By Susan Elise Campbell
A retrospective of Putnam Market’s 25 years is a case study in how a business can evolve 180 degrees from the original concept and become a local brand.
The market now occupies a storefront at 431 Broadway since its construction in 2000. But it started five years earlier on Putnam Street. Owners Cathy Hamilton and her sister Gloria Griskowitz had envisioned a place where customers could buy fresh meats and seafood, deli meats and cheeses sliced to order, assorted produce and baked goods.
“We had sourced everything from a local bakery and caterer,” said Hamilton.
Six months later, the partners started making sandwiches. During year three, they hired their first chef to do the baking and food production in-house. A wine store with the store was opened in 1998.
“We became the place to go for specialty groceries in the Capital District,” Hamilton said. “But when Roohan Realty built the building we are in now and we became the first tenant, we dropped produce to focus on food. Today we are known primarily for the stuff we make, which is totally opposite from where we started.”
“All the baking, roasted turkey breast, and soups are original recipes made in-house from scratch,” Hamilton said. “So we turned from a straight retailer to a manufacturer of delicious sandwiches and baked goods.”
She said when wine was introduced at the original location, there was about 150 square feet of dedicated space. Today it’s 1,800.
“Our wines are distinctive,” she said. Hamilton’s husband William curates the selection.
“The wine room is a destination for people who know wine,” she said.
The partners again distinguished Putnam Market by adding a cheese room. Hamilton said they always had a cheese counter, but now feature a refrigerated “cheese theater” with a “charismatic and vivacious cheesemonger to engage customers.”
“Why we do what we do is, nobody has to shop here. You have to park and walk and that takes some effort,” said Hamilton. “So we must have some compelling things here that are particularly delicious or different.”
Putnam Market’s salad bar was a big part of their business before it was forced to close under state pandemic mandates, said Hamilton. They pre-package salads now.
When businesses were closed in April and May, Putnam Market focused on “keeping staff engaged and healthy,” said Hamilton. No employees were let go because of the virus. Hamilton said they shuffled schedules somewhat and a few of the 26-person staff made the decision to stay home.
“We are doing well during the pandemic but the business doesn’t have the same vibrancy as before,” said Hamilton.
The whole team celebrated the market’s 25th anniversary on June 30 accompanied by members of the Chamber, Discover Saratoga, Adirondack Trust and other foundational organizations, she said.
“It was subdued but great,” said Hamilton. “There was a ribbon cutting and cake, and one of our customers, who is a virtuoso banjo player came and played all day.. Twenty-five years is significant,”
A year ago the market obtained a license to sell wine for consumption in the shop. Hamilton said that would allow them to do tastings with cheese pairings.
“When customers can reconvene and taste our wine and cheese without a mask, it will be fun,” she said.
Putnam Market is gearing up now for holiday meals, gifts and events, which typically pull in 50 percent more sales dollars than August during racing season does. Hamilton expects fewer parties this season. They will cater office lunches and prepare gift baskets.
“We do delicious,” Hamilton said. “My sister and our staff exchange recipes all the time but we have to think, are the ingredients cost effective, plus does it taste delicious?”
By Susan Elise Campbell