City marketplace to defy labels

Plans for North Albany building include bakery, cafe, fruit vendors and more

CHRIS CHURCHILL Business writer
Section: Business,  Page: E1

Date: Friday, March 23, 2007

ALBANY - It's not easy to describe what Fred Shapiro has planned for a building in North Albany. No easy label does the project justice.

There will be an Internet cafe, he says, and a bakery. He wants fruit and vegetable vendors, folks selling crafts, and an architectural salvage business. There could even be a dance and yoga studio and an outdoor bandstand. The building, built in 1892, is on Learned Street, around the corner from the Miss Albany Diner. Its history is appropriately varied for the eclectic venture: Shapiro says the building has housed a brewery, auction house, flea market, towing company and scaffolding business.

And Shapiro's background makes him an apt owner for a hard-to-describe business.

The bearded and bespectacled 54- year-old is a practicing oncologist, born and raised in the Bronx, who came to Albany in 1997 to start an outpatient stem-cell transplant program. He owns an architectural salvage business called Silver Fox Enterprises, which has a store on Lark Street. And among other things he has played harmonica for a local blues band and collected Italian motorcycles.

"I used to race," he said to a visitor admiring his 2003 Aprilia RSV Mille motorcycle, parked in a corner of the warehouse. "Now I just ride on the street."

Learned Street isn't easy on the eyes. The neighborhood is mostly gritty and industrial, but it's an area where developers are planning condos and apartments that could provide customers for Shapiro's effort.

"(The market) will be a bit of a destination for some people," said Joe Rabito, the city's commissioner of planning and development, who supports the project.

Rabito said his department has been "aggressively" trying to bring a Whole Foods-type grocery store to central Albany. Shapiro's project won't stop that effort, Rabito said.

Still, the project is more than a fantasy or a whim. Shapiro has received the necessary site-plan approvals and permits from the city. He is spending $350,000 on renovations.

With Shapiro aiming for a June 1 opening, workers are busi ly building spaces for the bakery, bathrooms, cafe and more.

Shapiro and Camille Gibeau, a friend who is helping organize the effort, have found tenants willing to rent space: Greg and Susan Castro, owners of Country Comfort Foods in Rhinebeck, will run the bakery, while Jay Dines, a farmer in Oak Hill, will operate the cafe.

There is room for about 12 vendors' booths inside the building, and each will pay $2 per square foot of space. But Shapiro wants the market to spill out to an adjacent parking lot, which he estimates could accommodate 50 vendors.

The year-round market will be open during the week, though it's expected most vendors will sell only on weekends, at least at first.

"It's going to be a nice thing," said Dines, who will pay monthly rent of $200 for the cafe. "There's nothing like it in Albany, especially that involves farmers."

There is, however, something similar three miles north, in Menands, where the Capital District Farmers Market has been since 1933. The 26-acre market mostly is for wholesale buyers, but it has been trying to attract consumers on Saturdays during warm-weather months.

"We have to keep the wholesale, but the board of directors has been leaning more and more toward retail," said John DeForge, president of the market. "There's more money in retail than wholesale."

Shapiro doesn't seem particularly bothered by nearby competition, saying the rivalry could improve both markets. He's confident customers will come to the off-the-beaten-path location.

"We're going to have things here that nobody else will have," he said.

Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or by e-mail at