City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — An unusually large number of burglaries have taken place at downtown businesses since the start of the month.
Police say indications are that the robberies are the work of two men breaking into businesses during the overnight hours, stealing cash and in some cases creating general mayhem with store merchandise.
“It was all in the area of what we refer to as the downtown business district - Broadway being the center, going out to West Avenue and between Van Dam and West Circular Street,” says Saratoga Springs Police Lt. Bob Jillson. “We had five in that vicinity, and then we had a couple of more this past weekend.”
Investigators are reaching out to their resources, gathering prints and examining video footage in attempts to identify the people responsible for the break-ins. They are also seeking images of better quality than they have viewed thus far to potentially release to the public.
“It looks like it’s a couple of males, going through shops and taking any money on hand,” Lt. Jillson said.
A Church Street bike shop, West Avenue eatery, and a local wine shop are among the businesses believed to have been affected.
“When I came in in the morning, I found the drawer of our cash register out of our register and sitting on top of the front desk with no money in it, so I immediately knew that someone was in here doing something wrong,” said Colby Smith, manager of Saratoga Signature Interiors, whose store was among those burglarized.
He said it was the first time the shop, located on Church Street since 2003, had been robbed overnight. The desks had been rifled through and he estimated $150 to $300 was taken. Nothing appeared to be broken.
“I was talking with a detective, and we seemed to be in agreement they went through the Bilco (basement) doors – there was a footprint on it - although I’m not 100% certain. The detectives are looking into it.” The door was unlocked, he added. His was one of a handful of area shops burglarized overnight.
“Right now, the way they’re getting in these places is an unlocked window, things like that. Let’s tighten it up. As a society we’ve gotten a sense of comfort – we don’t expect that to happen here, and lo and behold, it happens,” Lt. Jillson says.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate to not have had any kind of sprees like this; We get a couple here and there, maybe something of opportunity, but seven or so in a matter of a week is not the norm for us,” Jillson says. “Seven of them is people going out there on a mission. Someone’s going out there with purpose to break into places, so we have to be a little defensive minded - make sure we throw that deadbolt, that the last person to go out is checking the windows are locked and make sure the police know about it so we can get out there.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Gaffney’s may reopen provided it meets certain criteria. The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) voted to approve the agreement during its full board meeting June 8.
The SLA temporarily suspended the license of Saratoga Hospitality at Gaffney’s LLC, doing business as Gaffney’s, on May 3, following a series of reported incidents of violence.
“There is a clear pattern of behavior which not only threatens public safety, but has become a drain on police resources,” SLA Chairman Vincent Bradley said at the time of the May 3 suspension.
The June 8 proceedings noted multiple altercations and assaults that had occurred at the popular Caroline Street bar on Oct. 31, 2021, and Jan. 1, March 6 and May 1 of this year – the latter of which led to the SLA board imposing an emergency summary order of suspension two days later. Additional proceedings cited the venue as being a “focal point for police attention” last July 3 and Sept. 5, and a “sustained pattern of noise/disorder” on Sept. 5, 2021.
One item coming to light during the recent proceeding is that Gaffney’s did not have permission to stage either live music, or to have a DJ in the six years it has operated under new ownership.
To that point, the Method of Operations application filed by Saratoga Hospitality at Gaffney’s to the SLA checks-off “recorded” music only. Spaces allotted for “DJ,” “Juke Box,” “Karaoke,” and “Live Music” are left blank. As to whether the premises would permit dancing, the “No” box is indicated.
“You had an understanding with us, and it was a legal understanding. It told you what you were allowed to do, and you haven’t been doing it. Your license didn’t give you the opportunities to use DJ’s…your license didn’t allow you to have live music,” SLA Chairman Vincent Bradley told Gaffney’s representatives during the meeting. “You had live music every weekend, or about there, in the summer. You had DJ’s probably the nights you weren’t having live music – Thursday, Friday, Saturday night. Then trouble started, and you kept doing it. People got hurt. Cops got hurt.”
The new agreed-upon conditions of the license are as follows:
• $70,000 civil penalty to be paid within 20 days, or otherwise will cause license revocation.
