sense of community: (l-r) Suzanne Spencer, friend of
the Next-to-New Shop, with employees Mary Jo Maercklein
and Jon Ernst Photo by
A local service organization
is leaving Albany and closing its thrift store, to the disappointment
of both customers and employees
(Friday, May 23), the Junior League of Albany is shutting
down its thrift store on Madison Avenue in downtown Albany,
the Next-to-New Shop. It’s part of a plan, announced last
month, to close the Albany headquarters, sell the building
(which also contains the thrift store) and move to the suburbs.
The employees of the Next-to-New Shop are sorry to see it
go—and one of them is willing to buy the building to keep
the shop going.
has been the best thing in my life for the five years I’ve
worked here,” explained Nancy Geller. Geller put in a bid
on the building on May 21, the last day the League accepted
proposals. When asked why she’s doing this, Geller explained
that it’s her commitment to the community that has come to
depend on the Next-to-New Shop.
Mary Jo Maercklein, who has worked at the store for 30 years
(in three successive locations), also spoke of the shop’s
close connection with the community; she showed a notebook
containing page after page of signatures, signed by customers
requesting that the shop not be closed down.
a ‘mom and pop’ thrift store. We’re different in that we take
the time to listen” to the people who come in, Maercklein
Maercklein told of one regular customer who comes in to shop,
and, sometimes, just to talk.
had cancer three times, and arthritis, but doesn’t complain
about it. She came in yesterday, and said ‘I don’t know what
I’m going to do without [the store]’.”
Through the years, Maercklein noted, the shop has served a
I’ve learned is that everybody has some endearing quality,”
she said, remembering how she struck up a friendship with
the late Michael the Archangel.
The historic structure, located at 419 Madison Ave., was built
in the 1890s as an Albany police station. (“There are still
some cells in the basement,” Maercklein pointed out.) The
Junior League has owned the building since the late ’70s,
and a spokeswoman told the Times Union that maintenance
issues were one of the reasons the organization had decided
to sell. (The Junior League did not return a call for comment.)
Maercklein is sympathetic to this issue, explaining that the
Junior League seemed to see the additional effort required
to maintain this historic structure as a distraction from
building was becoming cumbersome to the Junior League,” Maercklein
said. For whatever reasons, she said, “they’re no longer able
to take care of the building.”
The Junior League also told the Times Union that the
location near Madison Avenue and Lark Street had safety issues.
Maercklein, however, is comfortable: “I love the neighborhood
here. . . . There’s something very exciting” about being in
an urban setting. Maercklein also pointed out that although
the store has an intercom so that someone in the back office
could be notified of trouble in the store, and an emergency
alarm system, they’ve never had to use it.
Maercklein, who had not planned to retire, will miss the Next-to-New
Shop if it is indeed closed for good.
have [had] great employees—working with the people has been
As Albany unveils yet
another proposal to revitalize Arbor Hill, neighborhood residents
and concerned citizens remain skeptical
Oglesby couldn’t care less if the latest draft of a plan to
revitalize her long-neglected neighborhood, Arbor Hill, carried
a 69-cent or $69-million price tag, as long as the planners
promise to clean the place up.
Oglesby, a homeowner and 21-year Arbor Hill resident, said
her Livingston Avenue home is constantly under bombardment
from the trash and debris blowing through or being dropped
on her front lawn. Oglesby’s morning cleanups are often wastes
of time, she laments, for her lawn is often littered with
garbage once again by the afternoon.
would like to see a cleaner Arbor Hill,” Oglesby said. “You
come through there and you’re scared that your tires may burst;
that is the way people feel about it. I wouldn’t mind if they
didn’t have anything else—never mind the gym or whatever else
they’re going to have—I’d like to see it cleaned up.”
But when the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Advisory Committee—a
23-member group handpicked by Mayor Jerry Jennings—unveiled
a draft of its proposal to turn around the blighted neighborhood
on May 14 (nine days after initially promised), it didn’t
directly address Oglesby’s concerns, though it did included
a number of ambitious plans for improvement.
