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suzanna | Suzanna K. Lourie

Multimedia Journalist | Travel Writer | Content Strategist

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Liceo de Villareal High School opens Central America’s first school skate park

Originally Published in the Tico Times. Online Edition. Friday, March 22, 2013. Click Here to Read Online.

Grinding the new pool: Students enjoy the first skate park in a public high school in Central America. Photo: Suzanna Lourie - The Tico Times<span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 25px;"></span>


By Suzanna Lourie | Special to The Tico Times

VILLAREAL, Guanacaste – The blistering afternoon sun proved no match for the excitement that captured more than 600 students and community members last Tuesday as they celebrated the inauguration of the new Liceo de Villareal High School Skatepark.

“It really seems like we started a craze,” said one crowd member as he watched the students swarm the edge of the park, taking runs, trying tricks and laughing with friends.

A craze would be an understatement. Since Liceo de Villareal announced the completion of the new skate park – the first one in a public high school in all of Central America – requests for more have been pouring in from across the country.

“The Minister of Education wants to build more parks, and we’re actually meeting tomorrow to discuss ways of getting the funds to build five or six more skate parks all across the country,” said Andrés Valenciano, executive director of the Youth Action Fund (FAJ), one of the nonprofit groups that spearheaded the Villareal project.

“The park works as an excuse to get kids more interested in what education is supposed to be. Suddenly school becomes a place where you can not only gain new knowledge and skills, but also make new friends and develop your potential as a human being,” he added.

The model of the skate park as an alternative to get kids off the streets and build healthy social relationships in a safe recreational space is catching the attention of the press and other schools around the country for one very important reason – it works.

Etnies professional skater Ed Reategui, left, with CEPIA President Laetitia Deweer.  Photo:Suzanna Lourie | Tico Times

Etnies professional skater Ed Reategui, left, with CEPIA President Laetitia Deweer. Photo:Suzanna Lourie | Tico Times

“It all started three years ago when the [school] director called us in to help with a group of 13 teenagers who were having some trouble in school,” said Laetitia Deweer, president of CEPIA, a Guanacaste-based nonprofit organization that worked with FAJ on the skate park project.

Both organizations were called in to initiate discussions with the group of students, who were teetering on the edge of expulsion, in hopes of finding a way to turn their behavior around.

“They explained to us they were all facing difficulties in their personal lives that led to them getting into all sorts of problems, fights, drugs, the works, and they told us there weren’t a lot of different alternatives to have fun together or just socialize,” FAJ founder and President Jorge Aguilar Berrocal said.

As it turned out, the students shared common interests in sports, including surfing and skateboarding. When asked what would motivate them to come to school, the group unanimously suggested the idea of a skate park – something that would boost the high school’s “cool” factor.

From there, the 13 students took on a new identity, and the “Team Riders” of the Liceo de Villareal Skatepark were born.

“We immediately figured out they were talented, clever, funny and creative kids,” Berrocal said. “So it was absolutely feasible for them to get good grades and do better, we just needed to figure out how to channel their potential.”

With the help of CEPIA and FAJ, the Team Riders made a deal with the principal: They would get a clean slate in exchange for improving their grades, helping with volunteer work and attending class.

Inextricably linked to education, the skate park evolved along with the students’ grades. Eventually, CEPIA and FAJ began to search for funding to make the vision a reality, and they found an overwhelming response from the community.

The project was made possible with more than $30,000 in materials and services donated by National Community Development, Australian AID, CEMEX, The Pool Store, Fertama, Friends of Education Foundation, Florida Skateboards National, Recordings Destiny and many other individual sponsors.

With the help of enthusiastic donors and continued participation in school from the Team Riders, the park began to take form and simultaneously accomplish its educational goals of helping students boost grades and get involved in various volunteer projects.

One of the original members of the Team Riders, 20-year-old Keiner López, 20, has since graduated from high school thanks to the skate park program. Today, nearly half the group holds diplomas.

“I’m finished with school, so I am just excited to skate all the time,” López said. “But the idea for the other students is to motivate kids in school to make classes more fun; so they don’t just feel like they are going to learn, but also that school can be a fun place to be.”

The hundreds of kids aged 4-24 who came out to skate the new park on Tuesday seemed to support López’s sentiments and show just how popular the school will be with its new park.

“I think [the skate park] is a good metaphor of how kids, teachers, faculty, civil society and the private sector can all come together behind an idea of giving kids a voice,” Valenciano said.

