By JASON SUBIK
Anthony Kaczmarek says Upper Union Street Harvest Festival has always been good for his family’s business Sondra’s Fine Jewelry, but this year it was special for a new reason.
Kaczmarek’s mother Sondra Stephens has owned her business in the upper Union Street neighborhood for 22 years, but this is the first year the family is showing off its new venture Green Leaf Wellness Co., a CBD oil retail shop built as an addition to the jewelry store. The company held its soft opening Saturday, displaying a long green banner with „CBD” on it during the festival.
„Harvest Fest is great, you get 4,000 people walking up and down the street. We’ve had over 200 customers walk in today,” Kaczmarek said.
Kaczmarek said jewelry and CBD oil, derived from hemp plants, might not seem like obvious fit, but the connection began when Sondra’s started selling a line of cannabis themed jewelry by Genifer M., a company created by Genifer Murray the lead microbiologist in the Charlotte’s Web Project, which helped to draw attention to the plight of Charlotte Figi, a child who had life-threatening brain seizures that were helped by marijuana-based medicine.
The jewelry is in the shape of THC and CBD molecules, enabling the wearer to display support for the medicine, without fear of reproach from employers or people against marijuana legalization. CBD oil, derived from hemp plants, is a cousin to the marijuana plant that contains no 'high' inducing THC and has been legal to retail since the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.
„Charlotte’s Web was a big part of cannabis products and children, so we sold a lot of jewelry in support of that. My mother Sondra and I have been lobbying for medical cannabis since 2014. So, we decided to take 10 bottles of [CBD] oil and put it on the shelf. It was gone in two days,” Kaczmarek said.
But jewelry and hemp don’t always mix. Kaczmarek calls the new shop a „clinic” and his customers „patients” because many of them suffer from chronic pain, anxiety or depression, conditions CBD makers claim can be helped by their product.
„We have over 2,000 patients already, but what happened was I had to get it out of the jewelry store,” Kaczmarek said. „With jewelry being such a very happy kind of vibe, a lot of engagements and proposals and things like that, CBD comes with a little bit more of a somber mood. I have a lot of chemotherapy patients, a lot of children that trust us, a lot of sick people. So, the mesh of somber and happy wasn’t jelling.”
Kaczmarek said his new business sells a range of „edible” CBD oil products like — gummies, chocolate and honey — is poised to retail recreational marijuana products if New York state ever legalizes them.
Upper Union Street Harvest Festival proved to be a good time for other local businesses to display their products. The Schenectady 'Stilling Co., a New York Farm Distillery Co. put up a stand to show of its brand of spirits made from New York corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley.
At least two other retailers also displayed CBD oil product lines, including a company called Upstate CBD and Union Street Dentistry.
Shane Mahar, vice chairman of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District. said one aspect of the festival this year was a scarecrow contest between participating retailers. He said 25 participating merchants created unique Halloween-themed scarecrows, most of them displayed inside their respective stores.
Festival-goers were encouraged to go into the stores, fill out a paper ballot voting for what scarecrow they thought was best.
Here are some of the participating businesses in the contest: AAA Northway, Breugger’s, City Squire, Dance Me, DiCocco and Associates, Domani Spa, Dunkin’ Donuts, Flowers by Jo-Ann, Gershon’s, GreenLeaf Wellness, Hartz Family Cleaners, Head to Tail, Michael’s Shoe Service, Musler’s Fine Women’s Clothing, Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Sondra’s Fine Jewelry, Sophia Sabella Studio, TrustCo Bank, Union Café, Upstate CBD and Union Street Veterinary Hospital.
Mahar said an online ballot for the best scarecrow will be available at upperunionstreet.com until Halloween, and the winner will be announced on Nov. 12 after the Nov. 11 Upper Union Street BID meeting.
Other attractions at the festival Saturday included a bounce house at Homestyle Pizza, freshly harvested produce from Buhrmaster Farms, students from Dance Me performed outdoors. Matt Connell & Friends provided live music and there were $5 pony rides.
Mahar was there with his children Jack, age 5, and Emma, age 3. He said they enjoyed the simple pleasures of Upper Union Street Harvest Festival.
„Jack votes for the police cars, Emma would vote for the bounce house,” Mahar said.