Thinking about the future of Lark Street

Lark Street Village in the City sign 2016-January

The state of "The Village in the City."

If there is one constant about cities, it is that they are always changing. Businesses open and close. People move in and out.

In Albany a lot of the recent discussion about neighborhood ebb and flow has been focused on Lark Street and the Washington Park neighborhood. The last few years have seen a lot of change on the stretch of Lark between Madison and Washington, and the recent closing of Justin's leaves another empty storefront on the street.

So is this part of the natural ebb and flow of a neighborhood? Or is it something more?

We asked a handful of people who live, work, and own businesses on Lark Street and in the surrounding neighborhood to share some of their thoughts about the direction of Lark Street -- and to tell us what they'd like to see happen in the neighborhood.

Matt Baumgartner
Entrepreneur, owner of Bombers, Wolff's, The Olde English

As someone who has owned a business on Lark Street for 20 years, and someone who lived on Lark Street for 10 years, I have witnessed the many ups and downs of Lark Street. Professionally, Bombers on Lark Street is thriving, so I can't complain. Personally, I miss the old Lark Street with the romantically-lit trees. I miss Justin's Restaurant from the 90s. I miss Shades of Green.

On a positive note, the newly opened Lark + Lily Wine Bar is exactly the type of business that Lark Street needs: independently owned by a caring, creative, smart businessperson like Silvia Lilly. I love that place. I wish more people like Silvia would come to Lark Street and open up cool NYC-style restaurants, they would do well.

I am not quite sure why Lark Street hasn't had the influx of new culinary talent like other areas have seen. Rent is affordable, the buildings are beautiful, there is a unique blend of built-in residential and commercial neighbors. It has been our most successful restaurant of all!

Lark Street needs to reach out and court businesses that will be good for the street. It requires someone on that team curating Lark Street, saying "We need to have a farm-to-table restaurant, we need a yoga studio, etc..." and making the phone calls to those specific private owners. They need to facilitate the conversation between the owners of those buildings and potential business owners.

bombers lark street exterior 2016-January

The very first time that happened to me was when Schenectady reached out to me for Bombers. At the time I had not been away from Union College and GE for very long. They had just renovated Proctors. I said, "I'm not ready to open anything in Schenectady." But they kept trying. Eventually I agreed, and they showed me three or four spaces, and just by doing that, it got my creative juices flowing. They were really "wining and dining" me. It felt good and made me feel important. They talked about incentives and how to buy a building and low-interest loans. They mentioned things that were real factors to me. And at the time, I bought the building really cheap.

That was the first experience of a city reaching out to me. The same thing happened in Rochester, and while I was there I tweeted about it, and Syracuse reached out and said please come take a look at us. I was not going to open a business in Syracuse, but I stopped by on the way home and they showed me this old firehouse and it was just perfect. In the last four months the mayor of Utica himself has called me four times and said, "I will not take no for an answer."

So I think Albany as a whole can do a lot better -- but Lark Street especially. And I think it requires someone at the Lark Street BID calling someone like Vic Christopher, for example, and saying, "I know you're a Troy boy, but we want to show you some buildings..." and showing him a few things. But I think Lark Street is doing the best they can given the resources.

Also, I don't want to beat a dead horse with the lights, but it was only because of the all-year-around Christmas lights that I went to Lark Street in the first place. It felt like a beautiful, little, romantic street and it doesn't feel like that anymore. However, as much as I love the Warehouse District in Albany, Lark Street will always be my favorite.

Jason D'Cruz and Shadi Khadivi
Neighborhood residents

Jason
In the last few years we've seen new businesses pop up that are started by young people who care about what they make or sell. Stacks Espresso bar has the right beans, the right tools, and the right processes. Brew fills growlers with craft beer that is selected for quality and freshness. Seasons Skate Shop is run by diehard skaters who cater to people who are equally passionate. It's true that we see business fail on Lark. To survive and to thrive, shops and restaurants must rise above the prevailing mediocrity. And that's a good thing.

Shadi
I think the direction is positive -- I think it is slow and steady. A lot of people are concerned about the Madison side of Lark Street with all of those restaurants closing down, but there are a lot of opportunities on the Washington Avenue side. The library has a maker studio space and if they ran out of space it would be amazing -- they could expand to the old Key Bank space. There's a lot of really nice business spaces --it's getting the businesses to open up.

Thinking about Lark Street not just as Lark Street but as the surrounding neighborhoods as a whole. Success on Lark Street is not just about Lark Street, it's also about Washington, it's about Madison. And Lark Street goes down to Clinton. They have to think of not being so car-centric and not trying to pull people in by saying, oh we have these opportune parking spots, but thinking about the fact that we are in a walkable community and it doesn't take much to get to these places. Walking up and down Lark Street is nice, but making a right onto Madison and coming back to Willett and coming back is even better.

Washington Ave Albany Umana Terra et al 2016-January
Washington Ave, across from Townsend Park, near Lark Street

I would love to see more outdoor cafes. The hope would be a really nice indoor farmers market where the Key Bank was. I would love to see businesses that are not just tchotchke shops. There's a lot of potential for restaurants -- we have a lot of great restaurants. I would love to see more stores that deal with housewares. My ultimate dream would be that building on Washington -- the four-story [former] car dealership -- on the first floor would be a really beautiful restaurant with local foods, above it would be a Crate & Barrel, above that would be a Marimekko or an Apple Store, and above that would be artist apartments that would be subsidized by the spaces below.

And if things like that happen on Washington or Central that would really impact Lark Street in a positive way because you are looking at it with a new lease. Townsend Park, to me, is a beautiful example of an urban opportunity... an outdoor farmers market there would be amazing. You could thread canopies through the trees and people could walk through there rather than through a parking garage.

Richard Conti
Albany Common Council member 6th Ward

When I look at Lark Street I look at the surrounding neighborhoods. As a mixed-use commercial corridor, Lark Street needs to build on the strength of its surrounding residential environment to draw support and grow, that also includes opportunities from daytime workers who commute into the neighborhood. That means a diverse business environment which includes food and entertainment as well as retail and service oriented establishments.

The residential communities surrounding Lark Street continue to show strength, and new residential and commercial developments in Park South should be seen as opportunities for further development. While we always focus on a vacant property, in recent years we've seen new investment and new businesses opening within the Lark Street neighborhood and new commercial space coming online. The challenge has always been creating a good assessment of need and a good marketing strategy to promote balanced development. I'm optimistic about the future.

Brew on Lark Street

August Rosa
Co-owner of Brew

I'd love to see any storefront that says "for rent" on it to be utilized, and I feel like our shop is proof that good ideas can work in this environment and that the community will support them.

I'm absolutely hopeful. I think everything is cyclical and any storefront that you see that is not filled that says for rent, it will get there. It's just the natural progression.

for rent space on Lark Street

Iggy Calabria
Crisan Bakery, Washington Park neighborhood resident

Lark Street is small and doesn't have much opportunity for business. Many of the buildings along Lark are residential, making a storefront impossible. People therefore do their shopping and browsing elsewhere. Lark offers mainly consumables with a few exceptions. Mostly bars and restaurants. There is also a disconnect between businesses; not a sense of community or healthy competition you find in Hudson or Troy. Some businesses therefore merely sustain or provide the bare minimum for their purposes.

