Virgil’s House came onto the Saratoga scene two years ago when the old auto parts store on Lake Ave, next the Parting Glass Pub, was rehabbed for new commercial use. Opening another coffee shop and eatery in the already crowded marketplace of downtown Saratoga Springs would seem a bit crazy, but not to Kathleen Quartararo. Having been burned out from the techno-gadget world of telecom, she and partner James Hahn wanted a place where they and others could defrag from the “connected” world. Full of ideas and freed from the corporate rulebook, Kathleen and James gathered their collection of old furniture, board games and hodge-podge of coffee mugs and opened Virgil’s House. Virgil’s has become that tech-free haven and a whole lot more. When you come to Virgil’s, turn off your cell phone; leave your laptop in the car. Instead, engage a conversation, make a new friend and play a game of cards. The giant chess board may beckon, and you just might stay awhile. Welcome to Kathland.
What inspired you to start your business?
I wanted to have a place I love, that’s all about the things I love the most. I love games; I’m a board game freak! I wanted a place where people can just sit and relax, play cards, do puzzles, hang out and not have to join anything, not pressured to get in and out. You know that old fashioned general store where you can eat and drink and see the people that you know? Virgil’s feels like that. It’s a complete extension of everything I love the most! And it seems other everybody loves it too. People are craving peace, there’re craving connection, relationship. Do you know how many hugs I do a day? People love hugs! They love to stop and laugh and chat. They want to have fun!
What’s the best part about your job?
I get to be on stage everyday of my own play. Everyday, I get to say what I want, I get to laugh, I get to wear a tiara and get to meet and listen to people. I get to be ME! I can make up the rules – there are very few here. I have met the most amazing people here – the kids – the kids are amazing. I talk to the all the kids at their level – making direct eye contact. And they just love it. I am basically a kid – forever 9 years old!
Describe your path to green. How and when did you became eco-conscious?
My grand parents were a big influence. They saved everything. They reused everything. They had a drawer full of neatly folded “used” aluminum foil and bags, awaiting another use. To get a new piece -that was a really big deal. In the last few years, I’ve been really turned off by our disposable society. Give credit to Target – I know they’re great marketers, whoever thought we’d need purple sponges and hot-pink laundry soap. They know how to drive people to get something new. It just drives the creation of waste!
What are some of the things you do to help make the world a little bit greener?
Food service is crazy. You can order a bagel and you get a plastic plate and knife with a single serve dish of cream cheese – it drives me nuts! The more I see it the more I just want it all to stop. So we reuse and recycle everything here. It’s kind of a game with me. I get my staff involved, and my customers, and the next thing you know, were all part of the solution and helping to make the world a better place! It makes me feel that I have a vested interest in my surroundings.
What are some of your favorite locally owned businesses?
The Lyrical Ballard Bookstore – it’s one of my favorite places to go. As soon as you walk in there, it smells old, secure and safe. I love old books, and they’ve got tons. There’s a feeling of comfort when I’m surrounded by shelves full of knowledge and wisdom. It’s like a spa for your head! I come out feeling invigorated! Another great spot is Saratoga Beads, just down the block from here. Linda has got all these great things to make – beads and craft ideas – it’s great for kids. She does classes, and the kids can come in and make gifts for their friends and family. I just love the creativity in the place.
Where do you shop for local and organic groceries?
Collins’ Meadowbrook Dairy is one of my favorites. We use their milk and cream here. When we first opening up Nick was driving by in his Milk Truck and asked if we had a dairy service. When we sat down to place an order, there were no credit checks, complicated paperwork; we ordered some milk and he delivered it! Just like the old fashioned milkman. We also go to the Farmers Market here in Saratoga to get fresh veggies, and we support the local businesses as much as we can by offering a place for them to sell their products.
What’s your favorite thing about living in the Saratoga area? Least favorite?
I love Saratoga! It’s beautiful is safe, it’s easy to walk around. The library’s great. The park – Congress Park, and the ducks! We get ducks coming down here because we have a heated sidewalk. The buildings in Saratoga are great! There’s just a lot of great old buildings that are open to the public. And the people in them! The Adirondack Trust building is amazing, and the Post Office – I love just going in there to buy a stamp. I’ll say, “I want one stamp, just one” and they say “One stamp, here you go.” What I don’t like? All the talk that there’s no parking in Saratoga. There’s plenty of parking, if you can walk a few blocks. I mean, come on, we have the most walkable city in the region and people complain because they can’t park on Broadway! We need to change the mantra to something positive -Saratoga has tons of parking!
What would you say is the region’s undiscovered or underrated jewel?
Other than Virgils’? The older residents! I have met some amazing people over 70, they have a certain peace about them. I’d say over 70 and under 10 are my favorite age groups. They’re just pure, and relaxed, and peaceful. They have a lot to give, and I think both ages have a lot to give us. My next project is to combine senior living with a kids’ daycare, and add in a pet shelter and see what happens!
Where do you like to take out-of-town visitors?
Downtown Saratoga and downtown Ballston Spa. We park on the edge of town and walk in a big loop. CDTA has this great iRide program. Sometimes we’ll have breakfast in Ballston Spa and then catch the bus and have lunch in Saratoga!
What’s your favorite vacation destination? Do you prefer to kick back or explore?
My sister’s place in Florida. She goes away and we house sit. They’ve got a lager house with a pool and a bar, a Jim and I will go there and do nothing. We’re busy all the time, so it’s nice to go there and just lay by the pool and read.
Is there a particular environmental non-profit you support?
The Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network. They’ve got the great Bicycling Benefits program which we are members of. Ride your bike to Virgils’ and we’ll give you a 10% discount for not taking up a parking space!
What’s an eco-friendly gift you like to give?
Gift Certificates to local businesses. We have great restaurants, a mineral bath at Medbery Inn and Spa in Ballston Spa; there’s no packaging and it directly supports our neighbors.
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
A giant weeping willow tree, with branches all the way to the ground. This goes back to the 9 year old in me – you can sneak inside the inner room, invite friends in and hang out!