The former Mountain and Boardertown space is getting fixed up for an artisan’s bazaar that should give cold-weather tourists a place to warm up and browse local goods. Mike Bowers, co-chair of the Business Alliance, is heading the effort.
As fat snowflakes fell on Main Street Dec. 27, Mike Bowers, co-chair of North Creek's Business Alliance, pointed out the window of the former Mountain and Boardertown space and said, “That's money.”
The Saratoga-North Creek Railway is banking on the wintry weather for its snow train, which makes its first run the weekend of Dec. 30 and will continue weekends through March. The trip will mark the first winter passenger train to the Gore-side town in more than half a century.
Though the train will complement travel to the Gore ski resort this winter, Iowa-Pacific Holdings, parent company of the local railway, knows from other operations around the country that ski-season train riders aren't all seeking a day at the slopes. Some are tagging along with skiing and boarding enthusiasts, while others are simply tourists who want to enjoy North Creek in cold weather.
Part of the effort to bring more browsing options to visitors and keep them downtown is a re-opening of the Mountain and Boardertown space in the Grand Union Plaza, a storefront that's been shuttered for years.
During a tour of the store, Bowers grabbed an inspection tag from a fire extinguisher mounted near the entrance, checking its date.
“2007, that's how long it's been,” he said.
Bower's construction company is working on the store for an artisan's bazaar. Iowa-Pacific is leasing the large store and in turn will lease to a juried selection of local craftspeople at a percentage of their sales. Bowers said they're hoping to create an inviting space that people want to spend time in.
A sitting area, a coffee counter — though not one so well-equipped that it will compete with Main Street coffee stops — and maybe even a concessions stand are all ideas floating around, though not yet tied down, said Bowers.
Most of the former store's design elements will remain, with a major exception being the climbing wall that was opposite the entrance. That was dismantled and taken away when the store closed.
But the autumn trees and false storefronts lining the walls will remain, and should add to a street mall ambiance once tenants are found.
The success of the railroad surprised even Iowa-Pacific. Ed Ellis, president of the company, said at a press event in Saratoga that projections were outmatched by nearly 50 percent.
“The railroad's arrival to us is like seeing the cavalry that never came to rescue Custer,” said Bowers.
The Business Alliance will run a shuttle around town for the snow train, including stops at Tannery Pond, Goose Pond Inn, Basil & Wick’s Restaurant, Cunningham’s Ski Barn, Roaring Brook Lodge; and the Val Haus, according to the Dec. 16 Business Alliance meeting notes. There are plans to make signs to mark stops. The railway will also run a pair of refitted school buses, though only one will be ready for the snow train's opening, said Bowers. The railway plans to paint the buses to match their locomotives.
The Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce has produced flyers with tips for travelers on where to go, including local business summaries and a North Creek map on the reverse.
Bowers said the business community is very grateful to the railway for their efforts in promoting North Creek. Their advertising buying power is at its weakest during the ramp-up to the ski season, and that's just when the railway has made a push with advertising and press events. All those ads and stories mention North Creek. It’s a lot of promotion that Johnsburg businesses couldn't have generated on their own.
In turn, the Business Alliance has made efforts like running a shuttle and planning complementary downtown promotions — like the street fair that coincided with Gore's Harvest Fest in October — to give event-driven tourism traffic a direction.
“It shows the railroad that though we can't match you for money, but we can match you for enthusiasm,” said Bowers.