What Lark needs is more opportunities for people to browse and shop for things they want or need; daytime shopping and browsing. More storefronts offering interesting, quality products. Warren Street [in Hudson] is huge so it's not the best example, but almost every store is open and proud of what they're offering. Troy has change, life, electricity, activity. I don't see any of that on Lark. It's in a tough rut right now and we definitely contributed [when we closed the Crisan cafe], but we didn't cause it. We saw it happening a year ago.

Shauna Collins
Director of the Lark Street BID

The heart of Albany, Lark Street, continues to beat strong into 2016, as the efforts made by the Lark Street BID in the past 18 months look to continue to invest back into the Lark Street corridor. The BID has streamlined operations and trimmed significant budget expenses -- using those savings to be able to reinvest nearly $100,000 back into the corridor in 2016.

The BID, with its board and prospective investors into the corridor, are excited to announce the following updates as part of the first quarter of 2016 (based upon good-faith understanding and/or executed agreements).

+ New owner-operators for the former DeJohn's/Legends space and Justin's restaurant.
+ New construction at the corner of Madison Avenue and Lark Street (former Tandoor Palace location) is set to be complete. Building includes upscale apartments and a potential tenant has been secured for the first floor retail space.
+ A new coffee shop will open next to the Downtube on Madison Avenue.
+ The now-former Little Moon building has been purchased by the owners of El Loco's Mexican Café and will be converted for a commercial tenant in the next month.
+ The former Totem sushi bar will be turned into a new dining concept by the owners of El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant.
+ The former Spa Virgo space had been vacant for 30 days and now will be filled by a new spa.
+ The latter half of 2015 saw the opening of Lark + Lily, The Brakes Coffeehouse and Provisions, and Healthy on Lark, with TapAsia set to open in the near future. All four businesses are woman-owned and operated.

The BID's relationships with the surrounding neighborhood associations have also improved significantly as the BID seeks their input and partnerships on a number of BID events, including two private BID fundraisers taking place in February.

NEEDS:

The BID celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2016. That being said, the Lark Street BID is one of the smallest BIDs, if not the smallest, in New York State and Lark Street's needs are no different than any other downtown. Grants, donations, reinvestment, and favorable zoning are of course critical to its survival. With that being said, and even with a number of closures on the street in 2015, commercial properties on Lark Street presently enjoy a nearly 94 percent occupancy rate.

The BID is actively involved with the city of Albany in its rezone initiative and anxiously awaits the results. Once released, Lark Street will be in a great spot and poised to take advantage of long-standing zoning inequalities that have hampered development on the street.

Many things in business are cyclical and Lark Street is no exception. With the impact of "the new cost of doing business" over the last 10 years, these economic downturns impact small businesses especially hard. In addition, a small business closing within such a small environment such as Lark Street will have a deeper ripple effect than a shopping center vacancy.

As we move forward we look forward to additional retail being added to the corridor. When inquiring, we often hear a need for an additional clothing store, a gourmet food shop, a gym, a yoga place, more options for artists to showcase their work, and of course more dining options. We could not agree more that Lark Street needs all of the above and are beyond optimistic that as our relationships grow we will entice new businesses to join us.

Lark at Hudson Ave

Rachelle Gonzalez
Florist/student

I think the loss of all the businesses that has been happening in the past few years is kind of sad to see. But I'm hoping younger people will start buying business and turn all the abandoned buildings into productive things for the community. The Brakes for example, and Stacks. It's just nice to see younger people buying businesses. It would be cool to have a grocery store -- and more clothing stores. It would be great to see more community activities -- music or art or even just food -- more good restaurants. I just went to Austin and noticed that almost every bar has a food truck attached to it -- it might be fun to see businesses working together that way. It would be cool to see more outdoor events, too. Not just two a year.

Lark - Kinnaree.jpg

Jamaree Rajrawiwong
Owner of Kinnaree Asian Restaurant

Parking is very important. And more restaurants -- different kinds of restaurants. Maybe a fresh, healthy food cafe or a juice bar would be nice. And more security in this area. Sometimes our people have trouble with drunk people on the street. I know they try, but a little more security. Also we need someone to clean. Outside of my place is a bus stop and it gets very dirty. We all help, but it's not enough. People sometimes walk their dog and don't clean up after them.

Lark Street near Lark Natural Foods

Sajid Memon
Owner of Lark Natural Foods

Recently we have seen more businesses open up and people are getting more health conscious and there are other healthy restaurants in the area. HighOffKicks closed next door to me. It's the second business that closed in a few years. We would like to see more stores -- maybe a fitness center nearby. I think that would be great. Parking is the number one problem. I can not rely on any other audience than just the neighborhood. If they could designate a couple of spots for the businesses -- it may be a crazy idea but it might help us.

Elissa Halloran
Owner of Elissa Halloran Designs

I think Lark Street needs a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. No really -- a great bakery would be an excellent addition to the street. (I miss being able to walk into Crisan and get hot chocolate and a sweet.) A great gourmet food court in the old Key Bank -- like Quincy Market in Boston. I would love to have more retail, maybe some antique stores. Also, a nice neighborhood restaurant where you can have a burger and a beer (like DeJohn's used to be).

Elissa Halloran Designs

Right now, I see Lark Street as being in flux, but I think it is always morphing, always changing. I have been on the street for 15 years, and have seen many phases of the street. It is ripe for some innovative entrepreneurs to come in and start some new businesses. I think that is what makes Lark street exciting -- it is mostly small businesses, run by individuals instead of big companies. That is why I love it here, and I will stay here through thick and thin. I believe in Lark Street. I have found my livelihood here.

Bill Pettit
Neighborhood resident, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association

I moved to State Street in 1988. The difference between then and now is not all that wide. The bars and restaurants have all changed names and styles but, really, the buildings are still bars and restaurants. Upscale, downscale all in between. Sure, some go south -- Justin's and associated debacle as an example -- but others move up in scale. Lionheart has grown well. Nothing stays empty forever, count on that. The wineshop has gone from a metal shelf shit hole bum winery to something that is almost a treasure. Retail. Retail. Retail. Back in the early 80s there was more retail.

second floor empty retail space

My 2 cents: It's fine as it is, was, and will be. It has never been what some people think it is or should be: trendy, fun shopping boutiquey place, just as it isn't and will never been what other people think it is: downhill, has been, urban declining, sad place. It is, has been, and will be -- Lark Street, Albany -- too small to be big and too big to ignore.

Lark + Lily

Silvia Lilly
Owner of Lark + Lily

In my 25+ years in Albany I've seen the ebb and flow of Lark Street, probably more than once. I've long wished that Lark Street could be pedestrian only during evening hours in summer to foster outdoor café seating and music al fresco. Grafton Street in Dublin has managed to do it and I think Albany could, too.

When I was in Nashville I was struck by how much parking was available -- pay lots and garages. I know parking isn't sexy or interesting, but if there were more spaces available maybe folks would be willing to stash their cars and enjoy the area on foot.

I've hoped for a satellite of the Honest Weight Food Co-op for a long time -- a convenient place for fruits, vegetables, and other grocery items and grab-and-go foods.

