August 9th, 2011

a minor convergence of obsessive interests

I've been poking around at deadmalls.com lately. I haven't been pointing to their URLs, because what I ultimately wind up posting about is often something that I found after running across a name and then googling that elsewhere -- the path between the two is circuitous and obscure. But I'm going to lay out the chain of research here, because the process and the end result are interesting to me, but neither is particularly interesting per se, other than an example of how my approach to learning about things works.

I will call this the starting point:

http://deadmalls.com/malls/amsterdam_mall.html

Amsterdam, New York is a very small town in the Mohawk Valley. Regular readers of my blog (and absolutely no one else) might possibly recall that earlier this calendar year when I was obsessively googling ancestors, I found quite a large number of them in this area.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsterdam_%28city%29,_New_York

While I don't recall finding any in Amsterdam, I found them in Fonda, Schenectady, Stone Arabia, that difficult to pronounce place starting with a C, and so forth, all reasonably nearby, and given that Amsterdam was once called Veeder's Mill, I probably had (and for all I know, still have) distant relatives in the area. (I also have in-laws living about 45 minutes away.)

The Thruway goes past Amsterdam on the other side of the river, and Amtrak serves Amsterdam as well, but nothing is currently changing the fact that the Mohawk Valley is sparsely settled, agricultural -- and Amsterdam itself is 20 minutes away from much better shopping in, say, Schenectady. Really, it's stunning to think that Amsterdam Mall was ever a going concern, given that Amsterdam itself has been shedding population since World War 2, however, through the 1980s, even after carpets had moved out, Coleco was still in the area, which explains why people on deadmalls.com can remember something to be mildly nostalgic about. But Coleco bk'ed shortly after I graduated high school, and that was more or less it for Amsterdam.

So what has the mall found to keep itself going? A few years after Coleco was over and done with, the mall changed hands and here's what the current owners have to say for themselves:

http://www.amsterdamrfc.com/

Here are their tenants:

http://www.amsterdamrfc.com/tenants.html

Doctors, lawyers, dentists, restaurants, a hardware store, government services, insurance, non-profit organizations, a radio station, realtors, accountants, a branch of Fulton-Montgomery Community College -- all of the things one might expect to find on Main Street are located in a temperature controlled area that, once you are in it, you don't need to worry about a slip-and-fall on the ice.

One of the comments on deadmalls.com includes hopelessly ambitious plans for a mall in a town with a population well under 20K, and then concludes with this: "The other, perhaps ultimately preferable, option for Amsterdam would be to demolish the mall, highway ramps, and maybe even the parking garage and rebuild a traditional mixed use Main Street and street grid. At least we know THAT works."

By any reasonable metric, Amsterdam Riverfront Centre is working great the way it is -- amazingly better than I would expect in a small and shrinking community.

Amsterdam Riverfront Centre and the problems of managing continual decline over 70 years are not, perhaps, in and of themselves interesting enough to justify putting together even a small post about -- altho I would argue that the convergence with railroads and distant family (Veeders still live in Amsterdam) brings it right up to the edge. But it was really the commenter who thought that either a facility scaled to a wealthy part of a community of a few million might somehow be a reasonable visioning for Amsterdam Mall -- or to destroy it and rebuild a gridded Main Street. Here's what urban planning theory has to say about "highest and best use".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highest_and_best_use#Financial_feasibility

But keep reading through:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highest_and_best_use#Maximally_productive_use

There is no justification for tearing this thing down, much less rebuilding it. The people who are responsible for Amsterdam Riverfront Centre are intelligent, frugal people doing a good job in a tough situation. It's a little sad that, because it is such a small place and not important to many in the national scheme, their work goes without the appreciation it deserves, and instead gets listed as a "Dead Mall".

As for agriculture in Mohawk Valley, my regular readers will be happy to learn that trends towards organics, slow food and locavore marketing are proceeding apace, even in this very conservative region.

ETA: This is tagged genealogy not because there's any genealogical content in it, but because a big chunk of my family tree (the Plantz and Veeders) are from the Mohawk Valley.