DENNIS YUSKO Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: E1

Date: Sunday, September 12, 1999

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Tobin Packing Co. used to pump out up to 50,000 hot dogs a day. ``They had a machine that popped them out like a cannon,'' said Tony Stellato, 62, who worked 25 years in the now-defunct 450,000-square-foot complex on lower Exchange Street.

On Saturday, at the 19th annual Tobin Employee Reunion Day, Stellato stood in front of a grill at the West Albany Pocket Park, dishing about 20 hot dogs an hour to more than 60 former Tobin employees.

``Years ago, everyone that lived here worked at Tobin's,'' said Stellato, referring to the community of West Albany, of which he's a lifelong resident. ``It was a great place to work; everybody felt like family.''

But times have changed. Tobin's closed on Nov. 6, 1981, and since then many of the plant's employees have moved or died.

Although parts of the plant, now called Tobin's First Prize Center, are still rented out, the majority of the industrial facility lies decrepit.

Last fall, two developers -- Barry Feldman of Long Island and Gene Beaudoin of Connecticut -- proposed a 400,000-square-foot four-building retail center and a 1,752-space parking lot be built on the Tobin site, now owned by the county. Reports said Lowe's and Kmart expressed interest in the site.

Feldman and Beaudoin said they wanted to begin construction this summer, but Phil Pearson, director of planning and economic development for the town of Colonie, said Friday that their plan has not proceeded beyond their initial inquiry.

At Saturday's reunion, most of the former Tobin employees were nostalgic for the company and their old jobs, but said it was time for the ailing building with the tall tower to be torn down, if not replaced.

``I'd love to see it go now; it wouldn't hurt my feelings at all because it's a mess,'' said Stellato, now a town employee. ``At first we were bitter, but now I think most of the people that are against placing a center there are the newer residents who just fear traffic.''

Angie Audi, a Tobin employee for 42 years, ngie Audi still lives a block away from the former plant.

``I'd love it if they tore it down, and replaced it with a nice shopping center,'' Audi said.

It would be hard to imagine a person more proud of his employment history than Ron Miller, 66, who spent most of his career as a ``kill floor'' laborer.

``I did every job on the kill floor,'' said Miller, also a lifelong West Albany resident. ``We'd slaughter 365 hogs an hour.

He said he'll never forget that November day in 1981.

``It was a goddarn sad day when that place closed,'' said Miller. ``It tore the heart out of all of us.''

But even Miller says the building's current shape makes feeling nostalgic for it very difficult.

``When you go by that building now, it makes you sick,'' said Miller.

Phyl Presti, a 30-year Tobin employee, agreed. ``It makes me feel bad now; it would be better if they just took it down,'' Presti said.

Former supervisor of the ham department, Oliver Palmer, now retired and living in Delmar, said Tobin's used to prepare 700 hams a day. Charles Faragon, Tobin's sausage supervisor, claimed more than 20,000 pounds of kielbasa were made each day in the pork plant.

``There was never any reason for them to close that plant, but it just doesn't bother me at all anymore,'' said Faragon, who still lives two blocks from the plant.

The Albany County Industrial Development Agency now owns the 37.9-acre site. It paid $150,000 in 1984 to the Federal Economic Development Administration, which had foreclosed on Tobin's. The building is now leased by Exchange Street Associates -- a group of 11 local businessmen.

At Saturday's reunion, Bob Maguire, the former plant superintendent responsible for all department heads and labor relations, said the prospect of having the plant torn down ``hurts.''

``But I'm not against it because I realize things change,'' said Maguire, now a part-time employee of Oscar Mayer, one of Tobin's longtime competitors.