5 places to check out on Upper Union Street

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By Liz Clancy Lerner

Albany's got Lark. Saratoga has Broadway. And Troy's got River. So what about Schenectady's walkable hub of shopping and dining?

With Proctors, the Greenmarket and a handful of restaurants - downtown is great. But when I'm looking to get some food, pick up gifts, and get errands done, my vote's for Upper Union Street. Thanks to efforts by local business owners and the Upper Union Street BID, the strip has grown into a lineup of unique, locally-owned stores run by passionate people.

Here are five places worth checking out...

Bel Cibo - 1740 Union Street

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Union Bel Cibo Emulsion Small Look for a folding white sidewalk sign outside of Bel Cibo (pronounced chee-bow) -- otherwise it's easy to miss the store as you pass by. The gourmet food store carries interesting sugars (like espresso), mixes, vinegars (blueberry balsamic), crackers, and just about any unique food product you can think up.

Union Bel Cibo Int SmallFor a small store, they've got a lot to choose from. Owner, Jeanette Massaro -- who opened the store in the fall -- wants what her customers want so if you there's something you want her to carry, just speak up.

Good to know: they'll throw you a spice party if you get 8-14 people together (and you can bring your own wine).

Divinitea - 1708 Union Street

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Union Divinitea Brick SmallIf you drink tea, this is a must visit. And if you don't, I still recommend it.

Owner Linda Smith -- a master tea taster -- carries close to 300 varieties of loose-leaf organic tea that she and her staff blend. They also carry unique teapots, teacups and tea sets. But the most interesting thing I saw there was an edible piece of art -- a tea brick that was pressed in China.

Linda's had her tea business for over 15 years (she sells mostly wholesale) and this past fall she opened up a retail storefront on Upper Union. Linda and her staff really take their time to find a tea that's right for you and they're more than happy to give you a sample.

Good to know: You can't buy tea by the cup there (they don't have the licensing for it), but they do often have tea tastings on Saturday mornings -- just call ahead. You'll find their tea at lots of local cafes and restaurants like Midtown Tap and Tea and Ultraviolet Cafe in Albany, and Apostrophe in the Proctors lobby.

Gershon's - 1600 Union Street

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Union Gershon Sandwich small The Jewish deli that many locals think of when they hear Upper Union Street, Gershon's has been around for over 50 years. Most days they open at 7 am and close at 6 pm, meaning you can get your bagel and lox for breakfast and "overstuffed" corned beef and pastrami sandwich for lunch.

The deli counter has the staples: kosher pickles, potato salads, knish. The lines can be long. Sandwich prices are often in the $9 range. Check out the reviews on Yelp.

Good to know: Parking can be tricky, but there's a free lot to park in between Woodland Ave and Dean Street (behind the AAA building).

Head to Tail Pet Wellness Center - 1604 Union Street

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The interior of Head to Tail is literally packed with cat and dog treats, toys, and natural, organic, holistic food -- so much so that the owner, Marie DeBrocky, is expanding the business to include space next door (it should be done in June).

Marie worked for a lobbying firm for years before she decided to open a store for pets and their owners. Her grooming and dog day care services often have waiting lists.

Rubbin Butts - 1599 Union Street

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Union Rubbin Butts Sandwich SmallA chef that was awarded a "Best of Boston" in the 80s, and Carolina-style BBQ, and a name that you won't forget -- all things you'll find at Ron Nicoletta 6-month-old place on Upper Union. (But this isn't his first rodeo; it's actually his 15th restaurant.)

He serves a lot of BBQ, and I can vouch for his pulled pork, brisket, ribs, cheese grits, and cole slaw. They're all delicious, and the décor is fun. He lets patrons sign his décor and the "rubbin butts" theme is all over the place.

Good to know: The original Rubbin Butts is in Cobelskill.

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Also of note on Upper Union: There's a neat vintage furniture shop, a good sushi place, four pizza parlors and about 60 other businesses to visit. Check out the Upper Union Street BID website for more information.

Find It

Upper Union Street
Union Street
Schenectady, NY 12309

Comments

My family grabbed sandwiches last weekend at Gershon's -- yum! The three of us each had roast beef and it was melt in your mouth good. The pickle was terrific as well. Next time I can't wait to try some of their salads.

