All Time Top Ten Amsterdam Short-Lived Businesses

Flash in the pans! Here today gone tomorrow! Whatever happened to…? Amsterdam has certainly had its share of businesses that experienced short lifespans. In my next Top Ten Bonus List, I describe ten such enterprises. Here’s three entries from that list, not in any particular order:

The Carl Company Store in the Amsterdam Mall – One of the truly nice things Amsterdam, New York’s controversial downtown shopping mall brought to the city was The Carl Company department store that opened there in 1981. Though that particular Carl’s outlet was only in existence for about a decade, the company that owned it could actually trace its beginnings back to 1891, when Charles W. Carl opened up a dry goods store in Medina, NY and then followed that up by opening up similar stores in nearby communities. In 1906 he sold all of them and took the money and his family to Schenectady, NY where they opened the flagship Carl Co. Department Store. It quickly became one of the Electric City’s favorite shopping destinations. It took awhile before the Carl’s started expanding to other locations and when they did, they did so slowly and stuck close to home, opening two new locations in the suburbs of Schenectady in 1954 and 1963 respectively. In 1973 they entered the Saratoga market and in 1976, Clifton Park. Meanwhile, more than a few Amsterdamian’s used to make shopping trips to downtown Schenectady pretty regularly and Carl’s flagship store was one of the reasons why. The business had been advertising to the Amsterdam market with newspaper ads for generations, especially at Christmas time so when they were approached by Mall developers to take an anchor store position they decided to take the plunge and the water they dove into was perfect at first. It quickly became one of Amsterdam’s and my family’s favorite shopping stops. Though it was much smaller than the behemoth big box department stores anchoring Colonie Center and Mohawk Mall, The Carl Company Store in Amsterdam carried just enough products and variety to make it well worth the trip. I can’t tell you how many times I rushed down there to grab a birthday or anniversary gift, a dress shirt or a pair of well-priced khaki pants. And the store’s small but well-staffed restaurant became a favorite lunch spot for me and my wife. It was when Carl Co. announced in February of 1991 that it was closing all of its stores that I knew the Amsterdam Downtown Store was going to eventually collapse as a viable retail shopping center.

7 Flags Raceway – Fifty years ago this month a brand new business opened up in the space once occupied by the Regent Movie Theater on lower Market Street in Amsterdam. Nearby Fonda, NY had stock car racing. Further north up Route 67, Saratoga was a Mecca for horse racing and on a cool Friday night in November of 1967, the old Rug City became the home of slot car racing. Slot cars are powered miniature autos that are guided by slots or grooves in the tracks on which they are run. Back before PlayStation game systems existed, miniature slot car tracks were as real as it got when it came to live action replication of an actual sports activity. Many of my friends had slot tracks set up in their homes. The craze wasn’t just for kids either. Hordes of adults who always dreamed of getting behind the wheel of a real race car were able to capture a similar thrill by controlling a toy version of one. Ralph Fisher was one of those adults and slot car racing became his favorite hobby. But Fisher also had some entrepreneurial blood flowing in his veins and he decided to turn his hobby into a business. He and his wife invested in three huge custom built slot car tracks, each wide enough to accommodate eight cars. They set them up inside the long vacant Amsterdam cinema. They hung checkered flags off the front marquis and sold spiffy and pricey slot cars from the theaters old concession stand. Customers rented racing time on the tracks and on weekends the Fishers sponsored actual races for different age groups and classes of cars. Entry fees were charged and trophies awarded the winners. When it first opened, Amsterdam teens including me flocked to the venue. But gradually, the novelty wore off. Before too long the Fishers moved the business to a smaller East Main Street storefront that was less expensive to heat and light than the drafty old Regent and not long after that, Seven Flags Raceway had become another Amsterdam memory.

Amsterdam Star – With the advent of the Internet, viral marketing and social networking the term “buzz” has taken on a whole new meaning and dimension in the 21st Century. But way back in 1994, when Steve Picciocca Jr. and Dave Dalfonso left their jobs with the Amsterdam Recorder to start their own weekly newspaper, the “buzz” they were able to create within this community achieved cyberspace level speed and voltage. Then two years later, when another former Recorder staffer named Brad Broyles decided to join the pair and invest in the venture, the Star became a daily and for the next couple of months, the war was on between the two publications for the eyes and subscription dollars of Amsterdam’s newspaper readers. It ended just 78 issues into the daily Star’s run, when the upstart suddenly and without prior public warning, folded. But it was sweet while it lasted. Though Picciocca’s background was as head of the Recorder Circulation Department, he was also a very strong and creative writer and his Star columns and editorials were must reading. Dalfonso on the other hand, was one of this city’s most effective media ad sales professionals during his days at the Recorder and he brought that expertise and his contact list with him to the Star. They published the Star in the same no-fold tabloid format of the New York Daily News and they made it a morning paper so they could beat the Recorder’s evening edition to Amsterdam’s doorsteps. The fledgling broadside certainly had a steep mountain to climb because the Recorder claimed a three-to-one advantage in subscriptions which made their ad space an easier sell. But Picciocca and Dalfonso were young, energetic and in it for the long haul. Evidently Broyles did not share their enthusiasm because he suddenly and unexpectedly closed down the business, disappointing thousands of local news enthusiasts who hated to see the Amsterdam Star cease operations.

I have seven more memorable short-lived Amsterdam businesses on my newest Bonus List. I will share them all via the next issue of my newsletter. This will be the third Amsterdam NY Top Ten BONUS List I’ve completed and it will be distributed to all those folks who purchase a copy of my new book; Fifty Amsterdam, NY Top Ten Lists. If you purchased the book, I will be e-mailing you a copy of this complete list some time during the next three weeks. If you’d like to order a copy of the book before then so you can receive this Bonus List plus all the additional bonus lists I’ll be distributing during the next 12 months, you can order your copy here.

I already have the e-mail addresses of all the folks who purchased the book online or directly from me. If you purchased your copy from Liberty Fresh Market or the Book Hound, please e-mail me (cinquantim@genium.com ) with your e-mail address so I can send you the new Top Ten lists I continue to compile. I was also recently interviewed about my new Amsterdam Top Ten Lists book by the one-and-only Bob Cudmore for his outstanding Historians Podcasts Series. You can listen to that interview here.

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