It seems to me that Lark Street's greatest asset is its neighborhood feel, it just isn't the night life destination it once was and I think that's ok. When compared to the Warehouse District or downtown, it's clearly a residential location primarily. Businesses who market to the neighborhood make the most sense to me.

Emily Ayers
Owner of The Brakes Coffeehouse & Provisions
I see Lark Street being taken back by neighborhood residents from a diverse array of socioeconomic spheres. Small businesses along the street are making an effort to support one another and to feature the work of local artists and artisans. I would love to see more businesses catering to area residents -- this is a wonderfully walkable neighborhood, but we lack some basic amenities. We could use a hardware store, a bookstore, a pet store, a bakery.

Jeremy Ward
Center Square resident

I have lived on or near Lark Street for 13 years now - longer than I have lived another place in my life. My hairdresser of 13 years, Steve O'Neill of Svengali Studios on Lark, recently noted that he has seen Lark Street go through two major changes during this time on the street of 20+ years. I agree with Steve that we are witnessing a change of epic proportions right now. It is exciting, sad and scary. I am very sad at the loss of some once great businesses that I frequented, I am scared of the change, but I am excited to see what the new incarnation of the area is. I think that right now, Lark Street is pretty directionless, but I am confident that it will find its footing soon.

Hamilton Street near Lark Street

The addition of some new businesses such as Ocean on Lark, Brew, LAX, and the skate shop are fantastic. I think that this area is a meeting place for old and new, so I love the mesh of older businesses such as Romeo's and Ben & Jerry's. I hope that someone with some vision can reinvent Justin's and find a good use for the DeJohn's and Legends.

What I find interesting is that the dynamic of the people living on the street has changed over the past few years. It is much less of a gay-specific, single-person area into more of a family area (family being a relative term). Lark Street needs to attract a variety of different businesses -- not all bar or convenience stores. Lark Street needs to be a place where people want to come for a different experience -- not something people can experience anywhere else in town. I, personally, would love to see more live music, less restriction on entertainment, a small black box theater, and other performance arts.

Ben & Jerry's space for rent

Richard Wilson
Owner of Ben & Jerry's on Lark Street
(Ben and Jerry's on Lark is closed due to a problem with the building and a landlord dispute and Wilson is expecting to open in a new space in Albany by March.)

I've always loved Lark Street and have been a resident in this area. We bought the business in 2010 with the anticipation that Lark Street would grow and evolve. We haven't seen that. We see the opposite. Businesses are leaving Lark Street. We haven't seen much help. You see people leaving, but not a lot of people coming into the area.

I'm optimistic that the focus will change. I love the artistic atmosphere of it, but I've also seen that decline. It used to be a very artistic, bustling, vibrant area. You don't see that anymore. I don't know how to fix that. Five restaurants closed and if we leave the neighborhood, that's another. But if I look at our sales over 30 years, you can see the cycles -- in the 90s there were peaks and valleys, but it's been pretty steady in recent years with not many people coming out and visiting the spot.

But hopefully we will see an upswing. I would like to see the restaurant spaces available. I'd like to see some higher-end restaurants with the Albany Med renovation. We'd like to see some places that will draw people into the area. I know Justin's used to be a jazz club -- if we could get something like that in the area it would be great. What we need are sustainable businesses -- brand name restaurants to draw people. When Subway came in and closed in a year or so that was a signal to us. A music scene, an artistic scene -- that's been on the decline. It's our little Greenwich Village in Albany -- it would be great to get it back to that.

Patrick Noonan
Owner of El Loco Mexican Cafe, Lark Street BID chair

Lark Street is and always will be the "heart of Albany" and I wouldn't open a business or buy a property anywhere else in the Capital Region other than Lark Street. The vibrancy is still second to none, there is money to be made here, and the perfect audience exists here and only here.

With the purchase of my third property here last week, I now have over $1 million invested in the Lark Street corridor, and I'm not the only one. Mike Keller (Lionheart) obviously has over $3 million invested; Bilal Alp and Paul Doyle probably have tons invested. Kasim from PizzaRoni paid around $1 million for the building on the corner of Madison/Lark. The new building on the opposite corner is a multi-million-dollar project at this point. Mark Brogna is one the smartest business owners you'll meet and continues to commit much of his resources to ensuring this street remains great. In short, there continues to be significant investment in the street and this is still THE place to open. When Justin's closed, there were people lining up to take over that space. Lark Street is actually on a tremendous upswing and anyone that tells you different is not paying attention.

new construction at Lark and Madison

Like any downtown, Lark Street of course needs more financial backing in the form off grants and needs successful business to come occupy it's few remaining vacant storefronts. But what it really needs is more investors with energy to continue the great work presently being done by a number of business owners, neighbors and concerned citizens. Over half of the BID board is comprised of business owners under the age of 35 who are full of energy and working everyday to make this street great again. Whether you sell soup, soap, shingles, or spirits, this remains a great place to showcase it.

It also needs help with some decades-old zoning regulations so that we can be as effective and versatile as possible when recruiting new business and uses. The city planning department and mayor Sheehan have been tremendous resources and partners over the last year in making this a reality.

Lark Street also needs the support of its media partners to highlight the successes that are happening here and not focusing on the negative or "sexier" occurrences that neither the BID nor the neighboring business owners can control. Four successful woman-owned businesses opened on the street within the last four months and there was little to no press at those ribbon cuttings.

Lark Street is not "dead" because Key Bank wants to commit its resources to online banking rather than keep branches open. Lark Street is not "dead" because someone let DeJohns/Legends fall into disrepair. Lark Street is very much alive because of the people here that want to keep t alive.

Lark- Capital Wine.jpg

Mark Brogna
Owner of Capital Wine

After more than a decade of owning businesses on the street (Capital Wine and the Lark Street Book Shop), I see the Lark Street corridor as alive and well as I've ever seen it. I see new business activity, including TapAsia and Kanters Deli, and the resumption of construction on the commercial building at the corner of Lark and Madison. I have talked with other small retailers who would like to relocate to the street and are looking for appropriate spaces. I understand that there will be new owner/operators of the former DeJohn's/Legends and Justin's spaces. I also really like the new format of the 1st Friday events, with vendors and musicians on the street. It really does help bring people out. I am honestly excited to see what happens in 2016!

With all this activity, I would like to see the addition of more services that would help keep residents from having to leave the neighborhood to find what we cannot get here now -- a gym/fitness center, a green grocer, and a cheese store are all businesses this neighborhood craves and could strongly support. I'd also like to see existing businesses continue to show pride in their storefronts! It really helps make Lark Street a regional destination, a place to think of fondly and return to time and again. 

Ron Grieco
Owner of Stacks Espresso Bar
Anyone that is looking can see that Lark Street is dying -- sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but it certainly seems like Lark Street is dying. We need businesses back -- unique, cool businesses. I love that Brew opened and The Brakes is cool. Our sales have gone way up. Brew is also doing very well -- and they just sell beer and coffee.

Sometimes it feels like some of the landlords on Lark Street are shortsighted. There are places where rents are just going up or are really high to being with. It seems shortsighted for a landlord to say they want $2,000 a month so a business can't afford to start there or stay there. What happened at Ben & Jerry's is crazy. Lack of entry into an apartment to be able to fix something has caused a business to close down? That's crazy.