• Last Call at 1:30 a.m. and closing time at 2 a.m. Currently, and unless otherwise stipulated by county, alcohol may be sold for on-premises consumption elsewhere across New York State until 4 a.m.
• Electronic wanding of all patrons entering the premises after 9:30 p.m.
• Use of an ID scanner for all patrons. Scanner information will be stored for 90 days.
• “Recorded background music only.”
• Must call the police for any physical altercations.
• “All remaining stipulations listed in the memorandum of understanding with the local police department.” The stipulations of the MOU have not yet been finalized with local police Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino, as first reported by Steve Barnes.
On June 14, Gaffney’s issued a statement via its public relations firm. The statement, in its entirety: “We respect and intend to comply with the suspension order. We will work with the State Liquor Authority and the city of Saratoga Springs to rectify this unfortunate situation with the hope of reopening as soon as it is practicable to do so.
“We appreciate the due diligence by the State Liquor Authority for Gaffney’s to reach an agreement that will allow us to reopen our establishment at some point in the near future. The conditions set by both Gaffney’s and the SLA keep the safety of our guests of paramount importance, which has always been a top priority. As reported in the media, the challenges Caroline Street has faced have continued since we closed more than six weeks ago. We intend to help lead those efforts in collaboration with fellow establishments and the city. Further updates regarding our operations and our future will be announced in the coming weeks ahead.”
Correction: note an earlier version explained that unless otherwise stipulated by MUNICIPALITY, alcohol may be sold for on-premises consumption elsewhere across New York State until 4 a.m. That stipulation must be made by the COUNTY, and has been changed to reflect the correction.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCAEH) hosted a roundtable discussion at the Saratoga Springs City Center June 8.
The featured panel included elected officials, members of law enforcement, participating agencies and community partners, each of whom took their turn speaking about homeless issues and answering audience-submitted questions regarding housing, panhandling and homelessness.
The goal of the collaborative effort between agencies and the public showcased what panelists hope is a commitment to ending homelessness in Saratoga County, and addressed everything from housing, policing, addressing mental health and overall medical needs, and support services offered.
Addressing audience questions regarding housing possibilities for the homeless, city Mayor Ron Kim urged members of the public to come to council meetings and voice their respective opinions.
“The City Council has over the past several years dealt with the (housing) issue. We have seen a few proposals from developers. Every time we get a proposal to do low-income or workforce housing – and those are two different levels – the (council room) is filled with people that don’t want it,” said Kim, citing specifically a failed proposal to put low-income housing behind the Price Chopper on Route 50. There have been others.
“I want to emphasize this because people will say that the root of all this is (lack of) housing. You’ll see some proposals as we go along, and we’re very hopeful – but you need to fill the room. Because if there aren’t people who are saying ‘this ought to happen,’ there definitely will be the people who will say ‘it should not,’” the mayor said. “If you want to see (housing for the homeless) happen, and you don’t want to see the person in the vestibule of your business, the next time you see a proposal in front of the City Council, come before us. You need to say: this is what is good for our city as a community.”
In the days that followed the event, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) launched a new Homeless Education Campaign which it says is aimed at educating residents and visitors about area poverty and homelessness.
Titled “Give to Make Change,” the campaign will see informational coffee sleeves distributed at more than 50 Saratoga County Stewart’s Shops with how-to-donate instructions that SOS helps raise critical financial support for solution-based services that help end the cycle of homelessness.
“Community-based services are effective at reducing area homelessness. SOS programs address the immediate need for temporary shelter, and work towards health and economic stabilization that forms the foundation for sustained housing,” said Duane J. Vaughn, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga.
“Give to Make Change” will provide an educational component to a donation drop boxes effort initiated in 2016, overseen by the Special Assessment District. The drop boxes encourage people to support Shelters of Saratoga services, rather than providing money directly to people on the streets, and $30,000 has been donated in the drop boxes in their six years of usage.
The two-hour SCAEH meeting may be viewed at: https://fb.watch/dFGrJH9cVN/.
SARATOGA COUNTY — Producers of the History Channel’s American Pickers are seeking area collectors to potentially visit and feature on the popular TV show in connection with their planned return to New York in August.
