Thursday, 07 May 2020 12:50

Downtown Struggles to Survive

Downtown Struggles to Survive

SARATOGA SPRINGS — “Doors are closing. People are closing. It’s already too late for many businesses,” said Heidi West, Lifestyles of Saratoga owner. 

West is just one voice of many small business owners all coming to the same consensus, it may already be too late for the once bustling downtown Saratoga. While some stores embraced reinventing to keep business going for them amid COVID-19 restrictions, others were not so lucky. 

“A lot of doors are closing. We don’t have much time left to be honest. We do need to figure out how to be safe and be open all at the same time,” West said. “All of this makes it an uphill battle but…give us a fighting chance. Open our doors so we can get through it.”

The community of Saratoga Springs has felt the impact of economic restrictions before. In 1945, the community was filled with rundown structures following both the Great Depression and World War II. It was not until 10 years later, in 1958 the Planning Board moved forward with the city’s master plan for renewal. 

For years to come, the city saw plenty of urban renewal. However, individuals and small businesses owners lost low-cost rents and had “no choice” in what was happening, seeing the destruction of neighborhoods and facing costly relocation expenses. 

Small businesses worry that the town can revert back to those moments in history and time is not on their side as restriction stay in place. However, just as locals saw the creation of the new normal then, businesses are facing the new normal of today.

“It’s not like we are going to open our doors the way they were six months ago, not by any stretch. Our new normal will be gloves, masks, and disinfecting, but with our doors open. But we have to at least be able to open our doors,” said Pam Worth, owner of Spoken Boutique.

As restriction continue to wear on businesses, coming back from what was lost may not be possible. Safety is at the forefronts of any plans business owners create with the hopes
of reopening.

“It is my opinion…I can be safer than a big box store. I have a 12 step program already typed up about how I’m changing protocol,” West said. “Even being allowed to have an one-on-one appointment with that protocol in place would be helpful. We just need to keep moving forward.”

Todd L. Shimkus, president of Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, has drafted a “Plan for Saratoga County’s Economic Recovery” through a collaboration with the Downtown Business Association, the City Center, Discover Saratoga, SEDC, and the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership.

“We’ve been sharing [the plan] with Federal, State, County and local officials. The development of this plan is in part a way for Saratoga County to demonstrate that we have a plan to safely reopen. The Governor has said this is a pre-requisite for businesses and we’re hoping that by doing this collectively with common operating procedures that we will position Saratoga County in a positive light,” Shimkus said. 

Shimkus shared two key aspects of the multi-part plan. Recovery kits for small business have been created to include a startup supply of PPE for all business. They also have met with local restaurants and will be doing the same with hotels and retailers to develop common cleaning protocols that those businesses will pledge to follow once reopened.

“Our focus is on making it crystal clear that health comes first in Saratoga County and that our local business community is united in working together to keep everyone safe so that we can reopen sooner,” Shimkus said. 

Pam Worth feels that downtown has a strong impulse of businesses wanting to prove they can open safely.

“Saratoga is a much different town than most, being one of the top five downtowns in all of the United States. I feel who better to set the precedence in what should happen in a beautiful resort town but Saratoga Springs,” Worth said. “We all want to open our doors safely and set the right precedent to what is the new normal. But in order for all of that to happen, we have got to get the doors open.”

Maddy Zanetti, Impressions of Saratoga owner with Marianne Barker, said they plan to take extra precautions, clean things more, and stay distant from customers as soon as their doors are open. Zanetti feels that foot traffic will take a while to pick up, as people adjust to going out and feeling comfortable around others.

“We are definitely worried about how this year is going to pan out for us, but we are making the most of it and doing the best we can,” Zanetti said. 

West believes it’s not too late to bounce back, but the key is getting safety plans in place as soon as possible. If she can’t open by June 1, she will have to focus on different plans in terms of closing doors. 

“My success is the success of my 20 employees, who are suffering, and the success of the whole community. I really just want a voice for the small business. It’s becoming crucial at this point in my opinion,” West said. 

Worth believes with the downtown leaders being business owners, everyone can bring an opinion and structure as to how they can get the town up and running again. 

“Saratoga is an amazing downtown community that wants nothing more than to survive and to stay successful,” Worth said. “The strong local community that we have, and the local people that support our downtown, are the ones that are going to keep us alive.”

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