Stacks Espresso

I think there is something to be said about taking a leaf out of the Downtown Troy booklet. The city of Troy seems to be bending over backwards for these new businesses to aid and assist and get them what they need. It doesn't feel like the city of Albany does that -- or sees the same value in a small business community as Troy. Everyone I know who has a small business in Albany talks about the ridiculous wait lists and red tape that drowns small businesses. Once you start paying rent you can't afford to be held up on permitting delays.

I think the Center Square area is good about supporting small business, but always trying to getting more people to support small business is important. This is our little village its an extremely supportive community. At Stacks 85 percent of our business is customers that we see five days a week at least. We know their names, their drinks, their kids, their dogs. I've lived in Albany over ten years and Lark Street is by far the most community-oriented, close-knit neighborhood I've been in.

I 'd like to see the city of Albany work harder to make things more streamlined for people who want to open a small businesses. It is hard to pinpoint. There are a lot of issues, but we have this beautiful little community and it's starting to really suffer.

Lark Street NoHo pizza exterior 2016-January

Adem Alp
Owner of NoHo Pizza

I definitely see Lark Street is not moving in the right direction. If there is someone in need, or a homeless person, they will end up on Lark Street. My brother and I both own businesses on Lark Street and business is going down. Justin's, Legends, DeJohn's -- these three businesses were probably bringing 30 percent of the business to Lark Street.

This street needs some different types of business -- a butcher shop or a place that sells vegetables only. There are not incentives at all for businesses. When I opened this place it cost me twice what I expected to get the certificate of occupation. And I am sure it is not only me -- most of the businesses on Lark Street have gone through something similar. It is not very clean... the street needs to be cleaned. I'm not saying the city has to clean it -- we need to get organized, the people who live and work in this area. We can get organized and help do it.

I just traveled to Europe -- Luxembourg, Amsterdam. Almost everywhere I went there would be Friday night entertainment in the town. It was a competition -- the best dancers or best musicians. We could close off part of Lark Street to foot traffic and we could turn it into a family-friendly entertainment destination -- if it's closed to traffic kids could run around.

And we need diverse businesses -- a grocery store selling only groceries. And also wireless spot on Lark Street because right now almost no one uses pay phones. You never know your charger may break or you need to use your phone. Someplace where you can charge it -- a small spot you can pay and get wireless for a limited time.

Mike Keller
Owner of The Lionheart Pub

The direction of the Lark Street area is kind of a problem because people have protected the area and made it a little Brooklyn or little Manhattan. It's like a little cove and it has been protected. I said this in a meeting and half the people took it as good comment and half took it as bad. It is a protected community, but the people protecting it aren't letting anybody in. It used to be that if you left a business on Lark Street, someone would take your place. But nobody is taking the place. We have more tattoo and ink shops per square mile than anywhere else. It's like they are not pro-business. The BID is very good. The neighborhood association and some other groups are not letting anyone come in and do things.

I can tell you this -- if I knew everything that was going on over there right now I wouldn't have bought the property that I bought. Troy and Schenectady are more than willing to help businesses out. The city of Albany is not. The BID is very good they want to try things. They just don't have any power. I definitely think the street needs a change in philosophy -- they have done a great job of protecting neighborhoods they built, but they don't want to let people do things and try things.

Rain Modern Chinese

Frank Lee
Owner of Rain Modern Chinese

I would like to see more restaurants around here. More retail stores and more restaurants. I have no particular opinion on the direction it is going. It is looking well for me, my business is doing well. We just need more businesses to come. Not bars. We have a lot of bars here.

John Mongonia
Barista at Stacks

The current direction of Lark Street -- it seems to be waxing and waning at the same time. You see places closing and opening with almost the same frequency. I always thought of Metroland being reflective of what has gone on on Lark Street. I'm a musician so I always want to see more music. I saw Justin's from the end of its heyday to having DJs. Maybe the revitalization of the Fuze Box. Getting people away from the mindset that crossing Washington and that whole triangle over there is dangerous -- revitalizing the entry points.

Also the number one thing people always complain about is parking down here. We have to fix that. Otherwise it's like an insiders club here. We need to bring people in from outside the community. I always think the number one thing you can do to revitalize an area is to make it a place to settle a family down. I'm seeing more and more young families which is really cool, giving in to the urban lifestyle.
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Answers have been lightly edited.

Earlier on AOA: Lark Street, 35 years ago

Comments

I always thought this building next to Fuze Box (https://goo.gl/maps/VbGybz1P9NG2) would make a great gym with cardio machines facing out those picture windows.

I'm fine with fixing the parking issues, but not if it adds a single additional space to the neighborhood. We have tons of underutilized parking in the area. If we really want to be serious about fixing the parking "problem" (and it will be a tough chore to convince me that one exists), we'd need to work with entities like the Trinity Church on Lark, the Albany County Parking Authority and the garage on Lancaster. Advertise this parking, devise a uniform cost/payment system, advertise that the county lots are apparently free after business hours. But if we start adding lots or garages, we'll destroy what's appealing about the area in the first place.

I love Matt's suggestions about courting businesses. I was happy to see the owner of Crisan own up to their abandonment of the clientele that made them successful, I was encouraged by the announcements of the BID and the situation with Ben and Jerry's has made me want to scream. I also like the idea that you need to be a step above mediocrity to make it in the first place (but I'm sorry that will spell your demise, Ocean on Lark!).

One last thing: Can we stop pretending there is no place to get groceries in the neighborhood?

I started reading this not knowing just how much content it would be; it's really nice to see folks share their insights on the state of the street.

Also, I'd like to put in a plug for rooftop bars in Albany. The patios on Lark are wonderful, but I want to drink on a roof and look out over the city. I don't limit this suggestion to Lark - let's fill the city with kickass roof decks!

This post has made me feel very nostalgic. I miss Mezzo, Lulu's, Caffe Dolce, Shades of Green, Web of Threads, and so many other places.

Despite the assurance from some of the interviewees that Lark Street is moving in a positive direction, I have to admit that for someone who had been away awhile (almost a year,) seeing so many vacant spots when I was home for the holidays last month was a bit disheartening. That was exacerbated when I spent some time in Troy and even in downtown Albany (warehouse district and Pearl St.)

Things ebb and flow, but even from the responses above, it sounds like there are some major disconnects among residents, the BID, business owners and the city. I like this post a lot - I'm hoping it gets a much-needed discussion going farther.

Lark Street was a neighborhood before it was hip, and with a little work it could be a real neighborhood again instead of the ruins of Pottersville-met-Haight-Ashbury-in-better-days. I hope the Center Square residents and BID can find common ground to usher in an era of intelligent planning that can make Lark Street a durable, practical, and trend-resistant place to live, work and play.

I have lived in the neighbourhood for nearly fifty years. We need a hardware store and a bookstore as someone said and also a pharmacy. I love Rain and Shogun and Elissa Halloran's . One person can't patronise all the places.

im hurt to see that not one person mentioned the machine a Creative COOp in this article. We were a group of newly graduated commercial artists trying desperately to bring a new art scene to lark st. We opened our doors to the community and hosted many free events at our own expense for 2 years. All being under the age of 30.

