What does Glens Falls mean to Elizabeth Miller and her son Ben? That’s not a difficult question to answer. Stroll down Park Street, a once-marginal block which, thanks to their investments – financial and otherwise – has become a keystone of the city’s revival.
Ben Miller, a former music journalist and musician, now oversees the gem of the neighborhood – the restored Park Theater – as well as a three-story mixed-use building that houses high-end apartments, a gourmet market and arguably, the city’s most sophisticated restaurant.
The Park Theater was built in 1911 to show silent films and present touring vaudeville acts, going dark in 1935.
After its purchase by Elizabeth Miller in 2015 and extensive renovations, the theater reopened in 2018 as a “state-of-the-art performance space,” according to a press release issued at the time.
One of the theater’s first shows was staged by Ben Miller, performing with his then partner – now wife – Anita MacDonald – and their Cape Breton Celtic Ensemble.
At the time, the couple was based in Nova Scotia, performing throughout North America and Europe.
However fulfilling that way of life may have been, “coming back home was always in the cards,” Miller said in a recent interview.
“Every time I came home, I could see that Glens Falls
was becoming a bit more exciting. Things that were missing when I was growing up here, and which I left in order to find, were now here,” said Miller.
Miller said that he could envision himself making the transition from being a touring musician to a more settled life with Anita in Glens Falls, working at the theater, perhaps as an artistic director.
“COVID advanced by five years what was intended to be a long-range plan,” said Miller.
Within days of returning to Nova Scotia from a tour of western Canada and before that, of the UK, Ben and Anita learned that all future concert dates had been cancelled – depriving them of any possible income – and that the border between Canada and the US was about to close for the duration.
“We jumped into the car and made a beeline for the border, hoping to cross to the US before it closed and hoping, also, that there would be something productive for us to do once we arrived,” said Miller.
Elizabeth Miller had envisioned the Park Theater and its below-ground restaurant, Doc’s, as complementary, each enterprise supporting the other.
“Balancing those two very different types of operations can be challenging,” said Ben, who, once in Glens Falls, helped develop a plan to separate the theater from the restaurant and catering business and place its management under the direction a not-for-profit board.
The Park Theater Foundation’s mission extends far beyond the walls of the theater itself, where it regularly presents bluegrass, folk, jazz and classical music concerts.
“Its mission is to promote the arts throughout the community, to do more than bring shows to the Park Theater,” said Miller.
This past March, for instance, it introduced a “Music & Technology Program” to local schools, Lake George’s among them. The Foundation has also sponsored a series of free concerts in Glens Falls’ Crandall Park.
Park Street Hospitality LLC, which was established at the very same time as the non-profit organization, has also expanded beyond the theater and the opportunities it provides to host special events, weddings, conferences and fundraisers.
The company now manages, among other things, Park and Elm, the restaurant that opened across the street in late 2022 to popular and critical acclaim.
“One day I woke up and realized I not only had a job to do, helping my mother with the restaurant and the catering businesses; I had found myself with a new career: restaurateur,” said Miller.
When Elizabeth Miller purchased 15 Park Street in 2019, there were no definitive plans for its use, other than to ask the tenants to vacate the premises. (Among the tenants was the Park Street Tavern, known locally as “Bar Food,” an understandable error given the prominence and permanence of the neon sign advertising that carte du jour.)
Miller said he walked into one of the retail spaces – darkened, dilapidated – and because of the size of the windows facing the street “the room screamed ‘restaurant!’” said Miller.
The same principles that guided the multi-year restoration of the Park Theater informed the renovation of 15 Park Street.
“I had a vision for what I wanted this space to look and feel like,” said Miller. “We wanted to maintain the character of the building and to pay tribute to the architecture and history of Glens Falls, but we also wanted to create a space that lived up to the expectations of anyone seeking a fine dining experience – without, of course, becoming exclusive or stuffy. These are fine lines to walk.”
According to Miller, a drive to create things of value to his community propels his enterprises, even if, on occasion, he feels as though he is improvising, or learning on the fly.
“I think my mother would say the same thing,” said Miller. “She didn’t have a background in the arts, but when she looked at the theater and saw a beautiful, historic building that had once been a hub for the arts, she said, ‘this is important. It’s important to this community. It should be preserved. And I’m going to figure out how to do it.’”
What does Glens Falls mean to the Millers? You might just as well ask – and no doubt, many already have, “What do the Millers mean to Glens Falls?” That, too, is a question that can be easily answered. Just take a walk down Park Street.