Not that long ago, the village was full of empty storefronts. When IBM closed up shop in Kingston the local economy took a big hit. But starting around ten years ago, things started getting better. Today the Saugerties village business district is a destination: the storefronts are packed and the foot traffic on a warm summer night makes it feel like a tourist town. What happened?
Surely the post-9/11 infusion of New York City exiles and second-homeowners contributed to a sense of renewal. But that goes for the whole region. Saugerties seems to have experienced the greatest turnaround over the last decade, and many believe that’s because Tom Struzzieri and his horse shows attract thousands of well-heeled visitors to Saugerties each year. So with summer in full swing, we decided to ask around.
The growth of HITS
Based in Saugerties since 2004, Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS, Inc.) is primarily known for producing top quality hunter/jumper horse shows, with a circuit including yearly events in California, Florida, Arizona and Virginia along with the shows held in Saugerties each summer. Equestrians and their entourages of trainers, grooms, farriers and family members come to the Hudson Valley from all over the world to compete in the show jumping competitions here, which begin over the Memorial Day weekend and end in September.
Recently, the organization has begun to expand its influence on the area. Tom Struzzieri, the CEO and president of HITS, Inc., opened the Diamond Mills Hotel & Tavern in Saugerties at the end of last year, and his company produced the first HITS Triathlon in the region last month, a marathon endurance test of swimming, bicycling, and running for the motivated athlete.
A representative for HITS, Inc. says that during the eight weeks that the horse show is in town, from May to September, there are 1,500-1,900 horses on the Saugerties show grounds each week, with a capacity for 2,300 stalls. With each horse that comes to HITS, the company says, on average 2.5 people accompany it. At the rate of 1,900 horses per week, that means an additional 4,750 people each week coming to Saugerties, and 38,000 people for the entire summer season; all in need of food and lodging in addition to gasoline for their vehicles and retail goods and services.
In a statement provided by the management of HITS, Inc., Struzzieri says that the company would not be as successful as it is without the support of the local community. And for the most part, the regard is mutual.