In those two years we provided walls for young artists that never showed work before, space for young musicians that never never played in front of people before, and not to mention all the relationships that bloomed from gatherings in our studio. From personal to professional, people loved coming to our space because you never knew who you would meet or see.

It's just sad to me. I

I didn't read everyone's (short attention span), so maybe this has already been said... Everyone focuses on Lark Street between Madison and Central. How about Lark between Central and Clinton? Being such a small city, pretty much all of Albany is going to have to improve before any of Albany improves...

Great post; it's wonderful to read about all these insights. You're right that Albany needs to be more user-friendly to new, small business-owners.

All you had to type for this story was this quote from Bill Pettit:

"It's fine as it is, was, and will be. It has never been what some people think it is or should be: trendy, fun shopping boutiquey place, just as it isn't and will never been what other people think it is: downhill, has been, urban declining, sad place. It is, has been, and will be -- Lark Street, Albany -- too small to be big and too big to ignore."

In other words, stop trying to make it something it never was and will never be. If you want to make it financially successful, open a business with a plan, find some money (or marry some!) and then offer people something that they actually need on a daily or weekly basis.

Will somebody please open up a Bare Burger!!!

I lived in the Lark Street area from 20 years ago, and now I live in a southern city. I always hope every time I come back to visit that there will be something new and changed about the Lark Street/ Washington Park community, but unfortunately it always stays, at least visually, the same.

A constant problem in Albany is that there are no effective leaders. Mayors that have been there for a lifetime tend to have less vision than people with new and fresh ideas. It would be great for you to visit a city such as Greenville, South Carolina. That city, when I first visited 25 years ago, was wig shops and army navy stores. It is now the vibrant heart of South Carolina a northern addition to Charleston. It has a fantastic Main Street with welcoming restaurants and shops and it is buzzing from the moment the weekend starts. This happened in Greenville because there was a joint effort by many different groups and the leadership of the city was committed to making this area of vibrant. In turn, this has drawn a number of businesses to the Greenville area because it serves as an attraction for the entire Upstate South Carolina.

It would be great to see the leaders of Albany and the community come together to make Lark Street and the surrounding community be what it has the potential to be. Imagine the property value increases if you created something like that! I can only hope that in some of my frequent visits up there that I see a positive change. It would be wise of people to seek out other cities such as Chattanooga, TN, Greenville, and Columbia South Carolina that are good examples of cities that have actually made things happen.

I grew up in the area and have lived in Brooklyn for the past decade-- all of my 20s. I've always planned to move back to Albany at some point, hopefully soon, so I appreciate reading these perspectives on the direction of Lark Street.

It's a bit confusing and dispiriting to see so much of the focus being put on businesses. Only one perspective focused heavily on the arts, another lamented the lack of attention to fostering creativity.

Vibrant street-life is not built exclusively, or even predominantly, through cool shops or high-end nonsense. And it's certainly not created through dude-bro hangouts like the Lionheart (I think the owner could use a healthy dose of modesty-- he's not contributing to anything except encrusted sidewalk urine and bad memories).

It seems to me that a real re-birth of Lark Street has to involve actual community-building. Instead of incentivizing "youthful" or "hip" businesses, why not try to court some establishments that will keep a constant flow of people on the street when it usually gets dull? Try to get the Social Justice Center and all the meeting that take place there to move to a spacious street-level spot on Lark? Incentivize a summer day camp, a youth center, a set of public gardens on the few vacant lots in the area. Have the existing businesses chip in for a public art show that showcases the amazing stories that the city's refugee community has brought with them. None of this stuff costs that much. All of it is a better investment than begging some hipsters to care about the city.

Upscale commerce only goes so far, and it's really not that interesting in the first place. It attracts a crowd but in the long term makes most neighborhoods less attractive (and, often, affordable) to live in. It's amazing to see how quickly parts of Brooklyn that actually have all of the things many people in this discussion have mentioned have been completely turned over to generic, boring businesses. Once a retail corridor is a "proven success" it starts to look like Colonie pretty quickly.

And it's downright horrify to see people demanding more parking. Walkable communities are where it's at. There really isn't much of a debate about this. The people who complain about parking are unwilling to walk a few hundred feet. Once there's a horrendous parking garage for them they'll think of another excuse to avoid leaving the suburbs.

I realize this has turned into a screed, but before trying to transform Albany into Austin or Brooklyn or Nashville (really??), I'd really encourage everyone to think about what Albany already has and how to bring it out more. Businesses can help, but I really don't think they're the most important component.

The space at 225 Lark Street, formerly occupied by Spa Virgo, was never vacant. It has simply been renamed 225 Lark and is the original home of Svengali Studios, owned by stylist Stephen O'Neill.
It is a cooperative health and wellness building occupied by the following:
Sally Block, LMT
The Barefoot Healer
Aesthetics by Katerina

For more information, please visit our Facebook at:
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We also have gift certificates available.
Walk-ins are welcome or feel free to call 518-462-0560 for an appointment with any of our providers.

Let's see things I'd like for Lark Street...better more cozy lighting....cleanliness!!!.....Cops walking up and down each side of the street-friendly ones not those angry one's looking like they are about to pounce...feeling of safety as defined by any parent allowing their 12 year old girl to walk alone up and down the street at almost ANY time of day...like many small European cities-for the love of God we pat enough in property taxes---HAPPINESS--most people walking the street look like Zombies strung out on drugs or overloaded with Lithium....as long as it is a connector road between two rundown areas it will remain depressed...FIX those other areas.....a reason to go there besides getting drunk....more places like Rain, Shogun, Lark+Lily, Flavors of India, Umana, Bombers, Stacks and others...triple that and add some retail...lure the locally owned shops from Stuyvesant Plaza and Loudonville and Guilderland BACK to the city...yeah yeah parking....most of all I think the City needs to help...we need a master plan...I love natural organic development and I love areas like the wharehouse district, Delaware ave, New Scotland and the point area but the city is all over the shop...we need ONE central area thriving and spreading from the inside outwards.....need any type of quick transportation to interconnect the above areas....I could go on for forever....good luck Albany...a potentially unreal city still waiting to reactivate! There is nowhere in America more ready to take advantage of its location, size, architecture, walkability, small town feel, airport, train station, road system, parks, I just can't figure why it can't move forward more quickly....but I continue to pray!

Having the oldest business on Lark St. (The Daily Grind) I am surprised All Over Albany did not come in to get a historical perspective of Lark St. That said, In the 70's and 80'sLark Street was turning the corner from a street that felt the effects of urban flight and suburban malls that evey downtown experienced.
But as always people wanted to open their own business,and the malls were just to expensive for mom and pop stores, but the infrastructure of the buildings On Lark Street, are perfect for the small restaurants, bars, and stores. Our landlords were more than happy to help with low rents and easy terms. At the same time, building after building were being renovated in Center Square.
In the 90's Lark St and the adjoining neighborhoods came into their own, and people " discovered" how desirable an urban neighborhood could be. This was all done organically. The city didn't plan it, and no one developer created it. This was and is the real Strength of Lark. St.
Sometimes inexperience business owners failed. Sometimes,like us, they got lucky and stayed open. But it was always in flux.
As Bill Pettit mentioned,it was never as successful as people thought it was, but is not as bad as some people think it is.
The big difference now are cities like Troy and Schenectady are resurrecting from the dead. People are feeling the excitement of cities coming back, businesses opening, apartments being renovated, just like they did on Lark street. But does this mean Lark Street is dead? No. Can it use a boost? It always could, but with state government, hospitals, and universities all around us we have always found our way.
This is just natural ebb and flow.


