New Paltz has taken rock climbing to even greater heights. The recently opened “climbing cooperative” occupies a 2000-square-foot post-industrial space in the heart of the village which was converted by climbing enthusiasts into a 24-hour indoor rock-climbing gym and community space.
Located in the back of Mike Rizza’s auto-body shop and car dealership at 91 North Chestnut Street, bordering the rail-trail and Huguenot Street, the New Paltz Climbing Cooperative has been a labor of love. It has surpassed the goals of its founder, Chad Foti, an active climber as well as a New Paltz High School teacher of earth science.
“It was a community effort,” said Foti, who refuses to take credit for the climbing gym. “So many people contributed. It blew my mind. All of the holds [rock-climbing holds that simulate rocks and crevices] were donated. All of the wood [to build the walls] was donated, the labor, the couches, the mats, this incredible art work,” he said. The walls are bursting with pop-art painted in a day by Paul St. Savage, a good friend who is a street artist in New York City. “I mentioned something to him,” said Foti, “and he came up and all I did was feed him and he did this in one day. It’s amazing.”
As Foti gives a tour of the gym, there are numerous people laboring up and down walls, hanging off of faux-overhangs, stretching, chatting on the comfortable couches, or utilizing the free weights and punching bag — all donated to the cooperative.
Their goal was hopefully to get 20 to 30 memberships the first couple of months and 50 by the year’s end. “But everyone came out of the woodwork to support us and be part of this cooperative,” said Foti. “We opened in December and met our goal within the first two months, we had 120 visitors our first month and now we’re up to 60 year-round memberships. I’m shocked and relieved and just excited. It’s such a great place and used by so many great people.”
A year-round membership, which gives the individual access (via a code key to the gym) every day of the year 24 hours a day, costs $350. A day pass is $10. Members can bring two guests free of charge and for liability’s sake members must be 18 years or older. “If a member wants to bring their children in for the day that’s fine,” noted Foti.
There are six walls, all of which are curved, bowed, some with steep angles, others with complicated overhangs and dozens of routes mapped out by color-coded tape — offering many beginner routes up to professional-level routes.
“We have a community night every Tuesday where people can map out their own routes,” he said. “We have movie nights, pot-lucks, parties … and it’s very local. Almost all of our members are from New Paltz, Gardiner and Rosendale.”
The idea was to create something that would cater to local climbers and those that wanted to learn to climb but who could not make it to the cliffs every day, and those who wanted to work out and keep their climbing skills sharp during the winter months, after work, during inclement weather.
“Who does it cater to?” Foti asked himself. “It caters to people who like to be on their own schedule, which rock climbers generally do. It caters to individuals, which climbers definitely are. And it caters to our community where we all want to play an integral role in and offer something healthy and organic. It’s part hang-outage and part working-outage. It’s a hybrid.”
Foti admitted that he felt very nervous when he began this endeavor. “I had some moments when I was like What am I doing? I’m going to be shackled to this.” Instead he discovered that people from all walks of life loved the community-cooperative aspect of it and put in sweat equity, donated, painted, created routes, brought in lights and tunes and helped turn those six walls into works of art with wild color schemes, challenging holds, and irregular forms.
“Even on an off day there could be seven or eight people here, or 30. Part of it provides a great workout, and the other part just allows people who enjoy climbing to get together and have fun.”
Foti said he could not have done it without Mike Rizza. “He was instrumental in making this happen,” said Foti. “Every time I ran into a stumbling block or needed something he was right there to help me out. He’s been so supportive as a landlord and as a wonderful New Paltz person.”
The people behind the enterprise are not in this for money. “Any bit of money we make beyond paying our rent and utilities will go right back into improving the gym, creating more climbing walls, purchasing necessary equipment,” said Foti. “We’re already designing a new wall that should be up in a few weeks.”
Foti is there three to four times a week to work out, see friends and manage the co-op. But the space largely runs itself. “This kind of thing keeps honest people honest,” he said. “They clean up, they tend to the books, they treat it like it’s their home, their space, which it is, and that’s what I love about it.”
“The best way to contact us is to just come by,” said Foti. “Every Tuesday night we have a community night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and you can check out the space, talk with people and learn if this would be something you’d be interested in. We work out, but we also socialize and have a great time.”