Shared from the 8/19/2016 Albany Times Union eEdition


Minding the store

Mark Yonally helps keep an Albany retail tradition alive at Lodge’s


Paul Buckowski / Times Union Mark Yonally, president of B. Lodge & Co (Lodge’s), holds a stack of school uniform pants in the long-running store on North Pearl Street in Albany.

For our regular Capital Region Q&A feature, we ask local people questions about themselves, their jobs and the place we call home. Today’s subject is Mark Yonally, who with his sister, Sharon Freddoso, owns B. Lodge & Co., which they took over from their parents, Jack and Elaine Yonally, in 2011. The business, Albany’s oldest store, was founded in 1867; the present location, 75 N. Pearl St., on the corner of Columbia Street, is the fourth for Lodge’s, as the store is commonly known. The Yonallys are only the third family of owners since the founding. Mark Yonally, 41, lives in East Greenbush with wife, Jessica; two kids, Aidan, 11, and McKenna, 9; and 13-year-old golden retriever. Answers have been minimally edited for clarity and space.

Q: Let’s get the obvious out of the way and just be blunt about it: In this age of malls and Macy’s and Target and Wal-Mart and the Gap, how the heck is Lodge’s still open?

A: We have great customers, we have great suppliers and we try to offer a good product at a good price. A lot of the times I beat Wal-Mart and Target, who are thought to be the cheapest. We’ve had people come in here, see something they just bought elsewhere and say they’re going to take it back because we have it for less.

Q: OK, but why are your prices so low? A six-pack of pairs of Hanes socks that I paid at least $12 for at the mall is $4.99 at your store — for the exact same socks. Actually, your package has seven pairs, so it’s an even bigger bargain. And I got a pair of Nautica shorts that surely would be $40 at Macy’s for $10.99 from you. How can you do that?

A: We made a huge purchase of Hanes socks — $7,000 worth. A distributor had them and wanted to get rid of them. We do big business in Hanes socks and Champion products. From a larger perspective, a lot of the salespeople that we’re dealing with have been dealing with Lodge’s forever. They want to see us succeed, and since so many of the smaller independent stores have closed, they respect the fact that we’re still a one-store operation. More importantly, our markups are not as big as at the chain stores. We don’t need to mark it up as much. The way we look at it is, if people know we’re looking out for them and offering the best prices we possibly can, they’ll come back to see us more often.

Q: Your parents, who both worked at the store for Lodge’s previous owners for a long time, bought the business in 1995. I’ve lived downtown since 1994, and back then it was a desolate place for retail. What made them think it was a wise investment?

A: The previous owner had done very well. They always lived comfortably, and we thought we could do so, too. We’re never going to get rich, but we were sure we’d be able to make a good living and support our families. We also had ideas about expanding, with buying the building, leasing out other space, the ones down the side on Columbia Street, and renovating apartments upstairs. We were the first people downtown to do that with residential. All of these different things help you ride it out when things are tough, when there’s a down cycle. With all the residential opening in downtown, we’re definitely in an up cycle.

Q: Because I’ve never shopped for a school uniform, I was shocked to see how big a selection you have. How many schools are represented?

A: We do roughly 27 schools; we’re the largest provider of school uniforms in the region. It’s one of the areas we specialize in, to make sure Lodge’s will be here another 150 years. We’re huge in school uniforms and hospital scrubs.

Q: By my count, you have about 10 places to get an after-work drink within a block of your store. Where do you go?

A: I like The Hollow.

Q: So you walk all of about 20 feet from your front door?

A: It’s really far. Their food is really good, and I love their selection of beers, but I have a 9- and an 11-year-old, so I don’t get to do that as much as I’d like.

Q: Speaking of beer, your dog’s name is Killian. Like Killian’s Irish Red Lager?

A: Yes. We were in a bar trying to think of names for our golden retriever, who was actually quite red in color, and I happened to be drinking Killian’s, and I thought Killian was a great dog’s name.

Q: Is Lodge’s closing time still 5:25 p.m.?

A: Of course.

Q: Why?

A: A lot of our employees take the bus, and it stops out front at 5:30, so this was a way of making sure they could walk right out the door and get on the bus without having to wait, especially in the winter. It’s just the right thing to do.

Q: Since your family has owned Lodge’s, North Pearl went through a period as a bar and nightclub zone. While the store was closed when those patrons were downtown, did the occasional violence and resultant poor reputation affect the store?

A: The growth down here in that area was important, but unfortunately it got too big, some of the bars started to cannibalize each other, and it seemed like they — a few of them, not all — started to go after whoever they could get their sales from. A few bad apples helped the area develop a bad reputation that hurt everyone else. It didn’t affect us, but it affected others in the area.

Q: Where locally do you go to get away from it all?

A: My family has a place on Sacandaga, so we like to go out on Jet-Skis, have s’mores, spend time around the fire.

Q: Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan is battling with some members of the Common Council over the proposed sale of the city-owned Palace Theatre to the nonprofit that runs it for a “nominal” price, perhaps as low as $1, to make way for a proposed $65 million renovation and expansion of the theater. Opponents think the theater, which is assessed at almost $13 million, should be priced much higher. Do you have an opinion?

A: If the Palace were to expand to the extent they’re talking about, that would benefit downtown tremendously. I understand that it has to be economically viable for both sides, but I think it’s really important to keep an eye on the larger picture and get something done that will benefit everyone.

POP QUIZ: Who was mayor of Albany when Lodge’s was founded, in 1867?

A: I do not know.

Q: George Thacher, who owned a business making wheels and other components for railroads. His son, John Boyd Thacher, grew the business and eventually donated the land that is now Thacher State Park, along the Helderberg escarpment.

A: That’s some very interesting and cool history,

Q: Can you use “escarpment” in a sentence?

A: (Laughs.) OK: “I was hiking on the escarpment wearing Hanes socks and Champion sweats.”

Q: Because I have magical powers, I can arrange for you to trade jobs for one day with anyone in the Capital Region, and I can give you the skills needed to do that job. With whom would you want to trade?

A: Michael Castellana, the president and CEO of SEFCU.

Q: That’s the second time he’s been mentioned in response to that question in about a year. Why did you pick him?

A: I admire what they have done in growing their business and what they’ve done in bringing their headquarters down here, to Kiernan Plaza. I would love to see what goes into a day in his life.

sbarnes@timesunion. com

See this article in the e-Edition Here