Thank you for putting this together AOA. The fact that this article was posted and is being shared throughout social media is proof that everyone still cares about the Capital Region's most rad neighborhood!

The Lark Street corridor is within the boundaries of three neighborhood associations: Center Square, Hudson /Park and Washington Park, which are historic districts listed on the National Register. Our residents have a great investment in the success of Lark Street and the type of businesses we need and want - even though our patronage alone can't guarantee success - there aren't enough of us. The new leadership of the Lark Street BID maintains ongoing communication with the neighborhood associations and is working very hard to attract new, diverse and viable businesses to the area.

Last weekend I went to the Center Square Pub. I arrived early, because I expected it might be hard to find parking. But I found a spot on Lark street immediately, and took it.

That was just luck.

So, with the extra time, I walked around Center Square on an unseasonably warm winter night. It was a saturday and it was gorgeous outside. But even though the popular Lark Street businesses were filled with patrons, there was almost nobody on the sidewalks. It felt like a ghost town.

The government buildings were beautiful to look at in the nighttime. The architecture set off with spotlights. And as I was walking just two blocks away from Lark Street, I was astounded by how much parking was readily available.

What I learned that night was how short a walk it is from one destination in Albany to other destinations in Albany. I've noticed signs around downtown that push a similar message.

Perhaps the issue isn't fixing one street. But rather trying to create a culture of walking. One of the nicest parts about living in a small city should be its walkability. And Albany's is fantastic.

This is coming from someone who barely exercises and occasionally refers to himself as "the veal of people."

The ebb and flow is a crutch. It obscures the acceptance that mediocrity and neglect is acceptable for a city and neighborhood we love. A real reason is still missing from this conversation.

I found Matt Baumgartner's accounts of other cities actively courting him to be interesting. Does Albany do this?

My perception and experience was that under the Jennings administration new voices and people were not welcome. So I don't expect it was done.

Is it being done now? Is someone calling up business owners and pointing to Matt's success and noting that his most successful business is on Lark Street. That needs to happen.

There is no magic to what is happening in Troy. They are just better restaurants and spaces. Put them on Lark Street and they will thrive.

I live a block from Lark Street. I happily walk to the City Beer Hall or Ama Cocina. It isn't rocket science. The residents around Lark Street have a lot of disposable income. How much is being spent in Troy? Or on Pearl Street? In places that aren't college focused sports bars with blaring TVs? A lot. I don't think I'm alone in saying I'd much rather have those businesses in our neighborhood.

Thank you AOA for this article! It is this type of civil discourse that makes me proud to be a resident of the city of Albany and provides so much value to its residents. Being able to see the broad perspective, from a diverse range of folks, helps to gel some internal thoughts I’ve had about this corridor and the city in general. It is my hope that the immediate Lark community and the city leadership can really seize on this feedback by creating short, medium, long term action items and get at it (e.g. cleaner permitting, small business assistance and education opportunities, enhance pedestrian safety features, better cross-city ties via transit, etc.)

When folks talk about Lark dying, I think that is a gross overstatement about the reality of things. The beauty of cities is that they evolve, Lark is no different. In my mind, for every business that closes, another (sometimes two) pop up, so you do see a natural cycling of establishments on this corridor. Yes, some historic anchors have gone under (e.g. Justin’s), but by and large I see a much more diverse set of options and retail (e.g. Brew, the skate shop, Brake’s, Lark Natural—yes, we do have a small grocery store on this stretch, why do we overlook this!!) and a lot of new, young energy. Yes, Lark isn’t the sexy corner of the city, that seems to be enjoyed on the Warehouse District’s mantel, but that is just a subjective moniker and business still seem to be thriving on Lark.

I do agree that we can further diversify this corridor and should really get creative on both the retail and recreational options that could be provided on this half mile stretch. This would help retain the existing residents (which includes a lot of young families of late, preferring an urban environment to the suburbs), draw in new families, and gasp, bring in outsiders (see my snarky remarks on this later). Closing the street, even if on the weekends or Friday nights, to encourage pop-up vendors, street artists, and the like to set up shop (and yes, Grafton Street in Dublin would be a great model!!), or a weekend farmers market, would go a long way for existing residents and bring in others.

I’m glad others have pointed this out, but improving the walkability of this corridor and promoting a culture of walkability is critical. Parking isn’t as big of an issue if you’re willing to walk a few blocks. Lark St, nor downtown Albany for that matter, is ever going to be the mall, even if you pop in a parking garage somewhere on this corridor, some suburbanite will complain that it was placed too inconveniently from this and that (e.g. look at downtown, parking garages half empty on busy nights, because folks don’t want to walk half a mile to their destination). I think a more concerted effort between residents, businesses, and the city to clean up the streets, provide a beat cop at all times of the day, and really improve the pedestrian infrastructure (e.g. the Washington Ave and Lark intersection should allow dedicated pedestrian right-of-way during the lighting cycle, not a token “white walking guy” while cars are simultaneously given a green arrow, because they will view that as giving them the prerogative over the pedestrian) would go a long way.

This gets me to my final, long winded point, that the community itself often sabotages a lot of its own real and potential success. What should be a diverse, lively corridor is often shackled by suburban NIMBYism. In terms of walkability, the recent, ill-advised campaign over the pedestrian safety upgrades and new bus stop alignment on Washington Avenue does not portend that the community gets it. This proposal offered excellent upgrades to pedestrians and transit users alike, which were all discounted or scapegoated to carry water for the community’s opposition to a little bus stop in front of Iron Gate Café. The campaign, claiming the changes would make the corridor less safe, couldn’t even point to alternatives (maybe because the proposed changes were pretty good!!). As a frequent transit user who lives elsewhere in the city, I enjoy my bus ride to Lark to shop and recreate, however, the negative, prejudicial and ill-informed comments by the community over the proposed overhaul of this intersection really turned me off, so much so, that for a while I refuse to patron Lark if they didn’t want to value my contribution as an “outsider.” Additionally, some of the unique, creative events that could happen on Lark (e.g. remember the burlesque show, bullied into cancellation via the nascent Cabaret License changes in Jennings’s final stretch) have been shot down by friendly fire within the community, who sometimes take a quiet, pastoral city street for residents too far at the expense of some exciting opportunities to draw in those “outsiders” and improve the recreational opportunities for those who live within this corridor.

I’ll continue to defend Lark, but it’s hard to do when its residents refuse to focus on the important issues (e..g walkability, strengthen transit ties, diverse and creative opportunities) rather than some mis-guided effort to gate itself off. I truly hope this AOA contribution can be the catalyst for some comprehensive and diverse discussion by the community. Time will tell…

To help improve and sustain Lark Street, and the surrounding Center Square/Washington Park neighborhood, this article and the thoughts and comments shared within, needs to be read with AOA's previous article about residents who are looking to move out once they're ready to have children. I think keeping long-term residents in Center Square helps to sustain Center Square.

