bubbly brunette who makes you feel like family the minute you step into Silver Birch Trading Post, which opened its doors on Delaware Avenue in Albany this summer. Hebert studied fine arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She found herself floundering after graduation, so she moved home and enrolled in Russell Sage College for Ethical Business Management. But Hebert couldn’t wait. Still in college, and juggling part-time jobs to pay the bills, she opened Silver Birch, a shop for “conscious consumers.” Half of the shop’s wares are fair-trade items from around the globe. The other half is on consignment from local artists.

Hebert’s network has grown quickly to include work from more than 40 local artists. “They all have other jobs—state workers, waitresses—but they come home, and they are able to make their art, to express who they really are,” says Hebert. “I have a soft spot for that, and I want to give them a space to share their stories. It’s been an amazing networking source for the artists. Some of the artists who come in here have never shown their work, and all of a sudden they’re part of a community of artists; it’s like a family.”

Hebert’s family is helping to manage the burden of the shop until she graduates in May. Petra, a local artist whose colorful handbags are nestled in every corner at the shop, sips a latte while Hebert punches colorfully patterned circles from magazine pages—part of her project of the day. The two laugh like sisters, and are planning to partner in running the Silver Birch.

Tracie Killar is a suburban mom who made the foray into the art business in October, opening Blue Dog Arts in Delmar with her husband, Bill. The shop is buzzing with kids, working at studio tables, reading on the floor—part of the extensive children’s art programming Killar already has established. An alcove of shelves and tables separates the merchandise from the studio space. The shop sells everything from children’s art supplies to greeting cards and jewelry.

“Consignment works wonderfully,” says Killar. “Within today’s economy, purchasing inventory is very difficult.” She describes the symbiotic model as allowing her to provide merchandise for her customers, while giving local artists a forum for their work. “We get a lot of moms who have taken on projects,” she says, and “we are committed to supporting and finding artists who have special needs . . . who express themselves with art.” This week, Blue Dog Arts is featuring an exhibit of artwork by children with developmental disabilities to recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Kate Eggleston is the newest kid on the block—still waiting, in fact, for the final renovations do be done on her Troy storefront on River Street. After “working nine years for corporate America and hating it,” Eggleston, who has a degree in art, decided it was time to do something for herself and for the area. Her soon-to-open shop, the Paper Sparrow, will offer handmade goods from local and national artists and artisans. “Art, handmade goods, handbags, jewelry, bath and body products,” even local honey will be available. “Everything is handmade,” says Eggleston. “Nothing manufactured in a factory. I want to get people to step away from the big-box stores and think about what they’re buying. Between the recalls, the environmental concerns, and the economy, it is becoming so important to shop local, to think before you drop your credit cards on the table.”

Eggleston wants to use her shop to help foster the creative community. She already has plans in the works for knitting nights and classes in everything from kids crafts and life drawing to paper making and tarot-card reading. “I’m always listening for suggestions,” she adds. Eggleston intoned what seems to be the core value echoing in all the shops: “I want to give local artists exposure, and in addition to exposure, inspiration. Creatively inclined people see other creativity and they’re inspired to create something of their own.”

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