“We’re looking for leads throughout the state, specifically interesting characters with fascinating items and lots of them,” said Lynneisha Charles, associate producer of American Pickers. “The way we find people and collections for our show is through spreading the word far and wide so that people know we’re coming to town. Let the people in your backyard know how eager we are to hear their stories.”
Note that the Pickers only pick private collections, so no stores, malls, flea markets, museums, auctions, businesses, or anything open to the public.
PORTER CORNERS — The Town of Greenfield this week staged a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the unveiling of a new “green” playground which officials say is the first installation of a playground in the nation made from recycled ocean waste.
“It is part of our vision to expand our recreation spaces while preserving the natural integrity of our beautiful, wide-open spaces here in Greenfield,” said Town Supervisor Kevin Veitch.
The playground, which will primarily appeal to children 2 to 12 years old, measures 5,184 square feet and is approximately 108-by-48 feet.
Located at Brookhaven Park & Golf Course at 333 Alpine Meadows Road, the playground includes a large climbing piece with two slides and a fire pole; a swing set with infant, single and multiple user options; a spica spinning pole; an arc tunnel climbing net; and five free-standing GreenLine pieces including a toddler train and carriage; an albatross seesaw; a dune buggy rocking toy; and a tipi carousel spinning toy. Cost to the town is $130,000.
The playground highlights leading playground manufacturer Kompan’s new GreenLine products, developed from repurposed materials such as ocean waste and fishing nets.
Kompan’s first circular playground, built on global sustainability goals, was set in May in Denmark. Greenfield officials said the local playground was the first in the country to purchase and install Kompan’s new GreenLine products.
Kompan uses recycled materials, including textiles, food packaging, plastic bags, and discarded fishing equipment to create its raw materials and reports that its emissions have reduced 50% from before the introduction of the new method. Kompan launched its GreenLine products in 2021.
The Town of Greenfield is home to 8,200 residents in Greenfield, Porter Corners and Middle Grove. Future park improvement plans include the renovation of its pavilion, building new restrooms, adding a 1.5 mile walking path and pickle-ball courts and expanding parking.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Forty-eight students at Maple Avenue Middle School have been recognized for their individual displays of kindness and their helpfulness towards other students since 2016.
Those middle school students attending Saratoga Springs School – eight students each year from 2016 to 2021 - received a certificate and a $50 gift card to help purchase school supplies. That recognition was a way of honoring the memory of Billy Wardell, a sixth-grade student who was killed while riding an all-terrain vehicle in Greenfield in 2016.
“People wanted to give and to have some way of memorializing Billy,” said the boy’s grandmother, Sherry Wardell, who helped coordinate the Billy Wardell Memorial Fund.
The students were chosen by teachers. The criteria: kids the teachers have watched all year who have strived to help others, says Sherry Wardell. Caregivers, mentors with anti-bullying attributes. Students, she says, “with a caring heart.”
The Class of 2022, whose commencement takes place June 24, marks what would have been Billy’s graduating class.
As such, Wardell said this year’s recognition of students by the Billy Wardell Memorial Fund will be the final one. With $12,000 remaining in the fund, students Lucas Mergandahl and Isabelle Kelly were selected to each receive an award of $6,000 with the recommendation it be applied towards a skill school or college of their choice.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Gardens at Yaddo have re-opened for public use following the closure of the gardens due to the pandemic more than two years ago.
Spencer Trask gave the Gardens at Yaddo as a gift to his wife Katrina in 1899, and the corporation of Yaddo founded one year later. The estate opened its doors to its first group of guests in 1926, and resident artists were welcomed by George Foster Peabody.
The Yaddo grounds shut down altogether and temporarily suspended its residency for artists during the early days of the pandemic. “While Yaddo has never seen an interruption of this length in its nearly 100 years of service to artists, it has now become apparent that closing altogether is the responsible course of action from a public health standpoint,” Yaddo President Elaina Richardson said on March 13, 2020.
The private portion of the estate, which houses artists-in-residence, reopened in February 2021. The public portion – which includes the gardens, will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during weekends.
