2011 People to Watch

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The Capital Region is full of so many great people doing great things, which made it hard to choose just four to profile. We have to thank our contacts on Linked-In – when asked who they recommended as ‘the people to watch in 2011’ these are the names that came to mind. One works in non-profit, one is an entrepreneur following her dream, and the other two had some very big shoes to fill when they took over a popular radio show. Read on to learn more about them.

Chuck Custer & Kelly Lynch
Capital Region radio legend Don Weeks cast a big shadow locally dominating the morning drive time slot for over 30 years. His wit, humor and kindness translated well over the airwaves and garnered many loyal listeners, making his departure in December BIG news.
 
The two people who succeeded Weeks are well aware of the big shoes that need to be filled. But Chuck Custer and Kelly Lynch are confident about the prospects of putting their own stamp on the show with their shared news background and different personalities.

Custer is no stranger to the business. He was and still is the news director at WGY, a job he holds along with the new morning show duties. Listeners of the show will recall how Custer would chime in with banter beyond the news during the Don Weeks show. They played well off each other and it added to the show’s flavor.
Custer now has a vision now for the new show that in many ways mirrors NBC’s Today show. Chuck and Kelly (that is the name if the show) airs from 6am-9am Monday through Friday on WGY AM News & Talk 103.1 FM.

“We bring our news backgrounds, local flavor, chit chat, and guests, much like the Today Show,” said Custer.

He then explained that Lynch’s bathroom rehabilitation saga certainly goes under the lively chit chat category and knows that it hits a cord with many of us who have tackled such projects! He also sees Lynch as “the interesting one”, he mentioned to me in a devilish nod to his on-air partner

Lynch, who spent years on TV, admits to having been “very concerned” about taking on the morning show. As a former anchor and the daughter of a local newspaper icon, radio was not something she thought much about. Now committed to doing a great show with Custer, her “tell it like it is” manner and obvious warmth has really rounded out the dynamic duo. She now admits that she loves having a forum for her opinions. Both she and her co-host aren’t ashamed to admit that they have an inclination to talk more than average news folks.

“There is nothing quite like us.”

Many would agree. This fast-paced show does pack in a lot of great information and witty content to keep you completely engaged each day.

Custer lives locally with his wife and two children, and Lynch is married to sports anchor Roger Wyland and has two young children that keep her very busy and grounded.

When asked which local people they would choose to watch in 2011, they agreed Jenifer Whalen, who ran a great race against the incumbent Bob Riley, and Mark Bardack, who in 2010 purchased the Media Relations and PR firm from his mentor and employer, Ed Lewi. (Dunkin Donuts, The Saratoga Race Course and Hannaford Markets are a few of his high profile accounts). These two super achievers get their vote.

Custer and Lynch are anxiously waiting their first rating report card that will be released shortly. I have a feeling they will be pleased! —VM

Rhe Potenza
Opening a new business usually brings anxiety. But not for Rhe Potenza, owner of Truly Rhe boutique in downtown Troy. Despite the fact that she opened in the midst of a challenging economy, she never doubted her decision. Not even when a customer asked her, after just a few months in business, if she was going to make it.
“It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t,” said Potenza, though she understood her customer’s concern. “A lot of people get nervous when a small business opens up. They’re afraid if they like it, it might close.”

But four years later, Truly Rhe is still going strong. In fact, business is so good that Potenza outgrew her original 1,000 square foot space at 11 Second Street and relocated to an 1,800-square foot space located in the Cannon Building.
 
And it has been a love affair ever since.

Originally, Potenza had her sights set on Saratoga. After living and working in the retail industry in Manhattan for over 20 years, it was time to move to the Capital Region, (where she has family) and open her own shop. But finding availability in Saratoga wasn’t easy and she had to come up with another plan. 
She remembers how Troy kept popping up in conversations – people kept telling her that the city was revitalizing and spaces were available. After checking the area out, she decided it was the perfect place to call retail home.

“The people here have been so supportive from day one. It’s been an incredible experience.”

She credits Mayor Harry J. Tutunjian and Elizabeth Young, executive director for the downtown BID, for really helping to push Troy forward, as well as other business owners, and of course, her loyal customers.

“I see that people patronizing small businesses really want them to succeed,” she said. “They see a great alternative in small-town shopping.”

And who wouldn’t love shopping in the historic Cannon Building? Built in 1835, it’s the oldest building on Monument Square and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Potenza’s first-floor shop faces the monuments and has many windows offering an abundance of natural light.
 
With wide-planked hardwood floors and an exposed brick wall, the old-world charm of the space is the perfect complement to the items that Potenza carries.
“Eclectic and unique” are two words she uses to describe her inventory. She sells vintage and contemporary jewelry, a small line of footwear that she hopes to expand, an assortment of gifts and accessories, and of course, clothing.

She calls her store a “mother and daughter shop”, meaning both age groups can come in and try things on – she doesn’t gear her merchandise toward any particular age group. Sizes range from juniors to plus size.
 
A common misconception about boutiques is that they’re expensive. While she does carry a few higher-end items, most items are priced well under $100.
 
One way Potenza separates herself from chain stores is to carry unusual lines, but not always the same ones. “My goal is to always find new things,” she said.
Coming from a background of stores like Bloomingdales, Macy’s and Ann Taylor, she knows “department store mentality.”