“The kids are willing to do their half if people are willing to listen and take note of their ideas,” he added. “This high school is an example of how education can be transformed into a place for kids to fulfill their potential as human beings.”

Coastal Residents Shaken, but Grateful After Strong Quake

Originally Published in the Tico Times, Print Edition, Thursday, September 6, 2012. Click Here to Read Online.

By Suzanna Lourie | Special to The Tico Times

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – The powerful 7.6-magnitude earthquake that shook Costa Rica Wednesday morning caused panic, property destruction and collapsed buildings in areas surrounding the quake’s epicenter in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Preliminary reports by the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (Ovsicori) said the 8:42 a.m. quake was centered in the Nicoya Peninsula, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the provincial capital of Liberia.

In the Pacific coast beach town of Tamarindo, residents awoke to chaos as furniture shook violently and glass shattered from the shelves for what many say lasted up to 30 seconds.

“It was crazy how long it lasted. We heard a gust of wind and then everything started shaking,” said Chelsea Lisaius, who runs a local schooling program.

“We all ran outside and I just grabbed our youngest student [a 9-year-old] and pushed her against the wall until it was over. It was pretty terrifying, but we’re grateful we survived and the students are safe.”

Earthquake damages

Many restaurants and bars reported minor structural damage and thousands of dollars lost in expensive liquor bottles shattered on the floor.

No injuries were reported in Tamarindo and surrounding communities, but the Red Cross reported one person died in Costa Rica from a heart attack, and at least 20 were injured. Two people remain missing. The Red Cross retracted earlier statements that a second man had died at a construction site.

“We cannot confirm any deaths caused by trauma. [The Red Cross] only provided assistance to OBGYN patients and people suffering anxiety and high blood pressure,” Red Cross spokesman Freddy Roman said.

After the shaking stopped, panic ensued across the region. In Tamarindo, more than 200 residents and visiting tourists did the only thing they could think of: seek higher ground and gather at the top of the town’s main hill.

“Everyone I knew was there,” said Jon Phillips, a U.S. expat who owns a restaurant and bar in Tamarindo. “We didn’t have Internet or power, but people were saying there was a tsunami warning so everyone went to the lookout point.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a preliminary tsunami warning for Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua, but it was quickly canceled – a stroke of luck for a crowd of surfers in the water when the quake hit.

Paola Sánchez, 31, who is originally from San José, was out for a morning surf on Tamarindo Beach when she heard a deep rumble emanating from the ocean floor.

“It was so intense; it was a new sensation I’ve never felt before in my life,” she said. “I knew something was wrong.”

After being thrown violently in the waves and feeling as though she would be “swallowed by a hole in the sand,” Sánchez and other surfers were confused, but got out of the water without any major problems.

Had the quake been shallower, the outcome for Sánchez could have been much worse. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the event was fairly deep at 40 kilometers (25 miles) below the earth’s surface.

Besides causing widespread fear, the quake also took a toll on local businesses. Many of the tourist town’s restaurants and bars reported minor structural damage and thousands of dollars lost in expensive liquor bottles shattered on the floor.

“We won’t know how much we lost for a few days, but it looked pretty bad,” Phillips said of his third-floor location. “All the bottles had fallen; there was lots of broken glass and some damage to electronics from falling ceiling tiles.”

Still, no one is crying over spilled liquor – damage was minor compared to devastation being reported closer to the quake’s epicenter. In the Samara district, towns were temporarily evacuated. In the town of Hojancha, a few miles from the epicenter, city officials said the quake knocked down some houses and landslides blocked several roads.

“We know the damage is much worse in some places,” Phillips added. “Everything here can be replaced. We’re just thankful everyone is safe and wishing the best for everyone else out there.”

In the hours following the quake, several aftershocks were felt in town – Ovsicori reported more than 60 aftershocks between magnitudes 2 and 4 occurred as the day went on. As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Tamarindo appears to be out of any immediate danger, but locals are still feeling on edge with unconfirmed rumors of more powerful earthquakes and tsunamis circulating.

“You can’t predict these things,” said Sasha Karaliova, 27, who lives and works in Tamarindo. “You never think things like this are going to happen, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and natural disasters, you never think it will happen to you.”

Karaliova said the only thing to do was wait and make sure friends and family are safe in the aftermath. But while some people left town to head inland, Karaliova is staying close to home.

