SCHENECTADY — The owners of the last independent hardware store in Schenectady are planning to close their doors.
Marty’s True Value Paint & Hardware on Van Vranken Avenue would be leveled and replaced by a bigger, newer version of the Stewart’s convenience store next door if the plan goes through.
The proposal would give Malta-based Stewart’s Shops a better store in the city’s Northside neighborhood. It would also give the three owners of Marty’s, who range from 57 to 62 years old and have been in the store for decades, a chance to work fewer rigorous hours at another job.
Vice President and co-owner Mike Aragosa said economics aren’t driving the family out the way so many business people have suffered amid competition against online and big-box retailers. It’s simply a matter of time catching up with him and the siblings who run the store with him, and the fact that none of their children has joined the business permanently.
“Our numbers have been good over the years, very good,” Aragosa said. “But you’ve got to understand, for us, our retirement has always been this — selling off the merchandise, selling the building.”
The proposal for 1751 and 1757 Van Vranken Ave. got its first public review at the Aug. 18 city Planning Commission meeting. It was only a preliminary discussion — the proposal first needs three variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the number and height of signs and for the placement of the store’s entrance. The matter is scheduled to come before the ZBA at its Sept. 2 meeting.
The initial reception for the proposal was favorable among the Planning Commission members. One member of the public spoke in favor of the plan and none spoke against, but written public comment indicated a concern about noise.
Gas pumps were removed from the current Stewart’s more than a decade ago, but the new one will feature gas pumps. The concern raised at the meeting is that the intercom speakers at the pumps would be loud enough to disturb neighbors, and that people filling up their tanks would keep their car audio systems blasting the whole time.
A Stewart’s Shops representative said the company would address the intercom volume and didn’t anticipate that being a sticking point. The car stereos, however, are beyond the control of Stewart’s, he said.
The neighbor who spoke in favor of the project said the intercom speakers would be preferable to some of the other noise in the neighborhood.
Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger told the Stewart’s representative that the commissioners would probably be looking for tweaks to the design to increase its sense of connection to the sidewalk and the neighborhood, and complimented Stewart’s for consistently being a diligent applicant with its proposals in the city — this would be the chain’s fourth big project in Schenectady in five years.
Marty’s Hardware has been owned and operated by the Aragosa family for 46 years — originally at 1807 Van Vranken Ave., then at 1559 Van Vranken, and finally at 1751 Van Vranken since 1999. Manny and the late Marilyn Aragosa raised their six children at the corner of Foster Avenue and Alexander Street, not too far from the hardware store originally operated by Marty Santulli.
“The story goes, my father went to the hardware store back in 1974 to get a piece of glass for the window we broke and the guy asked him, ‘Do you want to buy a hardware store?’ That where it all started,” Mike Aragosa said.
That first store at 1807 Van Vranken was tiny, and 1559 Van Vranken was small as well, but it was expanded twice. But 1751 Van Vranken — the home of Codino’s Foods before it relocated to Glenville — offered real space, even before the family expanded it. Gross sales figures doubled in their first full year there.
The neighborhood traffic has been good, but commercial accounts have been important, too. School districts, businesses and governments have all been steady customers over the years. The people who salt downtown Schenectady sidewalks in a snowstorm would often find themselves out of salt at 3 a.m. and give Mike a call. A procurement officer in Colorado routinely buys supplies for the 109th Airlift Wing to fly into polar regions.
“A lot of that is because they know if they need something, they call me or they call Joe direct,” Mike Aragosa said. “When you call some of these big companies you don’t know who you’re going to get.”
If the deal goes through and Marty’s closes as planned, there will be no independent hardware stores left in the city with that kind of institutional memory.
“The closest now after we leave will be Burnt Hills Hardware,” Mike Aragosa said, “or Bellevue [Builders Supply] for people on that side of town.”
Mike Aragosa said he’ll keep working, but probably five days a week instead of seven, and possibly in the home repair field, which he has some experience in.
Joe Aragosa also plans to keep working, but hasn’t decided his next move.
Their sister Lynne Ranze, who does a lot of the in-store repair work for customers, has never worked anywhere else, unlike the other two co-owners. She’s thinking of retiring altogether, or at least scaling back to part-time.
Many of the next generation of Aragosas worked at the store, but none stayed — they went into speech pathology, military service, data analytics instead. Mike’s daughter Jenna is the only one still working there, and she’s also training to be a baker.
So everyone has a next chapter in mind.
2020 was supposed to be a landmark construction year for Stewart’s Shops — $75 million worth of projects to mark their 75th year in business. That was the plan. In March, the worst public health crisis in 102 years knocked the plan off track.
Stewart’s now expects to spend $50 million on construction this year, which is the same amount it has been spending annually for the past several years, spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said.
As construction came to a halt with the spread of COVID-19, sales underwent a marked shift at the more-than 300 Stewart’s locations, she said: People bought less gasoline and more milk and bread as they stayed home. Scooped ice cream and self-serve coffee sales dropped as prepared coffee and packaged ice cream sales jumped.
That all began to ease back to normal as the economy began to reopen.
“We are kind of seeing it balance out now,” Komoroske said.
The Van Vranken Avenue store would be the fourth major project in five years in Schenectady:
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