While you might have to shop on multiple floors at a department store, her one-floor boutique makes shopping easy. She and her salespeople get to know customers by name and help put together their wardrobes. They also offer little touches like free gift wrapping and host after-hours shopping parties.
“It’s a unique and personal shopping experience,” she said.

Despite a few setbacks – such as the closing of Tosca restaurant (which brought a lot of foot traffic to the shop) two years ago – Troy is still the place Potenza wants to be. Like many others who live and work here, she hopes to see the Collar City continue to expand. The addition of Dinosaur BBQ has brought in business and she hopes to see other storefronts fill up.

“I see the potential in Troy to create more shopping,” she said, citing possible businesses that would be great, such as a shoe store, a hair salon – even another boutique.

Her recent television commercial was a success and she hopes to do another, this time with other business owners. This would allow them to be seen and heard for a smaller fraction of the price. She also plans on making online shopping available on her website.
If you’re wondering where the name Truly Rhe comes from, it’s easy – her mother. Originally, Potenza had a list of possible store names that didn’t include her name, but her mother thought otherwise. So Potenza came up with ‘Sincerely Rhe’, but changed it to ‘Truly’ upon her mother’s suggestion.

“Everything in the store is what I absolutely love,” she said. “When my family walks in they say, ‘Oh God, this is truly you!’”

Truly Rhe is located at One Broadway, Troy. For more information call 273.1540 or visit www.trulyrhe.com – MBG

Amy Klein
Eat your fruits and vegetables. This sounds like easy enough advice to follow, but in underserved neighborhoods this can be hard, if not impossible. However, with the help of Amy Klein, executive director of the Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG) for the past 15 years, the communities of the Capital Region are learning the proper way to make healthy choices.

Klein, a New York native, was born and raised in Long Island. She went to school in Washington, DC, where she received her bachelor’s degree from American University, studying political science, economics and communications. She moved to the Capital Region 20 years ago and was the acting executive director of Environmental Advocates in Albany.

She describes herself as a “non-profit junkie,” having caught the “bug” while working for a non-profit organization during college.
 
Established in 1975 and based in Troy, the regional non-profit works to nourish healthy communities in Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer by providing access to fresh food and green spaces for all. The organization helps families  to cut their living costs by growing food locally, transforms vacant lots into productive neighborhood garden spaces and beautifies urban areas through landscaping and street tree programs.

Since starting in December 1996, Klein has seen many changes with the organization.
“When I came to CDCG, we had a staff of two, a budget of $66,000, 13 community gardens and only ran two programs,” she said. Today, the organization has a budget of more than $1 million, a staff of 19 and counting, 47 community gardens and seven major programs.

The Produce Project is one of these programs that teaches at-risk teens valuable skills for both life and career as they work year-round on an urban farm and sell the products of their labor to local chefs and farmers’ market customers. Another program, Squash Hunger, is seasonal and utilizes volunteers to transport donated and gleaned produce from growers to local shelters, food pantries and other vulnerable communities.
“[The program] distributes more than ten tons of fresh, healthy food each year,” said Klein.

Other programs include the Taste Good Series, which teaches children from pre-kindergarten through second grade about healthy eating, and Urban Greening, which plants trees and performs public space landscaping projects through the work of students and community volunteers.

But it is The Veggie Mobile program that Klein is most proud of. This mobile produce market brings access to affordably-priced fresh fruit and vegetables to senior centers and inner city “food desert” communities six days a week. It provides samples and recipes that help customers discover new ways to make healthy produce part of their regular diets. (The CDCG is also launching a smaller version of the Veggie Mobile that they’re calling "The Sprout," and are actively looking for more land to build new community gardens.)

“It has been a tremendous service to the community, has brought increased attention to all the good work of CDCG and is helping to change the conversation about healthy food in our cities.”

With various duties as executive director – managing all administrative, fiscal and programming operations – there is no such thing as a typical day on the job.
“That’s one of the things I love about this work, and there are many,” she said. “It’s always new, unexpected and challenging.”

Klein said that some days involve writing grants or fundraising, while other days she is focused on improving operations or developing new program ideas. She can also be found interacting with the people the CDCG serves in the community, working on the Veggie Mobile or in a garden.

The CDCG is always thinking about how to improve access to smart food options in the Capital Region, and Klein said that their newest program, The Healthy Convenience Store Initiative, will do just that. The program, which launched in February, supplements the Veggie Mobile’s services by placing and servicing small produce display units in city corner stores, giving area residents access to a basic variety of fresh produce every day.

“I’m very excited about this project,” said Klein. “We have lots of plans for expansion in the near and long–term, including the creation of The Urban Grow Center.” The center will be a place where CDCG can develop more innovative programs to improve the community.

On her own time, Klein is very involved in her synagogue, Ohav Shalom, in Albany. She is on the board, is an officer and has served on many committees.

“I wish I could be involved in other organizations, but my job actually occupies a good amount of what would otherwise be my free time,” she said, meaning nights and weekends. When she does find a few moments to herself, you can find her (not surprisingly) outside.

“I, of course, love to garden and enjoy being in nature,” she said. This includes walking, biking and appreciating all that the natural world has to offer.

Klein said that while moving to the Capital Region was a tough transition at first, she has found her niche here both in her job and among the wonderful communities, people and activities.
 
“I can’t imagine doing any other kind of work because every day I know that I’m making a difference in our world or having an impact on people’s lives,” she said. “What could be more satisfying?”

For more information on the Capital District Community Gardens, call 274.8685, e-mail info@cdcg.org or visit www.cdcg.org. – CM

 

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