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    Downtown Glens Falls update
    James VanHeste took up underwater diving as a teenager when his mother said it would be a great way to broaden his horizons.
    After serving 20 years as a combat mechanic in the U.S. Army, he again ramped up his interest in the sport when his eight-year-old daughter wanted to learn to dive.
    Now VanHeste and his wife, Kimberly, are diving into an entrepreneurial shop as owners of the new WaterHorse Adventures Dive Shop at 6E Washington St. in downtown Glens Falls.
    The shop sells and services diving equipment, teaches diving classes, and organizes diving events.
    "My wife and I were just super close to retiring, but have postponed retirement indefinitely," said VanHeste, who purchased the building and launched the business in January.
    VanHeste previously worked at Rich Morin's Scuba Centers, which is closing its local shop on Warren Street in Glens Falls.
    Kurt Riley and Marty Bedell, formerly with Morin's, have joined VanHeste as employees in the new venture.
    WaterHorse Adventures is one of several new businesses that has opened recently in downtown.
    Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall is optimistic there will be more retail businesses as the city implements its $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative Plan.
    Rude Betty opened in late November at 18 Exchange Street, offering "some practical and some not so practical gifts."
    The shop offers eclectic, unique, humorous gifts, some of which have mature themes.
    "We try to have fun, and we try to create a fun environment," said manager Samantha Reiter.
    It is the second retail shop in Warren County for Jeff Strief, owner of Happy Jacks in Bolton Landing.
    "Glens Falls shoppers have been kind," Reiter said.
    "A lot of nice people - warm, welcoming people," she said.
    The typical retail slowdown in January provided time to add a children's gift room in the back of the shop where parents and grandparents can purchase educational and creative toys and books for gifts.
    At the ground floor of 190 Glen St., the owners of Downtown City Tavern on Elm Street will soon open a second restaurant called Downtown Social.
    The new multi-faceted "entertainment eatery" will include a restaurant, wine bar, bourbon room, delicatessen, café, and feature live music and special events.
    Rude Betty and Downtown Social are at locations where previous businesses closed, but spaces were vacant for only a short time, compared with the era when downtown store fronts often would be vacant for one or more years.
    Hall said he recently came across a downtown marketing brochure from about a decade ago.
    Eight of the ten businesses listed no longer operate, but new businesses have opened since at all eight storefronts.
    Hall said the DRI will help develop a larger critical mass of retail commerce.
    "We think that retail is helpful in Glens Falls, and we will support it," he said.
    In other Warren County economic development, business and quality of life news:
    New North County micro-brewery
    The owners of O. P. Frederick's Restaurant in Chester will break ground in the spring on a new craft beverage venture to supplement the restaurant business.
    Hudson Hollow Hops, the new venture, will include a microbrewery, tasting room, special events and education space and a hops farm.
    "It's huge," said Bruce Hodgson, co-owner with George Stannard. "It's going to allow us to enter that craft beer market in a big way."
    Hodgson said he has been a hobbyist home brewer for about 25 years.
    Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December announced a $90,000 regional economic development council grant to help fund the project.
    EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew said that, to the best of his knowledge, it is the first Regional Economic Development Council grant for a private venture in Chester.  Bartholomew stated "EDC was pleased to assist George and Bruce in their microbrewery plans for the North Country.  The funding proposal received considerable support from the community including Town of Chester Supervisor Craig Leggett."
    Roy Thomas dies
    Chun Thung, a waiter at an Oriental restaurant, was all smiles when he showed me through his new house on Montcalm Street in Glens Falls in 2002, when I was a reporter with The Post-Star.
    Thung emigrated from Hong Kong to New York City with his family when he was two years old. He settled in Glens Falls after attending Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake in the mid-1980s.
    Roy Thomas, who died Jan. 31 at age 79, was the Glens Falls Community Development Director who helped arrange funding for Thung to purchase and renovate the home.
    "We are having success as middle class people," Thung said at the time.
    This is just one of the many stories about how Thomas helped people, whether it was through his role as city Community Development Director appointed by then Mayor Ed Bartholomew, co-founder and long-time president of the Glens Falls NAACP branch, or simply being a good neighbor.
    At Roy's funeral, or "Homecoming Celebration," as it was called, on Feb. 8, many stories were told about how he encouraged people and quietly helped people keep their lives on track.
    Roy kept active in city government after retirement, serving in recent years as a volunteer member of the city's Industrial Development Agency, Local Development Corp., and Urban Renewal Agency boards.
    Former mayor dies
    James Donnelly, Glens Falls mayor from 1966 through 1969, died Feb. 11 at age 90.
    Donnelly was mayor when the Glens Falls Housing Authority constructed La Rose Garden apartments.
    The Housing Authority constructed the Herman T. Stichman Towers senior complex shortly after he left office.
    Donnelly convinced Kamyr Inc. a paper industry equipment manufacturing and engineering company, to relocate its U.S. headquarters from Hudson Falls to Glens Falls. Kamyr constructed the office complex at the corner of Lawrence and Ridge streets.
    Kamyr also bought and renovated The Queensbury Hotel, and operated it for many years, preserving the building for its ongoing revitalization under the current ownership of Ed Moore and family.
    Donnelly convinced Continental Insurance to keep its regional offices in Glens Falls.
    The city agreed to extend Washington Street to Glen Street, facilitating construction of the 333 Glen St. office tower where EDC Warren County has its offices on the first floor.
    Donnelly was known for his kind, soft-spoken personality, which was evident when I interviewed him in 2008 as part of my coverage of the city's centennial.
    Donnelly was enthused about the revitalizing starting to take shape in downtown.
    "Upward - it's really now getting a change in atmosphere downtown.  More and more people walking the streets," he said, at the time.
    Maury Thompson covered the region for The Post-Star for 21 years before retiring in September. He keeps his finger on the pulse of economic development, business and quality of life in Warren County by writing a column for EDC Warren County.
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