The group’s draft presented $69 million worth of ideas to
breathe new life into a community where one in every three
housing units remains vacant and whose residents’ median household
income is $16,222, almost half the city’s average, according
to U.S. Census data.
But before the draft was even released, neighborhood gadflies
were working their beat—faxing press releases lambasting the
city-led plan, filing Freedom of Information requests for
the unreleased draft and brandishing their right to lawsuits.
They obviously haven’t forgotten that this is the city’s third
attempt to draft a plan to revive Arbor Hill.
The city has twice before hired private development firms—Norstar
Development USA in 2000 and Dennison Associates in 2001—to
evaluate the community’s needs, but each group’s assessments
were successively abandoned and the plans never adopted. Some
neighborhood residents and concerned parties remain skeptical
that the city will actually move forward with plans for Arbor
Hill, a feeling that is justified, said Alderwoman Sarah Curry-Cobb
haven’t seen anything as far as improvements in the neighborhood
after all these years and that is very disconcerting,” said
Curry-Cobb, a member of the advisory committee who represents
parts of Arbor Hill in the Albany Common Council.
Anders Tomson, committee co-chair and member of Community
Preservation Corporation, a mortgage-lending group that invests
in low-cost housing, said this skepticism is healthy and welcomed.
know people are anxious to move forward and that is one of
the best attributes about Arbor Hill, its committed stakeholders,”
said Tomson. “We weighed the consideration of acting quickly
without acting imprudently and I think we did the best combination
In its report, the committee looks to invest $26 million for
residential development and to support homeownership initiatives
in Arbor Hill, which will include a mix of new construction
and rehabbing some of the neighborhood’s historic structures.
To aid the growth of business in Arbor Hill, the committee
looks to invest $12 million, including plans to host small-business
development workshops and explore the viability of a business
incubator on Clinton Avenue.
The plan includes $25.1 million for quality-of-life improvements,
including playground fix-ups and better street lighting, but
the majority of that money is earmarked for the construction
of a parking garage for the state Office of General Services.
The garage, to be paid for with state funds, is being touted
as a way to improve the neighborhood’s streetscapes and create
a stronger connection between Arbor Hill and downtown.
The advisory committee proposed to invest $5.3 million into
the neighborhood’s cultural heritage, the lion’s share going
to the rehabilitation of St. Joseph’s Church in the Ten Broeck
Triangle. The committee also wants to build upon the neighborhood’s
links to history, particularly its place as a stop on the
The city has yet to identify funding sources for most of the
projects included in the proposal, and the committee did not
set a specific time frame for the completion of the new Arbor
Hill plan. The next step in the process calls for a period
to collect input on the proposal from the public.
A public meeting is scheduled for 6 PM to 8 PM on June 10
at New Covenant Charter School at 50 Lark Drive, and public
comment will be accepted by mail until June 24. From there,
the neighborhood advisory committee will look to finalize
its plan for Arbor Hill and present it to Mayor Jennings sometime
The draft plan, though not distributed en masse to neighborhood
residents due to its size (some 70 pages), is available for
review on the city’s Web site at www.albanyny.org, and at
six locations throughout the city: Mayor Jennings’ office
in City Hall at 24 Eagle St., the city’s Development and Planning
Department at 21 Lodge St., the main branch of the Albany
Public Library at 161 Washington Ave., the principal’s office
at Arbor Hill Elementary School, the main office at New Covenant
Charter School, and Albany Community Development Agency at
200 Henry Johnson Blvd.
debate: medical professionals at Executive Woods. Photo
by Chris Sheilds
professionals and consumer advocates square off in medical-malpractice
150 health-care professionals rallied at the Executive Woods
corporate campus in Colonie on Tuesday to decry the increasing
medical malpractice insurance costs that are creating a burgeoning
“medical crisis” in New York state. But according to the New
York Public Interest Research Group, they were all a bunch
of spin doctors.
