When Connecticut native Kirsten Lambert was younger, she wanted to be three things: a hairdresser, teacher and store owner. While the hairdresser gig didn’t pan out, she did become a teacher. But after a long career, there was still one thing left on the table. “I was a school teacher for 25 years,” Lambert says. “And we would come to Saratoga every summer with our four kids and just fell madly in love with it. But I wanted to open a store, so we thought, ultimately, at some point, I’d do that in Saratoga, because that would be my dream.”
About a year ago, Lambert took the first step in realizing that dream, moving to Saratoga from New Jersey with her husband and one of her kids. The next step was figuring out what type of store she wanted to open. While driving around town, looking for supplies for her mom’s 80th birthday party, it occurred to her that Saratoga had no party stores. Out of that realization and her love for tailgating, the concept for Tailgate and Party was born. Lambert signed a lease on the former Olé Hustle building on the corner of Henry and Caroline Streets just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced Saratoga businesses to close to customers, and since then, she’s been hard at work getting her store ready for when businesses could reopen. That go-ahead came this past Wednesday, as phase two of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan went into effect, and Tailgate and Party is now set to open on Monday, June 8.
So, what exactly can you get at Tailgate and Party? “I look at it as entertainment for entertainers,” says Lambert, who loves hosting get-togethers with friends and family. “As you’re walking through, you’re going, ‘Oh! I could use this, or this might spark the idea to do something else. When you’re entertaining, you want to have fun doing it, so hopefully this will provide that.” Part novelty gift shop, part party central, the store is filled with all manner of party games and knickknacks, from shot glass tic tac toe and Friends trivia to Avengers-themed bottle openers and hangover kits. In the back, you’ll find everything you need to throw a successful party—paper cups and plates, gift bags, birthday sashes, bachelorette party games, decorated wine glasses and burlap snack containers. And the wall to the right is devoted to outdoor parties and tailgates, with coolers, tote bags, lawn games and folding tables and chairs. Lambert says she plans to update the store’s party supplies with the seasons, or, as she puts it, “with the next excuse to party.” So, come winter, you can expect a holiday party wonderland.
Lambert, of course, isn’t blind to the fact that a global pandemic wasn’t exactly the best time to launch a brick-and-mortar store. Her original idea was to sell or rent out party carts with umbrellas that people could pack with all their supplies for a day in the picnic area of the Saratoga Race Course, similar to the one her husband used to bring to neighborhood parties in New Jersey. Obviously, with the track closed to spectators this season, the carts didn’t make sense for this year.
But there have been some positives that have come out of Lambert’s timing. For one, since most stores have been closed and not ordering new products, suppliers were more excited than ever to send their stuff to her. Then, there’s the fact that, since people have been forced to spend more time at home, they’re playing more games than ever—Lambert even has a horse track betting game for those who just can’t make it through the summer without some horse racing action. And lastly, Lambert sees the strain put on the shipping industry during COVID-19 as a boon to her business. “You see it even with Amazon,” she says. “It used to be two days—now it’s who knows when you’re going to get it, which in some ways I’m hoping might help some of the small businesses, because it was always that you could just get it from Amazon in two days. Now, hopefully, people will come looking.” And hopefully, she says, Saratogians will come looking at Tailgate and Party this Monday.