By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Matt Denison, new proprietor of Rudy’s with Joe Festa, remembers running into Karen Lemister in the alleyway between the liquor store at 143 Main St. and Alex’s Bistro.
“I think this is something you would have a lot of fun with,” said Lemister, who owned Rudy’s for 48 years with husband Fred. One thing led to another, and over the Christmas holiday the venerable business changed hands – and generations – from the retirement-age Lemisters to the 30-something business partners.
Karen calls the new owners “the three Es” – “They have never faltered in energy, exuberance and excitement.”
The transition from one generation to another “is really exciting,” said another 30-something merchant, Jess Lanza, Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce president, who operates Kate’s Upstate with his wife, across from Rudy’s.
What happened is the ideal, Lanza said: “Instead of having a business closed by retirement, it’s passed on to new owners who can bring new ideas and new vitality.”
Denison agrees, pointing out that Alex Guenther, a partner with her dad Brian Wrubleski in Mel’s at 22, was a classmate at Cooperstown Central. “2007 dominates!” he declared.
Matt is a member of Cooperstown’s Haggerty clan, which until recently operated Haggerty Hardware. His mother, Trista Haggerty of Cherry Valley, has also been in retail, he said.
Graduating from CCS, he attended Bennington College, finishing his degree at New York City’s Pratt Institute. Then – after a year producing videos for Sports Illustrated and other Time magazines, 70 hours a week – he came home to bartend at Alex’s Bistro, where he found he enjoyed the public contact and associated salesmanship.
Festa, The Fenimore Research Library’s special collections librarian, has a bachelor’s in art history from SUNY New Paltz, followed by two masters: in art history from Hunter College and in library science from Queens College.
He was a reference librarian at the New-York Historical Society before joining The Fenimore in 2014. “I fell in love with Cooperstown,” he said, “with the museum, with the culture, with Main Street.” A patron at Alex’s, he met Denison there.
The idea is for Matt to work days, and Joe to continue at The Fenimore – he loves that job, too – and fill in evenings and weekends.
The two have been thinking about adjusting the inventory. Matt has some ideas for the tequila section; Joe is interested in bourbons and whiskeys. They are exploring “more price-affordable wines that are good.”
They also have some ideas for social media marketing. A virtual wine-tasting, for instance, where customers buy samples and taste them with Matt’s guidance. Or a cocktail-making class. Or how to make white sangria. (Hint: It includes peach brandy and a pear liqueur.)
Over New Year’s weekend, as the partners were trying out their high-tech calculator, a patron bought a $75 bottle of Cooperstown Distillery’s premium bourbon.
The next morning, the patron came back and bought another $75 bottle.
The new merchants were thrilled.
Denison and Festa closed the deal with the Lemisters on Dec. 16, and received a certification to charge sales tax on the 24th. The store was open over the New Year’s weekend, but closed this past
Monday for two weeks of renovations – painting and reorganizing the inventory.
“This is something new, but holding onto the old tradition,” said Joe. “It’s like having a piece of Main Street to maintain and update.”
“There are ’70s vibes we really don’t want to replace,” said Matt.