JESS LANZA CO-OWNS KATE’S UPSTATE
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – During down times at Kate’s Upstate, Jess Lanza, new president of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce board of directors, sits on one of the turquoise chairs out front, chatting with tourists, customers and other businesspeople who happen to walk by.
“We’re right in the center,” said Lanza, the first merchant to lead the Cooperstown chamber board since 2007, when Riverwood’s Rick Gibbons passed the mantle to Inn at Cooperstown proprietor Marc Kingsley. “”We have the pulse of what’s going on.”
Jess and his wife, the former Kate Whitney, were both born in the Northeast – he in Fort Lee, N.J.; she in Sidney – were raised in Florida.
They met at Stetson College – it was founded by John B. Stetson, who developed the famous cowboy hat – in DeLand, Fla. “We had classes together,” said Jess, who double-majored in poli-sci and business administration, “and a lot of mutual friends.”
At Stetson, Lanza served in Student Government, which named him liaison to the DeLand Chamber of Commerce.
“I came to realize chambers of commerce are pretty important,” he said in an interview, sitting on those same turquoise chairs. “As soon as we opened the doors (to Kate’s Upstate, three years ago), it was a no-brainer to join the chamber.”
Asking how he could help, he was placed on the Marketing Committee, “an important part of the chamber,” and rose to chairman. He was involved in revamping the website and developing the touch-screen online map.
“As a member,” he added, “it has given us the opportunity to meet like-minded merchants. Networking is huge.”
Jess is succeeding Stacey Grady, Springbrook’s director of development. The rest of the chamber board was reelected: NYCOM’s Andrew Marietta, the county rep; Jason Schiellack, Hall of Fame; Elizabeth Horvath, Redpoint Builders; Scott Barton, Lake’n’ Pines and Hickory Grove Motor Inn; Bassett’s Colleen Donnelly, Destination Marketing’s Cassandra Harrington, and attorney Peter Hobaica.
The “merchant perspective” provided by Lanza is particularly valuable to the Chamber board, said Chamber Executive Director Tara Burke, Plus, she said, Jess is not shy about expressing his opinion, which will ensure that perspective is heard.
Polly Renckens, a mainstay Cooperstown Chamber executive for 15 years, agreed.
“Merchants serve the community in so many ways,” Renckens said, observing, “Every merchant on Main Street has supported every event, every yearbook. If anybody is looking for a cause to support, they knock on the doors of our merchants, and merchants always respond. Because they realize there’s symbiotic relationship between the community and Main Street.”
Graduating in 2009, Jess and Kate moved to Jupiter, Fla., where he joined Access Medical Laboratories, marketing medical tests in competition with pharmaceutical giants.
“I had to have an edge,” he said, and access gave him the edge: When customers called, instead of getting a phone bank, he answered his own phone.
Rising in four years to vice president of sales, and give the top reason for his success as “honesty. When you’re honest, have a good product, you’re a good people person – that’s the winning recipe.”
The couple moved to Sidney in 2014, where Kate’s family operated JKLM Manufactured Home Communities, and frequented Cooperstown, which led to Kate’s Upstate’s founding in 2017.
“Kate had a background in fashion,” the husband said. “She had a love for it. We saw an opportunity and ran with it.”
The first year, the store focused on women’s wear, offering hip brands like Spanks, Kut From The Kloth, and Liverpool.
While serving women, they often heard their customers say, “Where can I get something for my husband – or kids?”
They added shirts, ties, slacks. Women are a family’s largest buyers, Jess noted, but “now, we see the men coming and shopping for themselves.”
The COVID-19 threat brought challenges, but also opportunities.
Kate had gotten to know her regulars well enough – their sizes, their fashion preferences – “she’d purchase online, deliver to their front doors.”
Jess also participated in a recent brainstorming session of Chamber board members with Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, from which emerged the idea of “Free Fridays,” free parking in the Doubleday Field parking lot.
Kate’s Upstate is seeing an uptick in Friday business as a result, and Lanza’s looking forward to future town-village collaborations.
For her part, the mayor said Village Hall has always collaborated with the Chamber, in particular closing Main Street for major event, and will continue to do so when opportunities arise.
In addition to Free Fridays, Tillapaugh said the Chamber has stepped up to help organize and monitor the Music on Main concerts, with Burke on the scene.
While the Labor Day Weekend craft fair was cancelled this week due to the COVID-19 threat and “this is kind of a different year,” she said, “we’re always open. If they have something in particular they’s us to assist with, we certainly would.”
Incidentally, Jess is also Fly Creek assistant fire chief.
“We’ve love it here,” he said, pausing to stroke the couple’s dog, Reagan, who keeps them company at 134 Main St. “And we’re definitely looking forward to the future.”