Weather reports for Wednesday night and Thursday indicate storms, but there are no current tsunami warnings in effect, although officials have advised of the possibility of strong aftershocks in the next couple of weeks.

PJ’s Bar-B-Q Constructing Addition that will Allow it to Stay Open Year-Round

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 27, 2011. Click here to read online. 


SARATOGA SPRINGS — For almost 28 years, PJ and Carolyn Davis have been serving customers the smoky taste of summer at PJ’s Bar-B-Q on Route 9.

But right now, a week into winter, passersby will notice a new structure erected around the ’50s-style barbecue joint — one that will allow it to be open year-round in 2012.

Earlier this year, PJ Davis announced his plans to turn the business into a year-round franchise. He said construction on the restaurant’s addition was supposed to start in October but was delayed until December.

“Luckily, the weather has been very conducive to working outside so everything is on schedule,” he said.

If all goes according to plan, construction is expected to wrap in early April, and Davis hopes the new space will open in April or May.

The restaurant’s make-over won’t stray too far from the casual ’50s vibe and laid-back atmosphere that keeps customers coming back to PJ’s year after year. It will use the same footprint — 3,000 square feet — but people will order their favorite pulled pork or grilled chicken sandwich inside instead of outside.

“Instead of having to walk up to the counter outside, that area will be enclosed,” Davis said.

The outdoor tables will remain and the original indoor dining room will be expanded to seat slightly more than its current 50.

The Davises will return to Saratoga Springs from their winter home in Florida in early January.

“To start off, we’re not going to spend the entire winter like we have been in Florida,” Davis said from his home in the South. “But our son, Johnny, will eventually take over the reins of the business, which will allow us to come down here more in the winter.”

During the first year of business, Davis plans to assist Johnny and the PJ’s staff to make the transition to a year-round business.

“One thing we’re really looking forward to is being open during the holidays,” he said. “A lot of places offer smoked hams and turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we’re definitely going to be a big player in that game. We’ve got the smokers, and people will be able to take away their holiday dinner, smoked turkeys, hams, pork shoulders and brisket.”

Even after their son takes over in Saratoga, the Davises don’t plan to retire. The husband and wife, who have been in the barbecue business since 1975, hope to expand PJ’s Bar-B-Q into a national franchise.

“We’ve already got a franchise license in New York,” Davis said earlier this year. “You never know where it could go.”

In the past couple of years, the Davises spent time on a taste tour of America’s favorite barbecue destinations — Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, the Carolinas — sampling what each one has to offer.

Now, their strategy is to offer the best from each region under one roof.

“We want to take that countrywide,” he said.

Before extending PJ’s reach across the United States, the Davises intend to complete the construction that will allow it to stay open even after the weather turns cold.

“I think it’s going to be great for our customers who are sad to see us close in September,” Carolyn Davis said.

PJ’s Bar-B-Q will begin hiring full-time, part-time and seasonal employees this January. For more information, go to www.pjsbarbq.com.

Man Assaulted Outside of Saratoga Springs Bar Now in Stable Condition at Albany Medical Center

Originally Published in the Saratogian: Dec. 26, 2011. Click here to read online.


SARATOGA SPRINGS — The victim who sustained a serious head injury when he was assaulted early Saturday morning — allegedly by a Putnam Den employee — has been upgraded from critical to stable condition at Albany Medical Center, Saratoga Springs Police Department Lt. John Catone said Monday afternoon.

Police have not yet released the name of the victim, but confirmed he is a 35-year-old male who lives in Ballston Spa.

“He’s responding well,” Catone said Monday.

He did not know when the man would be released from Albany Medical Center or the extent of his head injury.

The alleged assailant, 26-year-old Putnam Den employee Adam McInerney of Stillwater, was working security at the entrance to the bar when the fight broke out on Putnam Street.

City police responded to the scene at 1:27 a.m. Saturday and found the victim unconscious with an apparent head injury. He was airlifted to Albany Medical Center.

After conducting an investigation, officers arrested McInerney, who appeared to be responsible for the injuries sustained by the victim. McInerney was then taken into custody and charged with second-degree assault, a felony.

According to his Facebook profile, McInerney has been employed by the U.S. Marine Corps.

He was arraigned in City Court and sent to Saratoga County Jail after his arrest Saturday. Bail was set at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.

The investigation is being led by Saratoga Springs Police Sgt. Tim Sicko and Investigator John Kelly.