Limited parking is available at the entrance to the gardens. Typically, the gardens are among the most popular attractions in Saratoga Springs and receive over 60,000 visits annually.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - their collaboration fittingly born at a Leadbelly tribute concert in 2004, staged the second show of their summerlong tour, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center last week.
They performed 20 songs, the majority culled from the duo’s two albums together – 2007’s “Raising Sand,” and the more recently issued “Raise The Roof,” which dropped in the age of the pandemic sequester. This year’s stagings presented the first opportunity to perform the songs in front of a live audience.
“It’s a big deal for us. We’re very thrilled to be back on the circuit and thrilled to be in this great room that has seen so many magnificent people…like The Dead!” Plant announced from the stage, eliciting a roar of approval from the crowd, a smattering of whom wore T-shirts emblazoned with Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song décor.
More than a half-century has rambled on since Robert Plant first performed in the region. Back then, it was a newly formed Led Zeppelin that played the Aerodrome nightclub on State Street in Schenectady on an August night in 1969 - two days after Jimi Hendrix had famously wrung the notes of the Star-Spangled Banner from his guitar atop the Woodstock Festival stage.
Plant and Krauss came onstage at SPAC with little advance fanfare and arrived from different entry points. Krauss dressed in florals and entered from stage right; Plant from stage left, an oversized shirt draped over his pleatherette trousers. A backlit swatch of classy draperies, swooping and beveled in looping arcs illuminated like an ever-changing mood ring, conditioning the atmosphere with an art deco hue.
In addition to their own collaborative songbook, the duo performed a trio of Everly Brothers tunes, and an assortment of rhythm & blues odes to Little Milton and Allen Toussaint, Plant cultivating the roots of his bluesy garden, Krauss providing sympatico vocals and displaying her fiddling talents as reigning bluegrass queen.
They also dipped into the Led Zeppelin songbook. “The Battle of Evermore” fit perfectly into the ensemble’s overall presentation, and a tastefully ominous “When The Levve Breaks” (covering Led Zeppelin who covered the chilling 1920s song), had Plant throttling maracas and Krauss unsheathing her bow across the strings of her fiddle.
A reworked rendition of “Rock and Roll” – think skiffling up-tempo Marc Bolanesque riffs, maraca percussion and a fiddle solo – was an early crowd favorite. Plant grooved with physical economy, snapping fingers here, clapping and giving the thumbs-up there, as an ever-present breeze tousled his long silver-blond mane.
“I got a few moves from Elvis and one or two from Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf and threw them together,” he once laughingly explained his stage moves to the New York Times’ Neil Strauss.
In some ways the event was not dissimilar to Bruce Springsteen’s showcase at the same venue, when Springsteen came to town during the Seeger Sessions Band Tour: well-known tunes offered up for a different way of hearing.
A quintet of musicians supported the duo on stage. They included multi-instrumentalists Viktor Krauss and Stuart Duncan, a rhythm section comprised of Jay Bellerose (drums) and Dennis Crouch (upright bass), and guitarist J.D. McPherson.
McPherson performed double duty, delivering a lean and clean set of twang-a-billy as the night’s opening act, which included a stripped-raw rendition of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” that reminded you how just much fun that song is when distanced from the overplay of commercial TV, as well as just how weird Iggy’s lyrics can be.
On a night that largely celebrated the music of 20th Century Middle America, there existed also a memorable nod to the nostalgia that was Robert Plant’s earlier offerings, particularly in those moments when his voice climbed to the aspirations of classic upper-register screams. Ringing familiar bells, the crowd loved it.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A roundtable community discussion will take place at the Saratoga Springs City Center at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8 regarding homelessness and panhandling in the city.
The event is hosted by the Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness and will include Opening Remarks by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, an introduction of Roundtable Speakers by city Mayor Ron Kim.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) details four criteria for defining homeless. They are: Literally Homeless (such as a primary nighttime residence not meant for human habitation); Imminent Risk of Homelessness (Individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence); Homeless Under Other Federal Statutes, and any individual or family fleeing domestic violence with no other residence or the resources to obtain permanent housing.
More than 200 people in the Saratoga region are homeless on any given night, and over 33% of families in Saratoga County are experiencing financial hardship and at-risk of homelessness, according to Shelters of Saratoga.