I second the Yelpers who singled out the tuna rings salad at Gershons as outstanding. With all the interest in Upstate Cuisine why don't we hear more about the wonderful world of mayonaise-based salads up here?

Troy's got River through 4th Street, albeit with varying levels of decay.

What an eclectic mix. Definitely not your typical strip mall.

I'm too scared to go to Schenectady.

@Ron, don't be scared to go to Schenectady! Upper Union Street is definitely one of the nicer areas of the city. I'm glad to see activity is on the rise in this business district.

Yay Head to Tail!!! I live AND work in Albany, but once a week I transform my 5 minute commute into a real trek to bring my pup to see Marie and the fantastic staff at head to tail for daycare. He loves it, I love it and they are just the best people ever.

... a folding white sidewalk sign ...

That's called a sandwich board -- a name that makes more sense once you picture a "sandwich man" wearing one.

LQ

This is good stuff to know!

Mr. Wasabi is the really really good Japanese in that neighborhood. So good that even with all the other options between my job in Schenectady and my home in Albany, my Valentines Day dinner came from there.

And yeah, Ron, don't be scared of this area - seriously, it's so nice, I'd move over there in a minute. I can't defend Schenectady - the Jay Street corridor, which also has interesting shops... well, that's another story. Sadly, it's pretty dicey even in broad day light in the dead of winter. Upper Union, though, is another world.

Those who are scared of Schenectady just haven't been uptown OR downtown within the last 5 years. Major investment has been put into both areas and it shows.

Besides, we're nearly in Niskayuna.

Another good to know: the Upper Union Street BID holds a Strawberry Festival every year in conjunction with the Saturday Niskayuna Farmer's Market. This year's will be held on June 18th, complete with samples from the restaurants, sales at the stores, street performers and local bands. Think of it as a town open house, like Saratoga's Chowder Fest without the snow with strawberries!

Divinitea is the real deal. They know what they are doing, and have great stuff. Gershon's may well be the best Jewish style deli we have in the region, but it's just not at the same level as Manhattan or Montreal.

I really want to like Rubbin' Butts more than I do. They have far too many microwaves and can openers for my taste. But I did enjoy their Texas style brisket (their Carolina pork and slaw didn't quite make the grade).

Bel Cibo is a cute little shop, but I just don't get it.

Regardless, I've never felt uncomfortable walking around Schenectady in any area where there are good things to eat. Speaking of which, the Jewish Food Festival is right around the corner from Upper Union this Sunday. I'll be there, as will Leah the Nosher. You should come.

I've seen WAY sketchier stuff in Albany than I have ever seen in Schenectady. Upper Union is totally safe and downtown the main drag is well lit and frequently patrolled. Worst you'll encounter is a bum or our resident bongo player. :-)

Love the places mentioned so far. Upper Union Street has a dozen or so places to eat including award-winning Scotti's Italian Restaurant, Hot Harry's Fresh Burritos, Mr. Wasibi, and the City Squire, famed for its wings and which is among the oldest continuing running pubs in Schenectady. Check out Musler's for stylish women's clothing, Simon's for great men's clothing (including Tommy Bahama), Michael's Shoe Service (one of the only shoe repair shops in the region), Sow's Ear Studio (really a great gift shop) & Art Gallery, and more! Agree totally that this is a safe, walkable area! It's like an old time "Main Street."

I have to say, I absolutely loved Bel Cibo. The owner was nothing short of an angel in her kindness, and she was willing to talk with me about her products and my tastes for what seemed like the better part of an hour. Her store's friendly demeanor, as well as her own, has guaranteed my return to her store, and I hope many others will look for and visit her quaint little place. All of the best luck to you Ms. Jeanette!

I have to say how great it is to have a shop like Bel Cibo in Schenectady. Ms.Massaro(owner) is a world of knowledge when you new want ideas for meals. I have visited the shop several times picking up items not only for my family but for friends too. There are so many delicious things to try, that's why I keep going back!

So glad that I didn't live in this area before moving to Schenectady. If I had, I'd probably be prejudiced against it, too, because I've heard so many negative comments from people who are native to this area (most from people who do NOT live in Schenectady). I LOVE Schenectady! Real estate prices are so low, yet taxes are high on those prices, but it's a great place to live. I moved here in 2003, and I live in the Union St area, and I'm thrilled with the changes I see taking place in Schenectady. This is a great little city!

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