The Healing Power of Literature: Skidmore Students Bring Books to Children

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 25, 2011. Click here to read online.


SARATOGA SPRINGS — A class of first-year Skidmore College students delivered boxes of holiday cheer to children staying at Albany Medical Center when they donated more than 1,100 books to the Ronald McDonald Family Room earlier this month.

“The most important thing I took away from this class is that it takes a community to raise a literate leader,” said senior Becky Bui, the peer-mentor assigned to work with students in Rebecca Johnson’s “Reading Minds,” a course about the history and power of literacy. “When we do things like the book drive, it benefits the entire community.”

Johnson taught Reading Minds as one of this year’s Scribner Seminars, a group of multi-disciplinary, discussion-based courses for new students as part of the college’s First Year Experience program.

Although the course includes reading to preschoolers as a service-learning component, Johnson added the book drive as another service project. It was based on a personal experience she had at Albany Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the summer of 2010, when she had her twin boys.

“I would take my 20-month-old daughter to the Ronald McDonald Family Room to play and to read to, but I noticed there was only a small bookcase with some pretty old books to choose from,” Johnson said. “It stuck in my mind because the NICU shares the family room with patients staying at the children’s hospital, which has kids up to 17-years-old.”

The opportunity to make a difference arose when Johnson, an assistant psychology professor, was assigned to teach the Reading Minds, a seminar about the importance of literacy in today’s society, seminar to 16 first-year students this fall. The class set a goal, to collect enough books to help replace some of the older books in the Ronald McDonald Family Room and to expand the selection to include adolescent books.

They met and exceeded that goal, generating enough books for children at the hospital to take home when they leave.

“Reading is one of the things a child in the hospital can do so we do go through a lot of books” said Lori Emery, the operations manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities, with whom Johnson worked on the drive. “With the valuable contribution from Skidmore, we can offer not only the books in the family room, but there are enough for the kids to take them bedside and keep them to have a special book to hold onto.”

The book drive process started before Thanksgiving, when Johnson and her students sent a college-wide advisory to faculty, staff and students asking them to purchase a copy of a favorite childhood book to donate to the cause.

With more than half the semester’s coursework behind them, the students in Reading Minds had come to understand some of the seminar’s core concepts, including how the brain learns to read and the importance of literacy in Western society.

“I never realized how lucky I was when I was read to as a little kid,” student Emily Defiore said. “The class placed an emphasis on how essential it is to be read to when you’re young because it helps you grow up so much, both cognitively and emotionally. And it felt really good to be able to give more kids that opportunity with the books we raised at the book drive.”

The students organized the week-long drive, making posters and taking turns sitting at the collection table as they watched the books begin to pile up.

“It was really fun to sit at the table — when I was there the president of the college came and donated,” said Madison Dipman, another student. “It just made me feel really good, knowing you’re helping so many people.”

The end result was a total of 1,111 books, 1078 donated by college students, faculty, staff and other organizations and 33 purchased by the class from a $75 cash donation.

“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” Johnson said. “The members of the Skidmore community were so generous with their donations, from giving one book to five or even an entire bin of books.”

Once word of the book drive reached the Saratoga community, members of the Friends of the Saratoga Springs Public Library also pitched in by dropping off a carton of books. Other donations came from the preschool class at Greenberg Child Care Center on Skidmore’s campus and the college library.

“The donation will help us get through at least a year of providing children’s books at the hospital,” Emery said. “This is going to make a big difference for kids who I think are somewhat trapped in their situation, having to be there at the hospital when they wouldn’t choose to be. Books are a great way to help them get away from that, to escape for a moment. We’re very grateful.”

Sweet success: Jo-Ann’s Candy House in Wilton celebrates 30 years in business

Originally Published in The Saratogain: Sunday, December 25, 2011. Click Here To Read Online.



The colorful candy display at Jo-Ann’s Candy House on Route 50 in Wilton. (ERIC JENKS/photos@saratogian.com)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Whether it’s the smell of homemade chocolate, the colorful display of candy or both, it’s hard to deny the appeal of Jo-Ann’s Candy House located in The Shoppes at Wilton plaza off of Route 50.

Now celebrating the local shop’s 30th holiday season, owner Gene Bruno knows a thing or two about how to create a successful shopping experience for his customers.

“We try to hit all the senses with the music, the display and the smell,” Bruno said while gesturing at the rows of candy. “It’s the total experience, and we’re always looking for ways to upgrade.”

