We’ve expressed skepticism that a year-round farmers market on South Street in Glens Falls will be the magical key that opens the door to downtown revitalization and citywide prosperity.
You have to have a critical mass of people who live in downtown and can walk to the farmers market for it to work, we’ve argued. You have to have a concentration of other businesses and events that draw people in to the city from the surrounding communities. You have to have an arts scene and recreational opportunities to make the city vibrant.
But guess what? All of those things are happening, too.
It is largely the rental of apartments in the upper floors that is driving the purchase and rehabilitation of downtown buildings. Scores of new apartments have been rented in the past few years and scores more are on their way, with no sign that the market is glutted. All of those new downtown residents are creating a demand for restaurants — especially restaurants — but also specialty shops and a farmers market.
All these new businesses, especially the restaurants, are drawing in customers from the communities that surround the city. These customers are looking not only for a specific dining or shopping experience but for the ambiance created by the concentration of people and parks and shops of a city, even a small city like Glens Falls.
The city also has numerous summer festivals, street fairs and art openings, along with recreational possibilities on bike and walking paths.
Sometimes, the reinvention attempts by aging cities smack more of desperation than hope, as they promote their annual petunia festival and the wonderful show the cloggers put on each year. But the Glens Falls renaissance is real. If you doubt it, compare the number of empty buildings downtown 10 or 20 years ago, and what they were selling for, to now.
It’s not a boom, but gradually the city is filing up with commerce and activity, and along the way its character is changing. In a recent Post-Star story, longtime local entrepreneur Peter Shabat lamented the loss of various nightspots that used to make the city busy, especially after midnight.
But we do not consider the closing of certain bars known for late-night noise and fights and police calls as a loss. Some of the buildings on South Street that hosted those establishments are empty now, but by the fall they will either be filled with new businesses or torn down to make way for new businesses. In its new incarnation, South Street is becoming less likely to be the scene of a stabbing or a drug deal, making it more attractive to more people as a gathering place.
Misguided folks may wax nostalgic about the fun old days on South Street, but in reality, the street had declined by the 1990s into a place many people avoided, even during the daytime. It is not so much being reimagined now as returned to its heyday as the busy center of the city’s commercial district. That’s something to celebrate.
Glens Falls keeps surprising us with its resilience. Few small cities in New York have been able to pull off a full-fledged downtown revitalization, complete with rising property values (Saratoga Springs is an exception,) but it looks like Glens Falls is going to make it. We’re cheering.