Photos by Richard Lovrich
Schuyler Bull loves Albany. Since graduating from The College of Saint Rose in 2010, he’s dedicated his career to promoting and enhancing the city. He’s worked for the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau and served as editor-in-chief of the Albany Visitors Guide. A little over two years ago, Bull put his money where his mouth is and purchased The Fort Orange General Store from its original owners and opened in a new downtown location at 412 Broadway.
Bull stocks the 2,000-square-foot store with locally made products—some of which celebrate the area and others that are made with locally sourced materials. Six part-time employees staff the store, offering close assistance to shoppers and serving as guides for out-of-towners.
Two restaurants have opened up next door since he launched. The Albany Convention Center has come online, and Redburn Development Partners purchased 10 buildings in the downtown area, investing nearly $80 million in renovations and apartments.
“All of this is just adding to that whole downtown destination feel,” Bull says. “There is a real neighborhood growing here. All the local business owners check in on each other and see how things are going.”
Fort Orange supports the business community by creating partnerships with smaller retailers to use space in the store almost as an incubator. Olive & June Floral used to sell bouquets out of a refrigerator in the back of the store until they grew so successful they opened a location on Madison Avenue in Albany.
Workshops and crafting sessions also bring in businesses and makers that cover topics such as calligraphy, baking and jewelry making.
With all the activity in the area, Bull expects to be perfectly positioned as downtown comes alive with further development and revitalization. “I think people are really realizing that the value that is in downtowns, I mean, they are the symbols of your city, so it’s really important that our symbol is strong and it’s vibrant. We want it to be attractive and interesting and fun.”
Popular local brands featured in the store include MW Neighborhoods and their Capital Region focused T-shirts; The Grey Birch jewelry; and the prints, coasters, totes and stationery of Breakout Press.
“Most of what we sell here is local but others are just unique items you can’t find anywhere else,” Bull says as customers browse. “If you want that really special gift for someone, you can come here and we’re going to have something that’s going to fit the bill.”
While a lot of merchandise comes from local makers, Bull and his staff utilize social media to find things that might fit their aesthetic. “We find some things through Instagram and artists will email us,” he explains. “If we see a product we either know right away if it’s going to be a good fit for us or not.”
Bull sees Fort Orange General Store as an unofficial Albany visitors center. The shop is full of brochures and he and his staff are always ready to provide tourists with a sense of what is going on in the city.
The store sits across from the grandeur of the actual Fort Orange, the 17th century fur trading post on the west bank of the Hudson River, near the future site of Albany.
“When we were looking for a storefront, it was important to have something that had a historical quality to it,” Bull says. “We have this charm of downtown and our brand is certainly all about kind of showcasing the beauty of the area and the talent of the area.”