Top 5 local businesses that everyone at Union should visit

Bianca Ring, Opinions Editor

The local Schenectady area is full of small businesses, many of which are within walking distance of Union College. As someone who enjoys shopping and supporting local businesses, I’ve been to my fair share of stores here. On Sunday, I took a walk into town to interview sellers from my five favorite businesses. 

I start my walk at 11 AM, heading west on Union Street. My first stop is barely 0.2 miles away: The Schenectady Trading Company. The store generally opens at 10 AM, but on Sundays, it’s open from 11 to 4. The first thing I see when I walk into the store is pamphlets for local events in Schenectady, a door to the left holds a room with intricate glass jewelry, and the next room contains pet toys and supplies. In the main room of the shop, an arrangement of honeys, lip balms and teas immediately catches my eye. I choose a tin of black tea from Sweet Meadow Honey Bee Farm, and go to the counter to check out.

The cashier, Kara Petreikis, rings up my purchase, and kindly agrees to answer my questions. “Everything in the store is local,” she says, gesturing to fresh vegetables from Capital Roots in a fridge behind me. Everything from the wax candles to the bent cutlery sculptures are sourced from local vendors, so the money from every purchase made at the Schenectady Trading Company goes back into the local community. The dairy is not only local, but if customers return glass bottles to the store, they get a bottle refund. I actually bought a bottle of heavy cream and cheesecake mix from this store last week, and I can confirm that it was, in fact, delicious. Kara also tells me that students get a ten percent discount on all purchases. This store has a little bit of everything, and I’ve been impressed with their wide selection of gifts, food, and art.

My next stop is about three blocks away, on the road that surrounds Schenectady City Hall. Every Sunday from 10 to 2, vendors put up booths as part of the Schenectady Green Market. This is a very popular spot for Union students on the weekend, where one can buy veggies, crepes, lemonade, soap, maple syrup, and other goods. I make my way over to the Slate Valley Farms table, buying a ginger lavender lemonade. On a phone call later that day, I learned how they make their lavender lemonade and violet jelly. 

Slate Valley Farms has been making lavender lemonade for 15 years, and the lavender flavoring is made with real lavender buds. The buds can’t be used directly in cooking, otherwise the taste will be bitter, so the buds are put through a hydrosol machine, and the lavender essence is used for the lemonade. About 300 bottles are sold per market, and the farm has been participating at the Schenectady Green Market since 2011. 

The violet jelly takes two weeks to make, because the violets are small and low to the ground. The wild violets are often treated as weeds in many places, but in the hills of the Adirondacks, Slate Valley Farms takes the time to pick them. In addition to the jelly, these violets can be used to decorate cookies, put in salad, and added to lemonade. Once the violets are gathered and the jelly is made, it initially has a green color. When lemon juice is added, the jelly turns a beautiful shade of pink. It’s then sweetened with honey or sugar. Currently, there are about 50 jars left, and they sell quickly at the market. 

Walking past the Green Market, I reach the corner of Jay street and enter the Open Door Bookstore. The bookstore has a gift shop in a connected room, and I’ve bought many Christmas gifts from there before. The Open Door Bookstore is celebrating its 50th year this year, and it started as a children’s bookstore in the gift shop room before expanding into the second room. The current owner of the store is Janet Hutchison. There is a large selection of local and fair trade items, along with handmade jewelry. Students also get 15% off everything they purchase, which applies to both items from the gift shop and the bookstore. Local authors are often invited to the store for book signings as well. I bought a notebook with a tree print on the cover, and moved onto my next destination: The Grounded Goddess.

As someone with an extensive crystal collection, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Grounded Goddess. They’ve recently started selling crystal Crocs Jibbitz, so I bought a large mookaite stone jibbit. The store has been open for 10 months, and offers a large selection of crystals, jewelry, herbs, and other items. They source the items from other small creators, and the herbs are from local farms. I also learned that they make the soaps they sell themselves. They have crystal dinosaur figures, spheres, crystal points, pyramids, and other types of crystals on the right half of the store, with herbs such as lavender, dragonsblood, dandelion seeds, and rose petals on the left side. They also sell books, tarot decks, and mugs. My favorite mug is from this store, and it has a moon phases graphic on the inside. 

Walking further down Jay Street, I reach my last destination: The Jay Street Collective. I learned that everything in the store is locally sourced, with 18 local artists and vendors contributing to the inventory. There is also a pop-up of a different local artist every week, showcasing their goods on a table. The Jay Street Collective has been open since October 2021, and the owner is planning on adding a songwriting program soon as well. The selection of earrings is impressive, and the dinosaur earrings are particularly popular. There are notebooks with leather bindings, cooking supplies, coasters, a collection of pride trinkets including a sticker I bought of a dog holding a pride flag, and even Union College merchandise. 

With such a wide selection of goods, it’s easy to shop in the local Union area. Visiting the local shops is a good excuse to get off campus during weekends, and it’s important to me to know that the purchases I’m making are helping to support local artists and vendors. The five shops I interviewed today are my five favorite stores to visit, in no particular order. I encourage everyone on campus to check out these businesses if they like shopping.