“I think this year is going to be very, very good,” said Mary Chen, owner of the 70 Beekman Street building and Beekman Street Art Gallery.
Chen was one of the first galleries to open along Beekman Street in 2003, and over the years has witnessed the ebb and flow of the district. In 2008, when the economic recession began, many galleries and shops were unable to survive the difficult climate and were forced to close or relocate.
“Unfortunately, the arts tend to be one of the first things to get cut out of someone’s shopping plans if their money is tight,” said Saratoga County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, who helped the Beekman Street Arts District come up with a long-term strategic plan in 2006. “So we had a bit of a downturn [in 2008], but things are really picking up again. I believe we are going to see Beekman Street become even more of a destination as the location continues to grow.”
With a national economy that has slowly, if only tentatively, begun to right itself, more and more shops, galleries and restaurants are once again opening up along the little village in Spa City.
“We opened our gallery just last November,” said Michael Bray, who works alongside his wife, Sharon Crute, at her recently opened gallery on Beekman Street. “We’ve seen a lot of the ‘for rent’ or ‘for sale’ signs starting to disappear, and we’re working together to grow again as Saratoga’s center for the arts. I think Beekman Street is on the verge of reinventing itself as an arts district.”
Also coming to Beekman Street is a brand-new restaurant at 70C Beekman Street, the building owned by Chen.
“They’re called European Soul Food, owned by Deborah Nelson,” said Chen. “They want to open as soon as possible, maybe in June. They’re going to add a lot of diversity to the street.”
The newest addition to the Beekman Street District is the Spa City Bicycleworks shop. The shop opened its doors last month as a place for cyclists to come and find new bikes, supplies, rent bikes, schedule rides or simply hang out.
“We want to create a nice little community where cyclists can come and hang out with free Wi-Fi and coffee in the courtyard,” said owner Tony Ferradino. “Upstairs we have resident artists who use the space, sculptors and painters that will open their studio doors up during the First Friday event. We also rent bicycles so that people can come to the district and ride around if they’d like.”
Come May 4, the Beekman Street Arts District will hold its inaugural First Friday event of the year, with most, if not all of the businesses and galleries along the street opening their doors to customers interested in enjoying the latest and greatest artwork, products, food, music and more.
“We didn’t do many musical performances at the gallery last year,” said Chen. “This year, we will start to again. Sometimes we perform; sometimes we have a local musician perform at our gallery or on the street. They have been very, very nice, and we’re excited to have that again for the First Friday event.”
Other shops, like Nicole LaFayette’s Lafayette Jewelry Designs, will be showcasing their own products and wares while also serving up some food and refreshments to visiting patrons.
“I’m making some new pieces of different jewelry lines that I’ll be showing,” said LaFayette, “and I’ll probably have some food out for people. I’ve been here since 2008,” she added, “and I’ve found that between this year and last year, I’m starting to have more repeat customers. More people are remembering my shop and the work we do here, so more people are coming to the district to help support it.”
“Our hope is that the district grows overtime, and eventually more of artists and more businesses will feed the activity, which will add to the economic development of the street,” said Yepsen. “I think there are a lot of combined factors that are all moving in the right direction now to increase traffic, as well as to increase the variety of businesses located in the Arts District.”
The Beekman Street First Friday event is scheduled to begin Friday, May 4, and will continue throughout the spring and summer season on the first Friday of every month.
To learn more about the Beekman Street Arts District or the First Friday events, visit www.saratogaartdistrict.com, search “Beekman Street” on Facebook or visit Beekman Street in person between Congress Street and West Circular Street.