That being said, YES to a specialty grocer/butcher! I just do not shop at the Delaware Avenue price chopper. It's a sad excuse for a grocery store, and that isn't the fault of the residents. It is just really not fair that this is the market P.C. has to offer to the city. As a city resident, I would love to see something like the new Steuben Street Market open on Lark (or on Washington or on Central). A place where I can buy fresh and even organic produce, at the same place where I can buy some cereal, a box of pasta, a bag of rice, and some hand soap -- things a nearby resident would rather grab locally than over at Whole Foods in Colonie. And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE a gym! Something like Omni fitness (on lower State St.) -- a small but well-equipped fitness center, would be fantastic. Stop making it so hard, Albany, to convince my partner to stay in the City.

I'd love to see some of the existing restaurants not rest on their laurels. I used to love going to Mcguires, but the menu has been the same every single time I have checked and my last meal there was very disappointing. Almost every time I pass it during the week, it's empty. If they offered more specials during the week and advertised those specials (something more exciting than a two for one beer special...at one point, I think there used to be a $15 burger+beer special on Mondays or Tuesdays -- bring that back and let us know about it!), and changed up their menu a little more often, I'd be in there!

My two cents…

While it would be great if the BID or City would come clean up our messes, I think one of the easiest ways for us all to contribute is to just pick up the litter in front of our houses and/or businesses on a regular basis. (And…if you’re on a corner, please tend to both areas.) Have a little extra time? Why not pick up for your neighbor once in a while?

Support the businesses we currently have: If you spend, they will grow. Some of my favorites not mentioned – Alacrity Frame Shop (what an asset), eba Theater (fitness classes offered) & Healthy On Lark (miss Shades of Green?). Give ‘em a try.

This is a great discussion. Thanks AOA.

@fussy I agree that we need to promote a culture of walking and will add that I think that culture exists amongst residents of the Lark-area neighborhoods. I was on maternity leave recently and walked my dog and newborn around a lot. I saw lots of people on foot, patronizing local business, hanging out at independent coffee shops and small restaurants. Parking reall is not much of an issue if you're willing to walk a block or so (I tell my suburban family members this ALL the time!).

I want to echo the endorsement of Healthy on Lark (amazing tempeh sandwiches), Stacks, and honestly, say what you will about Ocean on Lark but they make their own fries and the fish rivals Bob and Rons. They could just use some ambiance. Daily Grind has the best breakfast sandwich around. Oasis is decent Mediterranean. And remember just because Lark ended doesn't mean your walk has to - check out the remodel of the Delaware Avenue Price Chopper - 'ghetto chopper' no more, they have a deli, and lots of new products, it is much cleaner and nicer.

I would love a bit more community planning when it comes to types of businesses. I'd love more dinner places, a bakery rather than so many straight-up coffee shops, and we need another bodega like we need a hole in the street. Another brunch place so that Irongate doesn't get alllll my money would be awesome (Cafe 277 isn't really my game). I'd love to see the florist on that street focus more on seasonal high-quality flowers, and farm-to-vase stuff. I'd love a fun vintage store or something like Fort Orange Store to open - a bit more upscale. My husband maintains that Lark feels more dead to us because we just aged out of it. I guess I am okay with that assessment. I will tell you it is a darned fun street for my 11 year old stepson between the videogame store and Bombers.

What a tremendous sharing of thoughts and ideas - thank you, Mary & Greg for putting this together and to Matt Baumgartner for the love he showered down on me! I wanted to explicate my parking comment a bit for clarity. As someone pretty familiar with Lark Street, I'm aware of the parking lots at the church, in Robinson Square and on Washington Ave above Lark. What I don't know, other than there being a locked box at the church for payment, are their policies. The parking garages on Lancaster and the corner of Washington Ave are complete mysteries, also. Perhaps there isn't a deficit in available parking, but that, unfortunately, is the perception. Maybe the BID or the city could create a simple parking map for the Lark Street area? I've looked at a couple of websites (http://www.albany.com/aboutalbany/parking-lots.cfm and http://www.albanyparkingauthority.org/) and didn't find either to be incredibly helpful. Let's keep this conversation going.

I agree with JayK about parking. There are issues with parking, but the number of parking spaces is very adequate. More informative signage would probably help.

I think more buskers would really help improve the atmosphere on Lark Street and offer something that neither Troy or Schenectady offer. The police need to stop harassing people playing music or doing magic tricks or whatever on sidewalks. Seriously, more buskers would be really great.

Spa Virgo (now going by Virgo Bodyworks) actually hasn't completely left the neighborhood -- they're on Hamilton 2 blocks off lark in a location with free parking!

First of all thanks for contacting me you dicks, I've only been operating Lark Tattoo on this street since 1993. That's 23 years of success and growth. I agree with Elisa Halloran, I too have made my livelihood and life from doing business and practicing my art on lark street. As some frantic housewife on a robitussin bender would exclaim, " I've given you the best years of my life you thankless bastard!"
What should be done about the sad state of affairs? I'm not sure but I imagine like most things in life it is a cycle an we are experiencing The dark phase as we have at least two other times in the last 23 years. We will roll through this as we have in the past. Currently Lark street is a dying whore on a sinking ship in a burning sea and we haven't sunk yet and if we do we will rise again like a flaming Phoenix or ill tempered Godzilla. Either way it should be fun.

I think Lark Street is doing just fine and the BID has done an amazing job considering the financial restraints. What block in Albany has such an eclectic group and energy? I agree that the former lighting was an important piece that should be looked at but overall the seven plus years Spa Virgo was there I saw growth. We did move off of Lark but solely because of parking issues. The nature of relaxation and wellness does not fair well with stressful parking situations but that is part of Center Square and it never caused a real problem for locals. Clients coming from outside areas where not used to it and the need for parking become important . I look forward to watching the growth of Lark and Street and Center Square! It's not going anywhere so I say focus on the attributes and build on them.

First, I think it is great that people are talking about the future of Lark Street. I have lived in Albany my entire life (including in the Center Square neighborhood), and while Lark Street has always had its ups and downs, it seems to be doing worse and worse lately. It needs some serious attention.

Some of the fault lies with the landlords -- both the ones that treat their commercial lessees like crap, and the ones that let their residential properties fall into disrepair. I'm not sure how this can be addressed, other than shaming people into being better landlords and having respectable people buy out the properties.

But there are some things that can be addressed.

One major problem is parking. I'm a little baffled that some commenters don't seem to think that parking is problem. As a resident of the neighborhood, I circled the neighborhood for over an hour looking for parking MANY times. Now I live over in the New Scotland Avenue neighborhood, and while I would still like to visit some of the businesses on Lark Street, the lack of parking is a major deterrent for me. It's ridiculous to say that people are lazy, it's simply a matter of convenience. You want people to come spend money at your business? Make it easy for them to do so. The way it is now, it is often not worth the trouble and frustration, and the alternative (parking far away and having to walk down dark side streets at night) is too sketchy.

That brings me to Lark Street's next problem: there are a lot of transients, homeless folks, and loiterers, which creates a sketchy and uncomfortable vibe. The last three times I've walked down Lark Street, I've been asked for money. When I lived in the neighborhood, I was followed to the laundromat, I was constantly being harassed by people that were clearly drunk/strung out, I had property stolen, I narrowly missed stepping on a heroin needle in Washington Park, etc., etc., etc. I realize that Lark Street is a thoroughfare for the bus routes, and it is adjacent to impoverished neighborhoods, but if the business owners are serious about improving their prospects, they need to push the BID and the city council to address these issues.

