“Jamestown has a wonderful history, and I’m enthusiastic about its future,” Arnold Duke told the Gazette last week. Duke is the president of the International Gem & Jewelry Show and now one of Jamestown’s newest entrepreneurs. Duke is banking on Jamestown with his recent purchase of two of Jamestown’s historic downtown banks.
Duke calls Jamestown a special place. “I have met so many great, genuine and wonderful people here that I feel right at home.” A native of Bethesda, MD and graduate of New Mexico State University where he still has a home and several businesses, Duke said he became enchanted with Jamestown in recent years. He is an amateur historian intrigued by Jamestown’s history and people.
One of Duke’s acquisitions, the former Marine Midland and HSBC Bank, and most recently The Forum is coming back to life as The Jamestown Emporium at the corner of 201 – 203 N. Main and E. 2nd Streets.
This historic bank, the oldest in the county, was first known as the National Chautauqua County Bank, organized 1831 with capital of $250,000 and Elial T. Foote as president. The bank was authorized to issue its own bills and Foote earned 1 penny for each one he signed. At the time, Jamestown’s next closest bank was a long 90 miles away by horseback in Buffalo.
Arnold Duke is also a real estate developer in Potomac, Maryland, one of the 30 richest zip codes in the U.S.. He said, “Jamestown is a gem of a place. I plan to make my future here.”
“We put on a big rush to open The Emporium the same day as the National Comedy Center,” Duke said. “When the tourist buses come to the Comedy Center we don’t want them to leave town as soon as the tours are over. We want to make all of Jamestown the attraction people come to see.’
The Emporium opened on Wednesday, August 1 as home to more than a dozen new, innovative Jamestown businesses and artisans.
The Emporium will be open Tuesday through Saturday every week. Featured shops range from the traditional — hand-crafted Amish items — to the natural — Earth Treasures of gems and minerals — to the practical — everyday wear and fashion — and to quality jewelry and the avant-garde — the adrenalin rush Rage Room.
For readers not familiar with a Rage Room — open 3 to 9 p.m. — Arnold says, “Get crazy at Jamestown’s first rage room. Smash and destroy our stuff and let the beast inside you free!” Learn more and book a session at www.jamestownrageroom.com.
Rebuilding was a priority before reopening the historic bank building. “We put a complete, brand-new roof on, and then added a new electrical system and new lighting,” Duke explained. The building also had no running water or working bathrooms when he purchased it. “It now has the newest and prettiest bathrooms in Jamestown,” he added with obvious pride in his team’s accomplishment, “and we got it all done in three months.”
The Emporium was outfitted as a commercial space in a lightning 6-day sprint before opening, Duke said. The Emporium has also created six new jobs, so far, quickly filled from more than two dozen applications. “We put them to work the very next day. That’s how we got everything up and running so fast.”
Until recently, the space that became the Emporium served as a temporary home for much of the art work from the Prendergast Library. “When they sold those pictures at the library, it broke my heart,” Duke said. “That’s why I bought as many as I could. I’m delighted now that we’ve given them a permanent home at the Fenton History Center.” He then added, “I try to get involved anywhere and everywhere that I can.”
The Other Side of the Street
“Across the street,” at the old 1920s Key Bank Building, Duke said, “our construction loan and all the right workers are now in place and our tenants have been selected. We hit a road bump concerning the asbestos remediation typical of older buildings, but that is behind us now, too. We’ll be finished with that issue within a month.”
The Key Bank building is actually a series of three connected buildings, which has added some complexity to the reengineering, remodeling and renovation, according to Duke. “We project completion and a grand opening in about 16 months.”
Duke will immediately create nine luxury apartments and begin construction on a fine-dining restaurant, a bar and entertainment venues. The still-to-be-named restoration of the old Key Bank building will feature the bank’s ornate, cathedral ceilings and fine marble interior spaces to offer Jamestown “…another special place where there will be more to do after 9 o’clock,” Duke promised.
Though a lot of work remains to be done, Duke is pleased with the community’s cooperation and support. He thanked the town officials and added, “I was so impressed by the sincerity of the people here in Jamestown. They have the biggest heart.”
As a final word to Gazette readers, Duke said to all his new friends in Jamestown, “Spend more time downtown. It is a lost treasure that needs to be rediscovered.”