Since first opening in the old Pyramid Mall (now the site of the Wilton Square box stores) in 1978, Bruno and his wife, April, say they have continued to run the business the way they originally intended — with quality products, great service and an emphasis on family.

As kids, the Brunos’ two children, Justina and Joseph, spent a lot of time at the shop after school, working behind the counter when they were old enough.

“We grew up here,” said 21-year-old Justina, a 2008 Saratoga Springs High School graduate. “I can’t imagine life without it.”

And she won’t have to. Justina recently began training to take over the business so the family tradition can be kept alive for another generation. Her brother still helps out at the store but has made a career teaching at Maple Avenue Middle School.


The Bruno Family — Joseph, April, Gene and Justina — stands behind the counter at Jo-Ann’s Candy House in Wilton. The local business is celebrating its 30th holiday season. (ERIC JENKS/photos@saratogian.com)

“I always say to people, ‘I don’t know if I would be happy right now not knowing that one of us — my brother or I — was going to take it over,’ ” Justina said.

For now, Justina will continue working part-time at the shop until Gene and April are ready to take a step back from the business, which has become an extension of the Bruno family.

“We’re ecstatic she wants to take over,” Gene said. “We feel we’re very entrenched in Saratoga. Both my children were raised here, and even though we’re not downtown, we feel like we’re very Saratoga.”

Jo-Ann’s Candy House could be considered the longest-running business at Exit 15. It was, however, forced to close for three years after the Pyramid Mall was torn down in 1999.

“We were in the mall for 21 years until it came down,” Bruno said. “We always knew we wanted to reopen, so we kept looking for a space.”

Finally, in 2003 the location at The Shoppes at Wilton became available and Jo-Ann’s Candy reopened its doors.

“It was horrible,” longtime customer Mandy Dennis said of the three-year hiatus. “You couldn’t get candy at Christmas anywhere.”

This year is the Bruno’s 30th Christmas season and their ninth at the new location. They say business is better than ever, with customers like Dennis lining up to grab chocolate Santas, Hanukkah candies or any of the shop’s other mouth-watering confections.

For Gene, it’s relationships he has built with entire families that keep the business going.

“The best memories for me are waiting on people who I waited on when they were kids and who bring their kids in. I get goosebumps,” he said. “It’s something you don’t think of when you’re starting a business, but that’s part of why we love what we do.”

Maple Avenue Middle School Sees Marked Performance Improvements

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 22, 2011. Click here to read online. 


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Maple Avenue Middle School has seen a significant drop in the number of course failures and an improvement in test scores in the past year, according to Principal Stuart Byrne.
Byrne delivered the annual state of the building report to members of the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education during the regular board meeting Tuesday evening.

The middle school, unlike many of the district elementary schools, has maintained, and even increased enrollment numbers — up to 1,660 students from 1,637 in the last academic year.

Byrne pointed to the reduced number of course failures as an example of the school meeting the|district-wide goal to “raise the bar.” Last year, there was a total of 334 course failures, down from 448 courses failed in the 2009-2010 year, decreasing the percentage of failures from 2.71 percent to 1.95 percent between the two years.

The most notable improvement in test scores was a jump in eighth-grade English Language Arts numbers.

The school moved up from 10th to first in the regional rankings.

Like eighth grade, sixth-grade ELA scores improved in the statewide rankings, as did eighth-grade math scores. Seventh-grade ELA scores and sixth- and seventh-grade math scores fell slightly.

Byrne said Maple Avenue Middle School is working toward meeting the district’s four other goals — closing the gap, focusing on the power of literacy, building 21st century learners and cultivating powerful leadership.

Byrne emphasized the school’s increased focus on using the Student Council to promote student leadership and community service.

Some other 2011-12 school year initiatives include modifying science to have an increased writing component and integrating a new system called PlascoTrac, a program designed to reduce student absences and late arrivals.



Marketing locally: Saratoga Farmers’ Market is a Good Last-Minute Stop for Shoppers on Christmas Eve

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 19, 2011. Click here to read online.


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Holiday shoppers have one more chance before Christmas to get locally made goods and gifts at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, now in its indoor season at Division Street Elementary School.

The school transformed into a holiday-themed market this past Saturday, brimming with shoppers who spent time catching up with friends while browsing local gifts and groceries. For those looking for last-minute gift ideas, the farmers’ market will be open again from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, which is Christmas Eve.

