GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – For the last three years, 21 Ridge St. was home to vegan sandwiches and a colorful array of homemade donuts. Before that, other restaurants called the Centennial Circle-adjacent spot home. Now, the downtown location may be in for a new purpose.
On Monday, Jacob Laing stood among what used to be Birch Bark Eatery – whose black-and-white checkerboard floor could be seen through a Ridge Street window imprinted with the logo sticker that its former tenant had placed some time ago. Laing purchased 21 Ridge St. last July, and sees a future that would turn a storied restaurant spot into part of a super-sized rental spot for gathering families.
“So, let’s say someone has family in for a baby shower, wedding – any kind of event. They can have family stay here, come downstairs and have a private chef cook for them,” Laing described, walking through the first-floor dining room space. Private chef not included.
Above the restaurant are two apartments, which have previously been listed as separate dwellings. Laing – owner of Travel ADK, which operates several Airbnb rentals around the lower Adirondacks – plans to list the two upstairs residences and the downstairs dining area as a single entity on Airbnb. The restaurant will be remodeled with a rustic, Adirondack feel, with dining space for roughly 50 people.
Travel ADK is used to thinking big, as the current owners of the former Inn on Gore Mountain – now rented out as a single property sleeping 32 people. A whole-building rental in the middle of downtown Glens Falls is a very different prospect than one in the Adirondack mountains, and Laing knows it. He sees the appeal of renting 21 Ridge St. as an alternative for large groups who would otherwise take out a private room at a restaurant near an area hotel. He’s also been in conversation with local chefs and caterers to put in contact with renters, for the full-service experience.
Birch Bark Eatery closed its doors at 21 Ridge St. earlier in February. After three years, owner Tania Sharlow has moved her business – and her family – to Albany. She is currently preparing to reopen her haven of fake meats and real flavors under the name “Bitchin’ Donuts,” set to open on Lark Street at a date to be determined. Her time at 21 Ridge St. was challenging, but she looks back on it fondly.
“We loved operating on Ridge Street, even though it had challenges due to a recessed entrance and lack of frontal window space that would help evoke visions of an eatery inside,” Sharlow said. “We overcame those with a strong online presence and amazing product that sparked great word-of-mouth marketing.”
The street-facing challenges Sharlow faced are well-known. Laing has heard that some in Glens Falls see the property as a problem child for restauranteurs. A large front window is almost entirely blocked off by an interior wall, stopping views of the inside in their tracks. Before Birch Bark, the Fiddleheads restaurant operated there.
The news that Birch Bark’s former home could change so drastically is mixed for Sharlow. On one hand, she approves of using the large dining space for events. On the other hand, the prominence of Airbnb in more parts of Glens Falls fills her with a common worry.
“While I no longer reside in the area, I do share the affinity for its beauty that so many people do. I sincerely hope the local government will do something to prevent Glens Falls from losing all of its housing to a drive-thru mentality before it starts impacting other industries,” she said.
On Monday, the local government in question indicated it had not yet been in contact with Laing regarding the project. Glens Falls Economic Development Director Jeff Flagg said that the city is always open to new commerce concepts downtown, but would need to know more about exactly how the space would be used.
Meanwhile, Laing hopes to remodel 21 Ridge St. by late March. He plans to keep the property affordable, and says he has no intention of pricing the building as if it was in New York City – or even downtown Saratoga.
“I think the big misconception when people hear Airbnb is that they automatically get negative thoughts because of people buying out residential spaces and turning them into rentals, and how that does affect the housing market. Really, Airbnb is just a market like hotels and motels. I don’t completely agree with people’s concerns, but if I lived in a neighborhood like that, I wouldn’t want to see people coming and going all the time, so I get it,” he said.