The reinvention of Saugerties

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

light-house-300x443Harold Swart’s been on Partition Street for decades. Owner of Central Hotel Antiques through several moves, he also was co-owner of the Saugerties Auction House with Donny Malone for years.

He said that he’s heard talk about how businesses have been closing in the village’s main business district over recent months. But he notes that other businesses have been opening, or just moving. The street’s been changing for a long time, perhaps more quickly now than it once did.

“Some say we’re more of a restaurant town now,” Swart said. “The barber shop moved out, and the tattoo parlor moved over there, so I took his space here in what used to be Love Bites, and before that Cafe With Love. Now there’s another fancy barber shop.”

Advertisement

It’s Black Friday, which doesn’t mean much for a small Hudson Valley community that’s looking forward to Small Business Saturday the next day, and then Saugerties’ annual Holiday in the Village extravaganza and the local shoppers it traditionally draws. But it’s nevertheless busy. Very busy, in fact, what with people popping in and out of restaurants, book stores, and various shops in large enough crowds to make walking on the sidewalks a bit of a challenge at times.

“Business here has changed drastically because of the Internet,” Swart added. What used to be a street of antique shops is now filled with fashion, sundries, high-end food and wine, as well as the 110-year-old Montano’s Shoe Store.

“The town is now very active in the summer, with everyone wishing it were a bit more so in winter. Basically, though, it’s just different from what it was.”

The same observation gets repeated up and down the street, whether someone’s been in business two, eight, sixteen or over 50 years. Whether it was DIG or Slices, Light House or the folks gathered outside Boudoir Baby in the old London’s building, the crowds were steady and the shopkeepers upbeat, while also looking for even more business over the coming weeks.

John Klimowicz, who’s run English Garden for 23 years, talked about how Saugerties has built up a means of constantly “reinventing itself,” and despite some times of the year seeming busier than others, “we’ve never been seasonal. We’re not like some seaside town.”

Kit Evers, a former home contractor who specialized in old homes, has picked up much of his father Alf Evers’ historical observation skills. He talked about the “musical chairs” he’s noticed over the 16 years he’s been running Our Bookstore.

“Businesses keep upgrading, but the street goes right along,” he said. He noted how Cafe Tamayo’s space had become Dig and Bosco Mercantile, how the pizza-and-beer-serving Frank’s Hunting Lodge had become Mirabella’s, before Mirabella’s moved, and Central Hotel Antiques had taken up several spaces. “Everything seems to be constantly changing except for my bookstore and Montano’s,”said Evers.

He’s detected a shift among shoppers. “They’re so cosmopolitan, speaking different languages,” he added. “It’s extraordinary when you think back to what it was just a few years ago.”

As though to back up what he’d just said, a cluster of shoppers crowding Bosco Mercantile next door spoke French. Leaving, they held the door for a bunch of Italians apparently raving about their lunch. The storeowner smiled and wiggled her hand to indicate she was too busy for an interview just then.

The same pattern came into play across the street at Lighthouse Style, where owner Shari Weingarten was alternating between customers, ringing some customers up as others asked about special orders. Did anyone want coffee? You could almost feel a collective shimmy as people warmed to the idea. Ella Fitzgerald’s silken voice could be heard in the background.

“I’ve been here five years in May,” Weingarten said. “I’ve never had any concern about the street here losing business. Only one store went out of business, and they weren’t going to make it no matter what.”

Where Lucky Chocolates was is empty, but a sign on the door pointed would-be customers to a smaller space back by the public parking lot. There, a steady stream of families and singles raced over to peer in the windows, looking for a sign of reopening.

Speaking about what he’s seen, Swart noted how Rae and others who’d been on the street were doing more business online, just as he was. “Antiques just isn’t what it was,” he said, remembering the time when Saugerties was known as a place to get deals on Victorian furniture. “Now all everyone wants is mid-century stuff from the Fifties and Sixties, and even the 1970s.”

While the summer HITS crowd was big on restaurants and fashion, they weren’t buying big items. Yet Swart still liked having a storefront (two, if you count the larger one he’s using for storage until he can find a new client). He likes being in his village each day.

“I wish we had more galleries,” he added. “But that may come.”

Finally, we stop in with Ed Montano, whose family shoe story has been in business in the same spot since 1906. “In the past decade it’s been pretty steady with some incline,” he said. “The traffic in the summer is busier and busier, but we do well this time of year as well. In fact, we had our best year by far over the 110 years we’ve been here this year.”

Montano too has noticed businesses moving from one space to another, including several moves from Main to Partition. And also the increase in the number of restaurants.

“They seem to be busy weekdays as well as weekends,” he observed. “Some say we’re a food destination now.”

Post Your Thoughts