“We’ll be here for the holidays. Believe it or not, gardens in New York state still produce at this time of year,” market coordinator Suzanne Carreker-Voigt said.

“You can get gifts — I just bought organic lotions for my daughter — and I’m having a holiday party so I’ve got the goat cheeses, vegan dips and you can even order your turkey or chicken,” Carreker-Voigt said. “I probably won’t even have to go to the supermarket.”

Like Carreker-Voigt, most of this weekend’s market shoppers were buying a mix of gift items, like handmade jewelry or homemade jams and fresh food items, including locally grown greens, meats and seasonal vegetables.

“I just got four pairs of earrings for my mother,” said Charistienne Budge, a frequent market shopper who was doing her Christmas shopping there for the first time this year.

“It’s really nice, and I have to say, it’s a lot more pleasant than going to the mall,” she said.

Along with jewelry made by local designer Frenchy Loeb, Budge picked up some Saratoga Suds soaps as gifts and knocked another item off her list with ground mutton and a family recipe from Elihu Farms, which she planned to make for an upcoming holiday party.

Linda’s Country Kitchen is offering Santa Claus cookies, a popular item amongst shoppers and vendor Linda Kerber’s eight grandkids.

“I hand-paint Santa’s face with chocolate,” Kerber said. “We also have dreidel and menorah cookies for the Jewish community.”


For Christmas Eve shoppers, Linda’s homemade pies offer a fresh (pies are baked the day before the market) and tasty dessert option for a holiday party.

“I kind of specialize in baking for the holidays. I’ve been baking since I was 10 years old. We have pies, cheesecakes, cookies and probably more at Christmas,” Kerber said.

Amy Bonser Feldman’s twin daughters, Miakoda and Kestrel, were occupied by smoothies and honeycomb while their mother shopped.

“We bought Granny some jam, and we’re looking at some jewelry and beeswax candles,” Feldman said during a brief shopping snack break. “We absolutely want to support the local businesses. It’s why we came to buy gifts. This is a wonderful place. You can get something to eat, shop and it’s a really lovely group of people. The vendors are wonderful.”

The Saratoga Farmers’ Market and most of its more than 30 vendors will return Saturday for last-minute gifts and other local goods.

“We’ll be here, so if you’re really up the creek and can’t think of what to get, there’s nothing better than a basket of local goodies,” Carreker-Voigt said.

The Saratoga Farmers’ Market will also be open during regular hours New Year’s Eve day, which is Dec. 31. For information, go to www.saratogafarmersmarket.org.

In the Biz: Saratoga Springs to Welcome New Health Foods Store

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 18, 2011. Click here to read online.




There’s a new business in town for the health-conscious consumers of Saratoga Springs.

This January, Greenfield resident Tina Bakkalapulo will open For Earth’s Sake, a new natural foods store and eco-friendly boutique at 120 West Ave. next to the Fortunate Cup café.

With signs in place and products in stock, Bakkalapulo is ready to open, but unfortunately building construction has forced her to delay the unveiling of For Earth’s Sake until after the holidays.

“It’s disappointing,” Bakkalapulo said. “I have some really cool gifts I hoped to offer for the holidays, but I’m okay with it. We’ll be open soon.”

Bakkalapulo won’t let the last-minute frustrations interfere with the excitement of opening her dream business, a family-owned natural foods shop designed as an extension of the owner’s healthy habits.
“Health food is my passion. It’s how I live — very organic and natural,” Bakkalapulo said. “I imagined a store I would want to shop at — somewhere you could walk in, grab dinner, buy a pair of awesome earrings and grab my skincare products and supplements all at the same time.”

For Earth’s Sake will reflect that one-stop shopping philosophy with a variety of products, including local meats and dairy, eco-friendly gifts and all-natural cosmetics — such a range of goods that Bakkalapulo never expected to carry them all when she first planned the store.

“I was just going to do a health foods store with vitamins, supplements and natural foods, but then I started getting into the cosmetic end of it,” she said. “I gravitated toward how important it is to use natural cosmetics and skincare, and from there it just sort of morphed into something bigger.”

The shop will carry brands of all-natural skincare and cosmetics such as CLEAN cosmetics by Mineral Fusion — with no products more than $29 — and a line for teens called Good For You Girls.

“The cosmetics look just like mainstream makeup — it’s all beautiful stuff without the harsh chemicals,” Bakkalapulo said.


