Historic Patsy’s barbershop approaches a crossroads

ALBANY – Surrounded by renovation scaffolding, Patsy’s barbershop isn’t in plain sight. But it’s a true city landmark, operating continuously at 3 Howard St. since 1930.

The establishment has only changed hands three times since then and current owner, local entrepreneur William “Tragedy” Yager hopes to pass it on to his son, who works there alongside other elite barbers.

On Friday, Patsy’s heritage was added to the state Historic Business Preservation Registry, which aims to salute long-term local businesses that have helped anchor their respective communities.

“I have a special love for this place,” Yager said, as Friday as local politicians gathered to recognize the historic designation.

The trouble is, Patsy’s may not be in that spot much longer. They are currently operating without a lease and Yager said the building’s owner Yuri Kaufman, the developer behind Harmony Group, is planning to transform much of the 15-story building from an office tower to luxury apartments.

While Patsy’s address is on Howard Street, the business is in the 90 State Street office building.

Like other office buildings downtown, tenants have been slow to return after the pandemic sent people home two years ago. At the same time, demand is high for apartments downtown, with 1,000 new units coming on line in recent years, and a 97 percent occupancy rate, said Georgette Steffens, executive director of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District.

The possible departure of Patsy’s from its long-term berth typifies the challenges and potential conflicts in the never-ending battle to keep downtown Albany viable. As the focus shifts to residential demand, some businesses wonder where their place in this new order will be.

The shop’s interior is physically unchanged from the 1920s with mahogany wood paneling, tile flooring, and the original bronze cash register (next to the laptop that is actually used to collect payments).

But Yager has been told he may have to move in order to accommodate the apartment plan, known as Abraxas at 90 State Street.

He stressed that Kaufman has been a good landlord who helped him weather the worst of the pandemic, when the shop was closed down.

And he realizes building owners need to go where the market takes them. “The landlords have to change if they want to stay in business,” Yager said, adding that many of the lawyers and lobbyists who were in the building left during COVID and haven’t returned.

He’s hoping the barbershop is viewed as part of the residential mix, since tenants still need haircuts.

Already, though, Yager has been told that the tattoo parlor he owns next door, Modern Body Art, has to leave and will soon move to 54 North Pearl St., where a grocery store came and went within the last few years.

Kaufman couldn’t be reached on Friday.

To be sure, the apartment developments and businesses to serve them have created some conflicts already.

The operators of Surpass Chemical, a chemical distributor in the Warehouse District, for example, went to court earlier this year over parking spaces granted to neighboring Druthers Brewing Co. Surpass contends it is too close to an industrial scale they use for trucks.

The Warehouse District, north of downtown, is also seeing an influx of apartment development, including a transformation of the old Huck Finn’s Warehouse furniture store into residences.

The politicians who came to Patsy’s on Friday to celebrate its joining the Historic Register said they recognized its significance.

Leave a Comment