Cape Air leases downtown Saranac Lake store

SARANAC LAKE – A former jewelry and rock shop at 13 Broadway looks cluttered right now, but in less than a month, Cape Air expects to have new employees working there, welcoming walk-ins and taking calls from customers all over the region.

The Massachusetts-based airline signed a one-year lease Monday for the downtown store, according to Jacqueline Donohoo, Cape Air’s Northeast marketing manager. She said Cape Air hopes to move in and be open by the middle of April, provided the building’s owner, Li Qin Dong, known locally as Denny, has it ready by then.

“The storefront will be open seven days a week,” Donohoo said. “The hours are to be determined. We have been interviewing for positions for customer service agents at the location.

“There should be a lot of activity in that location in the next several weeks,” she added. “We’ll be having furniture delivered, Internet set up. … We’re looking forward to getting down there.”

One or two agents are expected to work there at a time, Donohoo said. On one hand, they’ll serve people who walk in to ask about or buy airline tickets. On the other, they’ll take calls from customers all over the 518 area code.

The Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, 7 miles north of Saranac Lake, is the only one Cape Air serves in the 518 area code, which includes all of northeastern New York from the Catskills to the Canadian border. People from 518 who call Cape Air’s toll-free customer service line, 800-CAPE-AIR, will automatically be directed to the Saranac Lake office – unless the line is busy, in which case they will be sent to the airline’s main call center at its headquarters in Hyannis, Mass., Donohoo said.

This will be Cape Air’s sixth “city ticket office” in Northeast communities where it flies. The others are in Ogdensburg and Massena, N.Y.; Rockland and Augusta, Maine; and the newest in Rutland, Vt. Calls from each of these places’ area codes are automatically routed to these offices. Other calls are answered in Hyannis.

Spreading out the call centers means many customers, when they call for tickets to fly to a Northeast vacation spot, will talk to a ticket agent who is there, and who therefore can be more informative and helpful.

Another benefit for the airline is that the city ticket office serves as a “downtown billboard” to help make Cape Air more visible to the public, Donohoo said. It also presents an opportunity to network better with the local business community and grow business that way as well, she said.

Katy Van Anden directs the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, of which Cape Air is a member.

“We are so thrilled to have a chamber member grow and bring a presence into the community at such a pivotal time for Saranac Lake,” she said.

The owners of the businesses on either side of the store, Dan Sporn of Goody Goody’s and Carla Sternberg of Two Horse Trade Co., were also excited to hear the news Tuesday.

Downtown currently is perforated with empty storefronts, especially in that block. Shoppers have greatly diminished over time. Asked if the Cape Air ticket agency might help increase foot traffic, Sternberg said, “This time of year, nobody has traffic, but in the summer, I think it’s a great location, especially after the Hotel (Saranac) gets going. We’re all holding our breath for the hotel.”

The Hotel Saranac towers in the heart of downtown and can be seen reflected in the future Cape Air agency’s plate-glass windows. It was bought by the Roedel family last year, and Saranac Lakers – especially downtown merchants – have high hopes that it will be restored from the rut it’s been in since Paul Smith’s College sold it to the Arora family in 2007.

The store at 13 Broadway was most recently home to the Twin Crystal Rock Shop, which has moved further up Broadway, and before that Scheefer’s Jewelers, whose owners retired.

Cape Air has been the local airline since February 2008, making three daily round-trips – four in the summer – to Boston’s Logan International Airport on nine-seat Cessna 402 planes. In those last six years, the number of passengers flying to and from Lake Clear has increased substantially, from 8,119 in 2008 to 11,810 in 2012.

In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the airline a four-year, $1.8 million annual subsidy to continue the three daily round-trips. Cape Air was the only company to submit a bid for the airport’s federal Essential Air Service subsidy. It had previously received $1.3 million a year.