Fox: (L-R) Fred Shapiro and Camille Gibeau.
Over, Home Depot
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.
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.
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.
Historic Foundation Warehouse: Mark Brogna.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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: historic-albany.org/warehous.html
Silver Fox/At the Warehouse: atthewarehouse.net
em up and ship em out: Technology Rentals
We Tanking Yet?
some small business owners remain confident, many are worried
that the twin terrors of inflation and recession will batter
their bottom lines
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.”
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
He says that although he wants to remain optimistic, he doesn’t
expect it to be a big growth year.
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.”
in creativity: (L-R) Local artist Petra, and shop owner
Brooke Hebert in Albany's Silver Birch Trading Post.
Photo: Shannon DeCelle
collaborative business model of art consignment provides a
forum for local artists and a unique shopping experience for
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.”