As the mother of two girls, Bakkalapulo is an advocate against the “cancer-causing agents” often found in drugstore beauty products. She will carry nail polish, perfume and lip gloss, with at least two lines geared toward young girls ages 11 and older, at For Earth’s Sake.

Like its cosmetics, all For Earth’s Sake products stay true to the store’s name by treading gently on the environment, including many boutique items that give back with each purchase.

“I started thinking if I was going to sell any retail items I want to be sure they are sustainable and recycled, so I started looking into those kinds of gifts,” Bakkalapulo said. “We carry Sprout watches, which are made out of corn resin and are the coolest-looking watches. They look like Rolexes, but everything is made from wood and every time you buy one, they plant a tree.”

Although other eco-friendly products such as recycled purses and handmade jewelry will also be available, For Earth’s Sake is a health foods store at heart.

In addition to vitamins and supplements, there will be bulk foods, organic groceries, natural frozen foods and gluten-free products, in addition to as many locally sourced items, including meat and dairy products, as Bakkalapulo can manage.

“I’ll offer as much as I can from our local farmers,” she said. “I’m a huge supporter of our local farms and the hard work they do.”

Since moving to the area three years ago, Bakkalapulo has grown to love the land and community around the city and feels confident it is the perfect home for a business like For Earth’s Sake.

“There are a lot of people in Saratoga who are health conscious and concerned about the earth and who recycle,” she said. “I think it’s going to go really well.”

For more information, call 306-6655 or go to ForEarthsSake.com.

For more business news, check out the “In the Biz” blog at inthebizsaratoga.blogspot.com.

Downtown Staple Saratoga Shoe Depot will Close its Doors for Good Dec. 31

Saratoga Shoe Depot, a downtown staple since 1976, will close its doors for good Dec. 31

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 


Saratoga Shoe Depot

Saratoga Shoe Depot at 385 Broadway, a downtown staple since 1976, will close its doors for good Dec. 31. It was sold at auction earlier this month. (ERICA MILLER file photo/emiller@saratogian.com)


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Shoe Depot, a downtown business staple since 1976, will close its doors for good Dec. 31.

The announcement comes just weeks after the store at 385 Broadway was sold at auction to Tom Newkirk, owner of Saratoga National Golf Course, for $2 million.

Saratoga Shoe Depot and another Broadway property — a mixed-use building on the corner of Spring Street and Broadway — were originally slated for foreclosure in May, but former owner Frank Panza filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to hold off auctioneers.

Unable to sell the properties, Panza lost the buildings Dec. 2, when they sold at auction for a combined $3 million.

“It’s bittersweet,” Panza said Saturday, “but I’m a firm believer that life is going to take you in a direction and you have the option to be happy or to be sad, and I’m not walking away sad.”

Looking ahead, Panza said he has no specific plans to reopen the Shoe Depot elsewhere and for now is focusing on taking it slow with his wife, Jennifer L. Flynn, while recuperating from the financial and emotional losses.

“We’re not going to relocate, at least right now, but we’re leaving it open because we don’t know the possibilities yet,” he said. “We will definitely do something, I’m just not sure where it will be.”

While Panza plans his next step, the property’s new owner, Newkirk, has apparently reached an agreement with another retail tenant — Frivolous Gal — that will move into the space next year.

Although the owner of Frivolous Gal, a boutique currently located at 18 Division St., was unavailable Saturday evening, an employee confirmed the business would be moving to Broadway, opening some time next spring.

Roughly 10 employees will be out of a job when Saratoga Shoe Depot, which has been in business for more than 35 years, closes its doors at the end of the month.


Longtime employees and customers were the first to be notified of the closing in an email from Panza sent earlier this week.

“My family and I want to say thank you for the way you have treated us,” the message said. “Some folks say retail is a tough racket, and I would tend to agree. It also seems appropriate to mention that 35 years ago I could not imagine how wealthy our hearts would become from something as simple as serving you. From its now deeper bottom we can say Bless You.”

The email also announced a liquidation sale that will feature price cuts on everything in the store.

All jewelry, clothing, footwear, accessories, gifts, toys, furniture (antiques included) will be 20 percent off through Monday; 30 percent off Dec. 19 through 21; 40 percent off Dec. 22 through 24; 50 percent off Dec. 26 through 27; and 60 percent off Dec. 28 through 30.