BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — For a decade, Upper Union Street has enticed people to walk its sidewalks and patronize its businesses in late spring with the promise of fresh strawberries.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 20, the Strawberry Festival’s 10th anniversary, there will be strawberry salsa, strawberry ice cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam and even gourmet strawberry dog treats. But the fruit itself is just the beginning for an event that grows each year.
Marie Debrocky, who chairs the event and owns the Head to Tail Pet Wellness Center on Union Street, said she’s especially excited about this year’s musical offerings.
“We have more and more music every year, which I find exciting,” she said. Jazz, Greek music and dancing, and even a drum circle illustrate some of the diverse genres that will provide the soundtrack for visitors.
New activities planned for this year complement the changing business landscape in the shopping district, which has seen significant growth this year. In June alone, three businesses have planned grand-opening celebrations: a cupcake shop, a florist and a dance studio.
Debrocky said the increasingly populated storefronts, plus a growing awareness of the annual festival, have combined to help the party get a little livelier with each passing year.
“What I see is larger participation by people who come from out of our area,” she said. “We get a lot of vendors that didn’t participate in the past, and that brings a different interest group in our area.
“There’s always a new customer that comes to my store and says, ‘I didn’t even know you were here,’ ” she added.
Debrocky has participated in the Strawberry Festival for the past seven years. Madelyn Thorne, one of two co-directors on the board of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District, is newer to the festival’s planning, but equally enthusiastic.
“This is our 10th anniversary, so we just wanted to have a bigger, better, more active festival,” she said. She rattled off a list of attractions and vendors new and old: pony rides, balloon art, the Smile Monster, Gatherer’s Granola, Habitat for Humanity — “and of course, we have great food,” she said.
The strawberry salsa, especially, is not to be missed, she added.
“It’s a wonderful way to spend time with your family out in the fresh air getting to know this wonderful little shopping area,” Thorne said.
Of course, the event is arranged by the Upper Union Street BID, so in addition to a strawberry-filled Saturday afternoon, its organizers hope visitors also walk away with a new favorite place to shop.
“Along with the festival itself, we really want people to take time to get to know our store owners,” Thorne said. “You park your car one time and walk out. You get that kind of customer service that you don’t get in big box stores. We’re so proud of it.”