During the roundtable community discussion on June 8, Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness cochair Andy Gilpin will discuss Saratoga Springs homelessness demographics and a strategic plan.
Open questions from the public in attendance will be facilitated by Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino.
The community is invited to fill out a survey in advance, so that panelists may address questions directly from the Community. A link to that survey is at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/homelessnesscommunitysurvey
Local Human Service Organizations represented on the panel include: CAPTAIN Community Human Services; The Community Health Center; The Prevention Council; RISE Housing and Support Services; Salvation Army; Shelters of Saratoga.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was 11:30 on a Friday morning in December and the children were in the school playground making believe they were monsters, or earth men, or chasing each other around in a game of tag. Daniel Insetta, the school guard on duty, heard the pops – first one, then another, then two quick shots - and called police.
The stores on Broadway and inside the Pyramid Mall in the mid-1970s were preparing for the holiday season. For residents in and around the city, there was a lot going on. There was a local screening premier of Diana Ross’ “Mahogany” at the Saratoga Cinema at 7 p.m. and Louis and Sally Killen were staging their style of British folk-singing downtown at Lena’s café. Some simply decided to cash their paychecks and set the four bucks aside it would take to purchase the tickets to see Asleep at the Wheel at the Great Saratoga Music Hall later in the month.
In the apartment complex across the street from the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School, building super Jim Rodgers visited George McCode in his second-floor apartment to discuss a $102 rent bill that was due. McCode told the super he thought his wife had already paid the bill, paid it before she left with the couple’s young daughter and headed for Georgia. She had not, the super informed the 32-year-old McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after serving at the Kesselring site in West Milton.
As McCode called his wife on the telephone from his residence inside the Gaslight apartment complex, third-grade teacher Lillian Pratt led 40 students to the playground outside, where they joined their younger elementary schoolmates shortly before noon. McCode hung up the telephone after talking with his wife.
A demolition crew tore through the Empire and Brooklyn hotels north of his apartment on Hamilton Street. The Saratoga Springs Urban Renewal Spring Valley North Project was leveling land to make way for a city center. On South Broadway, Natale American hosted a used car sale in a lot parked with Camaros and Gremlins, Hornets and Torinos. A ’69 Volkswagen Bus could be got for $1,595. Realtors offered four-bedroom Victorian-style colonial homes fitted with fireplaces for $29,900, financing available. At City Hall, the council voted to cut $7,500 in appropriations to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, sending venue general manager Craig Hankenson to embark on a grass-roots fundraising drive to meet budget demands.
Shortly before noon, in the playground at St. Peter’s, third-grade teacher Lillian Pratt heard what she thought were fireworks, coming from the Gaslight Apartments across the street. Second-grade teacher Judy Vetrano heard four pops and when she looked across the schoolyard she saw a little girl lying down in the corner of the playground, blood streaming from her foot.The children were hustled back inside the classrooms of the elementary school building. Some were crying. Two 7-year-old girls were injured.
Kim Bemis was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove the bullet from the heel of her foot. Moira D’Andrea returned to her classroom with a slight wound from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.
When police arrived and sealed off the area, they headed for the housing complex that overlooked the schoolyard across the street. Forcing their way through the barricaded door of McCode’s second-floor apartment, they found four spent 22-cal. shells next to an open living room window. A fifth shell was located next to the 32-year-old man, who was discovered lying on his bedroom floor, bleeding. He died early the next morning at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.
“Every time somebody acts like, hey, it can’t happen in Saratoga Springs, I say, it already has happened in Saratoga Springs,” Police Chief Greg Veitch said about the incident, decades later.
Forty-five minutes after the shooting the building superintendent received a money-telegram from the man’s wife with payment for the rent bill that was due. Kimberly Bemis recovered from the bullet wound, graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1987 and later relocated to Stillwater. Moira D’Andrea became a three-time Olympian speed skater in the 1980s and 90s, relocated to Canada, and became an instructor, teaching others in the sport.
Originally published as “Sniper Takes Aim: It Can’t Happen Here? It Already Has,” in the book “Saratoga Stories: Magic And Loss,” by Thomas Dimopoulos, 2015, Shires Press.