Be skeptical of trail assumptions

I’ve been following the rail and trail debates in the paper for quite some time. As a business owner, I find myself bothered by the “projections” of the trail folks. They’ve done reports that are projecting the amount of folks that will come and use the trail. A better word for the word “projections,” in my view, would be “assumptions.” The trail folks are assuming folks will come here to use the trail. But assumptions can be wrong.

Many years ago, we had three businesses start up in this village. One was Doc Elliot’s Ceramic shop. (Yes, it was a poor business name. Turns out it was Gary’s CB handle.) Anyway, Gary and Lois started their business in what used to be Dave Martell’s deli across the street from me. The building had recently had a fire, and Gary spent a great deal of time renovating the building because of it. They eventually opened their store. 

Gary was so excited about this venture. It seems Lois had over 200 molds, and folks were telling them both they just couldn’t wait until they opened. Lois was going to sell her hand-painted ceramics and offer classes to teach people. I went over one night. The coffee was on, and the ladies were sitting around a large table painting their creations. Everyone looked like they were having fun.

I don’t remember how long the business was in that location, but suddenly it moved. The basement of Newberry’s was now their new home. The problem was that Newberry’s closed around 6 p.m., and Lois did many of her classes in the evening. Why they moved there I’ll never know!

Their last location was 11 Broadway, now Sylvia’s tailoring shop. Newberry’s basement had two businesses. One was Doc Elliot’s, and the other was a pet shop. Both businesses moved to 11 Broadway. Gary erected a wall dividing the two businesses. Doc Elliot’s was on the right, and the pet store was on the left. Both stores eventually went out of business. 

The second business I found out by having coffee with Ruth Effenbach one morning. A young woman came in wanting to rent the small storefront that used to be the barber shop. She wanted to put a porcelain doll shop there. Ruth told her she couldn’t rent the space as it was being used for storage in the back. We both tried to talk her out of her idea, but she was convinced she’d do well in our village.

Her first store was in what’s now the Loon Center. Later she moved across the street to one of the stores next to the Left Bank Cafe. The Enterprise put in an article about her business. But she eventually closed her doors.

The third business was a place that sold locally made Adirondack furniture and artwork. The store was located at the top of Berkeley hill. The owner had a similar store in Potsdam that did well. I talked with her, and she assumed that because her Potsdam store did well, she’d do well here. She went out of business in a year. 

Gary and Lois made a big mistake. Just because folks say they can’t wait until you open your business and are going to patronize it DOESN’T MEAN THEY’LL ACTUALLY DO THAT. The woman at the doll shop should have realized that because you’re excited about your business doesn’t mean folks will spend money in your store. And just because your store does well in one location doesn’t mean it will do well someplace else. Three businesses that made wrong assumptions. I wonder how many other small businesses that started in our village also made wrong assumptions about how much business they’d do, and now they’re gone?

Currently our little village has OVER 20 EMPTY STORES. They’re various sizes and found all over the village. Some have been empty for quite some time. As a business owner, I would LOVE to see new businesses in them. But the business climate has changed greatly over the years. Don’t believe me. Just ask any business owner about the challenges of being in business today! Maybe those trail folks think that when the trail goes in, those empty stores will magically be filled with new businesses. Perhaps those folks placing their hope in the new hotel being built think the same thing. 

Today’s paper (Tuesday, Jan. 28) has both Shapiro and Catillaz saying one of their main goals is to “facilitate new businesses in Saranac Lake.” How do they propose to do that? Do they have a magic wand they’re going to wave? And just because we have two major hotels in the village doesn’t mean we’re going to become a bigger-than-ever destination.

A while ago, the Enterprise did an editorial. If my memory is correct, it was their opinion that MOSTLY LOCAL folks would use the trail. I think they’re right. I also question whether we need yet another trail when we already have so many. This is not the movie, “If you build it, they will come.” Gary Landrio, who did a commentary on Tuesday, Jan. 14, has over 30 years as a consultant. All those years have painfully taught him NOT TO BELIEVE PROJECTIONS OF VISITOR USE. Read his commentary titled “Rail-trail debate mustn’t be guided by inaccurate usage estimates.” I think he’s right. We have figures for the railroad. Whether you like those figures or not, we at least have them. But we have NO figures for the trail, only assumptions or, as the trail folks would say, projections. But what if those projections are wrong? And what happens if Gary’s right about the trail becoming a secondary attraction? 

Let’s not gamble on projections or assumptions, but it appears that’s what we’ve been doing. 


Wendy Foley lives in Saranac Lake, where she owns Wendy’s Christian Bookstore.


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