GLOVERSVILLE - The name of the company is faded but still visible on the brick exterior. The former Zimmer Gloves factory on South Arlington Avenue sits unused, its many windows covered by plywood.
Jackie Sena, owner of the nearby Gloversville Palace Diner, says the Zimmer building was being used for storage at one point, but it has been left unused for the last year.
"It's just been sitting there," Sena said.
The former Zimmer’s Glove factory, seen from South Main Street in Gloversville, remains boarded up after its closure in the 1960s. (The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland)
According to the Fulton County Historical Society, Zimmer Gloves goes back as far as the 1880s. The manufacturing operation stopped in the 1960s. The current owner of the building, John Sardella of Johnstown, was unavailable for comment.
The Zimmer building, like many unused or abandoned buildings in the area, is both a visible reminder of the Glove Cities' leather manufacturing heyday and a sign of their ongoing economic struggles.
The number of these buildings in Gloversville alone is so large that an exact tally is hard to determine. Johnstown and Amsterdam are similarly dotted with dormant industrial buildings.
According to both Fulton County Planning Department Director Jim Mraz and Montgomery County IDA Director Ken Rose, no public agency keeps a list of abandoned buildings in the region.
According to Gloversville Fire Chief and Code Enforcement Officer Beth Whitman-Putnam, of the approximately 68 factories and manufacturing buildings in Gloversville, approximately 25 are now unused. This number is only a rough estimate, she said.
"We don't monitor [unused buildings]," Gloversville 6th Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski said.
Buildings are not necessarily registered as abandoned or red-flagged as dangerous until someone reports they have been left unused for an extended period.
According to Arthur Simonds, chairman of the Gloversville Blight Commission and the city's 2nd Ward councilman, the city has so many private homes, manufacturing places and businesses considered abandoned that it is hard to process and work through them all.
"It will be another decade before we can really solve this," Simonds said.
After the 1950s, many of the local leather companies learned that their products could be made cheaper overseas, according to Siarkowski. This caused many of the factories to either shut down local operations or go out of business entirely.
The industrial exodus also caused a large drop in the local population. Many workers moved after the factories left, the population dropping from 25,000 at the city's peak to about 15,000 now.
Progress has been made on a few properties, however. Simonds said the city is preparing to go to court to take possession of the old Cayadutta Tanning building, along with several other properties that have been left unused.
"I don't see it being used for [its] purpose again," Simonds said of the old tannery.
Once the legal issues are handled, city leaders can do as they see fit with a building that has been abandoned or foreclosed upon for non-payment of taxes.
Siarkowski said in many cases such structures have been torn down. Many former tannery buildings in Gloversville and Johnstown have been demolished and the properties have been cleaned up after their declaration as brownfields or Superfund cites.
The town of Amsterdam has such a project in the works. On Sept. 20, the town awarded a bid to a local construction company to clean up the site of the former Rural Hosier Mill, which was torn down in 2008. The former knitting mill had leaked chemicals into the soil, "lightly contaminating" it, officials said.
To clean the site, the plan is to take the contaminated soil and place it in the basement of the old building, said Larry Rogers, president of Delaware Engineering. Then, two feet of clean soil will be placed over the contaminated soil and where it came from. The area will then be seeded with grass, and an environmental easement could be placed on the site. Eventually, a park or other recreational could be built there.
Some of these old buildings are being repurposed. Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said people have expressed interest in buying old tanneries or abandoned factories for new purposes. The Zimmer Glove Factory has been eyed for changes in its use. Some plans are already been presented to the city Planning Board, but no action has been taken yet.
The city of Amsterdam has two buildings up for repurposing. According to Mick Mullins of CBRE, both the Noteworthy Building and the former Ward Products building have been up for sale or lease for several years, each with its own challenges. Mullins said many old industrial buildings have been repurposed as warehouses. However, sometimes the value is not in the building but the land, which tends to encourage demolition.
This week, the Gloversville Common Council extended its state assistance contract for the work at the former Pan American Tanning site. It would have expired Dec. 31. In 2007, the city tore down the main building at the site, but concerned neighbors want the remaining buildings razed.
Christian Klueg, a local real estate broker and a member of the Fulton County Planning Board, said demand is low for many old buildings because their designs are not suited to modern industry and they can be expensive to maintain.
"I know they tore a lot of these buildings down because they aren't usable," Klueg said.