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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Meet Amy Sonder: The Promotions Manager at Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp


For the past half-decade, Amy Sonder, 32, has been a driving force behind the revitalization of downtown Schenectady, serving as the promotions manager for the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC).

Recently, The Daily Gazette had the opportunity to sit down with Sonder, ahead of the 8th annual Schenectady Soup Stroll, to discuss her role in the transformation of downtown Schenectady and to learn more about her journey.

Please note that the responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: How did you land a role at the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC)?

Answer: My journey to DSIC began with my work as part of the opening team at Rivers Casino and the new hotel [dual-branded Tru and Homewood Suites] behind Crossgates Mall. I was keen on returning to Schenectady, and when I saw a job posting for DSIC on InDeed, I knew it was the perfect fit. I was drawn to the idea of promoting events and businesses in the area. I remember excitedly telling my parents about the job opportunity, and they encouraged me to apply, which I had already done!

Question: What drew you to this promotional role with DSIC?

Answer: I graduated from UMass-Amherst with a degree in sports management. I initially envisioned myself working in Community Relations, possibly for a professional sports team. However, I discovered that different jobs ignited different passions within me. I found my niche here at DSIC, where I can combine my love for community and promotions.

Question: As a native of Colonie, what were your perceptions of Schenectady?

Answer: My perception of Schenectady was shaped at a young age. My grandfather, like many of his generation, was a World War II veteran who returned and worked at GE. My mother has fond memories of visiting Caldor, and I have a cherished ring that was passed down from a jeweler on Jay Street. Schenectady has always had a positive connotation for me. It felt like a family-oriented place, which may not be everyone’s initial impression. Witnessing the city’s growth and transformation over the past five years has been incredibly exciting. I hope to share stories of my time here, much like my grandfather did, with future generations.

Question: What surprised you about DSIC?

Answer: I was taken aback by the small size of the office. When I started, it was just (former executive director) Jim (Salengo) and (operations manager) Gail White, who had been working together for over 12 years. I wondered how I would fit in, given that I didn’t have the same level of familiarity with the businesses or the extensive background that they did. It was initially challenging to meet and exceed the community’s expectations.

Question: How did you tackle that challenge?

Answer: I didn’t want to simply follow the established way of doing things. I was eager to bring fresh ideas to the table, increase foot traffic, introduce new events, and revitalize the area. Jim and Gail were incredibly supportive and allowed me to grow in my role. Initially, I was hesitant to voice my ideas, but now, five years later, I confidently contribute to meetings and encourage others to do the same. I may not own a business, but I can serve as a voice for these businesses and help them thrive. That’s where I believe DSIC truly shines.

Question: Which events and promotions are you most proud of?

Answer: Two events come to mind. The first is the Fall Spooktacular, a fall festival we started during my first year. It’s a unique event that draws thousands of people downtown for a day of family-friendly, fall-themed fun. Many businesses have reported that it’s their busiest day of the year. The second event is the Tater Trot, which we launched last year. It was born out of feedback from restaurants wanting another event and my personal love for potatoes. We conducted a poll to decide on the food theme, and potatoes were the clear winner. The event, which is similar to the Soup Stroll, exceeded our expectations, attracting thousands of attendees. The restaurants appreciated the creative freedom to craft their own potato dish.

Question: Do you look forward to each Schenectady Soup Stroll?

Answer: Absolutely! It’s the first event we host each year and serves as a great way for people to support local businesses after the holiday season. The Soup Stroll is perfectly timed at the end of January to draw people out of their homes and into the heart of Schenectady.

Question: What do you find intriguing about the Soup Stroll?

Answer: Most restaurants use the Soup Stroll as an opportunity to showcase a soup flavor that’s not typically on their menu. It’s a chance for them to highlight a new chef, a new item, or something they plan to introduce in the future.

Question: What have you learned about the downtown Schenectady business community over the years?

Answer: One thing that stands out is the sense of camaraderie among the businesses. When I speak with colleagues in Albany, Troy, and Saratoga, they’re always impressed by how much Schenectady businesses support each other. This is a testament to the city, county, and Metroplex leaders who have fostered a collaborative environment. Even businesses that offer similar products or cuisines promote each other on their social media pages. This level of mutual support is not common everywhere. It’s been a joy to witness this spirit of lifting each other up, and it’s taught me the importance of setting aside ego to help those around you. When one business thrives, we all benefit.

Question: How do you gauge success in your role with DSIC?

Answer: Success is measured by the feedback we receive from businesses. As a nonprofit, DSIC’s mission is to work closely with organizations in the area. When businesses compliment the appearance of the flowers along State Street or mention that an event brought in more customers than they’ve had in months, we know we’re doing a good job. When people comment on social media about how much downtown Schenectady has changed, or when new businesses choose to set up shop here, it’s a clear indication that DSIC is fulfilling its purpose.

Question: Can you share any future goals?

Answer: Our goal is always to continue growing. We’re also focusing more on placemaking and public art, which is a new area for us. The beautiful Public Square across from Schenectady City Hall is a project we spearheaded in collaboration with Metroplex and the city. It’s a testament to the city’s growth and the need for more public spaces for the thousands of residents living in the beautiful apartments downtown. This project is a clear sign of DSIC’s success.

Question: What’s next for Amy Sonder?

Answer: The possibilities are endless! Sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down because there’s so much I want to do. I hope to see Schenectady continue to grow with new businesses and more visitors. I’d love to see more public squares and art installations. We have incredibly talented artists and plenty of spaces that could be enhanced with murals and sculptures. I also see potential for a new summer event. I’m always open to trying new things and seeing what works. If it doesn’t, we learn from it and move on. There are so many opportunities, and that’s what makes this job exciting and why I’m still here after five years. Every day brings something new, and that’s the beauty of Schenectady and DSIC. There’s so much more we can do, and our partners enable us to continue growing. That’s the best part.

If you know someone that The Daily Gazette should “Get to Know,” email Stan Hudy at shudy@dailygazette.net.

Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton, a skillful journalist previously based in Boston, is adept at covering a diverse array of stories. Her thorough and engaging reporting style, honed with a Master's in Journalism from Boston University, focuses on community-relevant stories.
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  1. Agree with the promotion for Amy Sonder as Promotions Manager at Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. Her experience and dedication will surely benefit the community.

  2. Agree. Amy’s background and enthusiasm will definitely make a positive impact on Downtown Schenectady. #excited #positivechange

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