The Medical Society of the State of New York sponsored the
local rally and demonstrations in 20 other cities across the
state. The group is calling for reform to the state’s tort
laws, which regulate the amount of damages individuals can
seek when injured on the job or due to medical malpractice.
With no limit on damages sought for pain and suffering under
state law, groups like the MSSNY say physicians in New York
are stuck with high malpractice insurance premiums.
is not only a malpractice [insurance] crisis, this is a litigation
crisis,” said Dr. Harold Sokol, PhD, president of MSSNY’s
Albany County chapter. “It is killing us all financially to
pay for medical malpractice insurance due to all of this litigation,
and the cost then has to go to the public. However, physicians
have a problem, because we cannot pass along the costs.”
While other businesses can simply raise prices to make up
for money lost in litigation, medical professionals are in
a different bind, said Sokol, a pulmonary and critical-care
physician who practices in the intensive care units of a number
of hospitals in the Capital Region.
tells me this is what I’m going to get for completing a particular
procedure no matter what I charge,” Sokol said. “If I charge
$500 and they give me $30, I get $30.”
Sokol said that 60 to 70 percent of his income comes from
patients on Medicare or Medicaid, and since state law doesn’t
allow him to charge higher prices for patients with private
insurance, he has no way to make extra money to pay for increasing
malpractice insurance costs.
The group wants to place a $250,000 cap on the amount plaintiffs
can seek for pain and suffering, which would not limit compensation
sought for lost time at work or medical costs resulting from
malpractice. MSSNY believes this would in turn allow insurance
companies to lower their rates.
not saying people shouldn’t be compensated for losing the
ability to work or the ability to pay for some care,” Sokol
said. “We’re arguing against people saying, ‘Gee, I’m going
to sue for a million dollars extra because I suffered.’ How
do you put a monetary value on somebody’s suffering? You can’t.”
But Theresa Cassiack, NYPIRG consumer advocate, said it is
outlandish for medical groups to ask the state Legislature
to limit injured patients’ legal rights when doctors are still
being convicted of committing malpractice.
think it is foolish for doctors to be out there calling for
these reforms when people are being injured in hospitals in
New York all the time,” said Cassiack. “Doctors and lawmakers
should be focused on medical malpractice reforms. The issue
at hand is that people are being injured in the first place.”
NYPIRG also disputes the Medical Society’s claim that there
is a litigation crisis in New York. In NYPIRG’s study on medical
malpractice, the group reported that the number of physicians
paying medical malpractice awards dropped from 2,084 in 2001
to 1,841 in 2002, the first such decrease in the past five
The study also noted that the total dollar amount of malpractice
payments in New York also decreased for the first time in
five years in 2002, even though requests for courts to intervene
in alleged instances of medical malpractice increased.
Cassiack said NYPIRG wants the state to better monitor its
physicians and correct its flawed consumer-information mechanism.
Currently the state offers profiles of its physicians on a
Web site run by the Department of Health, but researchers
at NYPIRG found 46 instances in which a physician’s profile
was missing information regarding a malpractice payment.
doctors are not policing themselves, and obviously the Department
of Health isn’t either,” Cassiack said.
But Sokol disagreed, saying that as president of staff at
Memorial Hospital in Albany, he has overseen the suspension
of hospital privileges for three physicians in the past year
for questionable practices.
hospital has a quality-assurance committee and there is a
whole learning experience to [investigating malpractice claims],”
Sokol said. “To hear people say that we don’t police ourselves
is untrue. We try very, very hard. Is any system perfect?
No, but we try.”
Sokol said there is a need to remember that doctors are human.
is a difference in my mind between malpractice and an error—we
all make errors,” Sokol said. “Anybody who wants their doctor
to be perfect should run like hell and never go to any doctor,
because they’re never going to get one.”