Finally, the businesses need to take a good hard look at themselves. We don't need any more coffee shops, bodegas, pizzerias, or fried food joints. We need real sustainable businesses that real human adults would spend their hard-earned money at. While I can appreciate that people want an "art scene", you can't expect art or whimsy to be profitable in Albany. We need to make the street into a place that is more pleasant and enjoyable to spend time (strings of lights, planted flowers, cleaner sidewalks, fewer bums) and create businesses that sell things people want and need.

So, what would bring me & my husband back to Lark Street? Restaurants that actually put some effort in (bonus points if they were to have a sidewalk or roof patio); bars that cater to a more professional crowd instead of the college crowd; an Italian butcher/deli or other ethnic import store that doesn't feel like a hole in the wall (there used to be a nice Polish deli for a short time, but from what I understand they closed due to a landlord dispute); a bread bakery or cake/pastry bakery (frankly, I think the owner of Crisan has some nerve complaining about Lark Street, when they did the neighborhood a major disservice by closing their storefront); live music or entertainment; things for kids & families to do; etc. etc. etc.

It's not enough to say "Patronize the businesses we already have." Many of the businesses we have on Lark Street clearly aren't working. Let's be realistic and make a real effort to whip this place into shape.

What a great mix of comments, in the article itself and in the comment section, much with which I agree. I have lived in these neighborhoods since 1991 and have seen the ebb and flow. I remember when Lark St. was dark and somewhat dangerous to walk at night.
By and large, it is not today at its pinnacle, but neither is it at the nadir. Which way is it trending? How can we make it all it can be? What is the right mix of residential comfort and business-friendliness, having goods and services for locals while attracting people from outside who will want to come here.....for reasons other than getting drunk and vomiting on the corner of Lark and Hudson, which happens often.
I did not see First Friday mentioned by anyone; that is a model that ought to be expanded upon. On THAT evening, no matter what the weather, the sidewalks are alive! Why can't we have music on the sidewalks every Friday evening? Why can't we close off the street and make it a pedestrian mall on Sunday afternoons? Other cities do it. For that matter, why can't we close off traffic in Parts of Washington Park on weekend days?
Nobody mentioned LarkFest. That needs to end. It is a debacle! Instead, maybe having mini festivals on more weekends would build a stronger business/neighborhood basis for growth.
The BID imho either needs to be expanded down to Clinton Ave. and to surrounding streets (Madison, Washington Ave.) and given power and authority and funding, or be disbanded. As noted, it is the smallest in the state and seems to only focus on fundraising so it can continue to exist......only to fundraise. LarkFest is not about promoting Lark St., it is about raising money for the BID. The influx of 80,000 people on one day is a horror show. No sane resident goes there after noon or 1:00. By 4:00 it gets downright scary!
Nobody mentioned the Dana Park concert series, which is a gem! Let's have 2 dozen more. Where are the buskers? The jugglers? The facepainters? The family/kid friendly vendors?
Safety was mentioned but not the Walk and Watch. I joined the original W&W after my then teenage daughters decided to take a stroll on Lark one evening. I said be careful. They said they were used to NYC. I said its not the same. They came back appalled they were harassed repeatedly. We need a consistent presence of beat officers and a walk and watch.
People mentioned cleanliness. Cleanliness all over this city is appalling. Go on lower Lark to see a litter strewn mess! I see Tom from McGuire's hosing down the sidewalk daily. All store and bar owners ought to be required to do this. There aren't enough garbage cans. Police need to ticket littering consistently! Bring the lights back on the trees and poles. The street sweepers make a pass at 35 mph kicking up dust and leaving half the trash behind.
Finally (for me) code enforcement is lacking. There are eyesore buildings, abandoned buildings, buildings with ugly inappropriate paint jobs, vinyl doors, unshoveled sidewalks, dirt, debris, leaves, garbage and garbage cans, litter, broken windows, etc. on Lark and elsewhere. Esthetics are crucial to making people feel safe and feel like the City and the neighbors care about their environment.
Thank you for the article and comments and for this opportunity to add my two cents.

I was pondering this topic this past week as well. From an outsider's perspective, things have not looked good for Lark Street. But it's great to get all of these point of views. It doesn't seem that things are quite as bad as I thought but I notice a few consistent issues with more involvement needed from the city at the top of that list. I know multiple organizations are all working on helping businesses in Albany and in areas like Lark Street, these organizations just need to get their ducks in a row.
Til then, I know it's probably terribly annoying for Albany business owners and residents to read, but I appreciated the nods to the successes in Troy. It took a long, long, long time and there's more to do but it's great to see that recognized.

My two cents, in no particular order:

I love Lark Street's walkability. I sometimes have trouble finding a bike rack to lock my bike on. Love taking the bus there. Please don't put in more parking. When you attend a public event, how often to you see anything besides "Parking Information" listed on the event website? If we're going to help people find parking, why can't we help people use other transportation modes too? Our obsession with driving and free parking is part of the problem, not only with Lark Street, but with the City of Albany as well.

Once upon a time, there was a thriving music scene here. 288 on Lark, QE2 on Central, Valentines on New Scotland. They are all gone now, and the venues that showcased cutting edge music that brought in people from over a 50 mile radius no longer makes the area the destination it once was. The arts scene remains fledgling. The market to support nascent artists is fragile. How can this be transformed? As President of the Park South NA for over 20 years, it shows up to me that we need to attract a critical mass of the global talent moving to the areato work on Fuller Road . We need a concerted marketing effort to get them to see how this is the fun place to live. With their significant incomes, they can support fledgling local businesses. And while the supply of housing is mostly unchanged in the historic districts of Center Square, Hudson Park and Washington Park, the possibility of a major increase in new market housing that could attract these people is either on the drawing boards or being actualized right now. What ultimately the community needs is more density and more walkability if it really wants contemporary urbane amenities. We may have lost the music but we still have the charm. We need more people who share our celebration of diversity. Let's make this happen.

A lot of the angst I am reading about the condition and direction of Lark Street can be traced back to landlords and property owners. The saga with Ben and Jerry's is a prime example.

I rented a decent apartment on Lark Street for five years until moving on within the past five years. I saw the street at all hours, in all seasons. I saw the crowds DeJohns and Legends attracted at 2am and I saw what happened when they closed. Neither good.

My landlord operated out of NJ and cared little about the condition / appearance of my building and rented it out to one transient group after another who cared even less.

If property owners would step up and take some responsibility for the streetscape and the condition of some of the properties, you might see some real change. Until then, who would want to open a business on this street? It's fading.

I know it's already been said, but Lark Street needs live music venues. Albany is full of talented musicians of all genres, with few clubs to support them.

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The City should take a more proactive approach based on neighborhood consensus. A prescriptive design guideline with great clarity could save lots of graves for aspiring developers and other stakeholders. The City has to be clear upfront on conditions to be met such as overall allowed building volume, easy river connection, parking, pedestrian oriented ground floor usage and etc. It not seems reasonable to expect commercial developers to build something on their own initiative to both maximize ROI and please all city residents.

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