The local hospitality industry in Ulster County continues to evolve toward being a higher-end business. Visitors seeking a more balanced and considered lifestyle seem willing to pay for a greater variety of experience. Airbnb and its ilk are only part of the change.
Perhaps coincidentally, Labor Day week seems to have brought about an explosion of activity — at least in terms of announcements. Three upscale hotels have invested — I’d guess more than $20 million — in the past year on three significant projects geared toward the upper end of the hospitality market. With two IDA hospitality projects in the pipeline and Grupo Habita’s interest in uptown Kingston, there may soon be more.
The Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper, which has 26 inn guest suites and 27 lodge rooms, is celebrating the opening of its fully renovated full-service spa on September 22. The six-million-dollar renovation of the 6193-square-foot facility is promising new treatments and experiences.
The spectacularly situated Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz this past weekend opened the 7000-square-foot, two-story Grove Lodge, a separate building with six 700-square-foot guest rooms, 180-square-foot tile bathrooms and a great room; guests reserving all six rooms have access to the great room from every guest room. Grove Lodge is within walking distance from the northeast of the historic mountain house. The amenities, including the work of local crafts specialists, are substantial.
Also formally opening this past weekend after an extensive eleven-month renovation and a soft opening was the Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge. The 1757-era building is advertised as “where history meets luxury.” The boutique hotel on 55 acres with extensive natural and historic features offers 17 suites and the Butterfield Restaurant. It is a first for the Gowanus Hospitality Group, operator of several Brooklyn events spaces. The hotel’s 20 rooms and suites are spread across the main house, the carriage house and stable house. Rooms start at $275 a night.
This is not your grandfather’s Ulster County hospitality scene. The new target visitor has interests far removed from what was offered in the era of the grand mountaintop houses and their lesser cousins catering to particular nationalities, religions and cultural milieux. Except perhaps for the purposes of historical nostalgia, he or she isn’t a potential customer for farmhouses converted into seasonal rooming houses, for gated colonies, or for the infinite variety of cabins, cottages and bungalows. Nor is this a new crop of city people coming to stay the weekend at their parents’ country house or determined to buy a weekend pied-a-terre somewhere in the unspoiled countryside. And they’re definitely not the folks who have already made their reservations at the standard Marriott, Best Western or Hampton Inn.
Akiva Reich is carrying a bale of laundry when I meet him last Friday afternoon, the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, outside the Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge. He’s finishing up the last details for the weekend. There’s another bale, so I pick it up to take to him. He thanks me. “All hands on deck,” he says with a smile.
Reich, who’s a thirty-something, started in the business of restoring brownstones and commercial buildings in Brooklyn. “I’ve done a lot of restoration,” he said. “This is a continuation of that.”
The restorations in Brooklyn weren’t just gussying up structures. His work often “went down to the bones.” He learned about boilers and heaters, tiles and trim. He developed a reputation. Locals who appreciated design and craftsmanship were soon coming to him. So was born Akiva Reich & Co, a design firm.
Reich invested in The Green Building, a 19th-century brass foundry, which had good bones. Reich transformed it into “a rustic event space.” He then developed an additional event space and The Gallery, a destination for Brooklyn art and design. There’s also Gowanus Art + Production, the art and performance division of the company, which simultaneously thrives and grows its programming and audiences each month. He added an event design capability and a catering operation. Then came Sunday, a private social club on the Gowanus Canal.
He says he financed all his businesses through cash flow. He’s not uninterested in attracting private investment capital, but finds venture capital too constraining.
The energetic Reich is a very busy guy. He sits in a small, newly wallpapered antechamber of the Hasbrouck House and rubs his eyes. I tell him he looks tired. He looks at me and blinks. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he says.
“We like old buildings because they come with a soul,” Reich’s website statement of philosophy says, “and because the best new things include strong, storied foundations. While protecting the history of the properties we revitalize, we also strive to seamlessly introduce modern elements via sustainable design and uncompromising craft.”
This statement gives some hint as to why Reich chose to invest with his business partner, Eitan Baron, another thirty-something and a developer, in the Hasbrouck House. It also explains why he restored and renovated his first hotel so extensively.
Baron, a Park Slope brownstone restorer whose company is called Greenstone, may be best known in New York City for listing a six-million-dollar triplex apartment in Park Slope that included a one-car parking garage. Baron got a lot of attention for establishing his environmental street cred by throwing in an $88,000 top-of-the-line gray Tesla Model S (with amenities) with the deal as a sort of door prize to the buyer.
Among the room amenities at the Hasbrouck House is an iHome docking station and a charger. Among the property amenities is a Tesla car charger.
Also promised is a nightly bonfire.