Uptown retailers wary of extending hours

Julie Wehmeyer Longstreet, in her John Street Edelweiss Soap Co. store. (Photo by Lynn Woods)

Julie Wehmeyer Longstreet, in her John Street Edelweiss Soap Co. store. (Photo by Lynn Woods)

As Uptown Kingston is popping with the opening of a new restaurant every week — each seemingly more remarkable than the next — the question of whether shops should extend their weekday hours and even open on Sundays persists. Many of the shops and restaurants Downtown keep extended summer weeknight and Sunday hours, but Uptown is altogether different: restaurants and taverns are humming well into the evening, but retail shops lock the doors between 5-6 p.m. every night.

The effort to get Uptown stores to stay open later and on weekends has been almost single-handedly spearheaded by Julie Wehmeyer Longstreet, owner of the Edelweiss Soap Co. on John Street. Via social media, she has repeatedly urged Uptown shopkeeps to keep hours on weekends and evenings, to appeal to people coming to the neighborhood after hours to dine, drink or both, saying that last year more than 20 percent of her sales occurred after 5 p.m. or on Sunday. Recently, she received a POS system for free, she has put it to good use, its accounting features are what lead her to discover exactly what was going on with her business.

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“Last summer, a bunch of women came in my store on a Sunday,” said Longstreet. “Turns out one was the wife of the owner of a major baseball team. They had read all sorts of stuff in the papers in New York and other places about how great Kingston was. They drove up here expecting to see some museums, shopping, lunch on a Sunday. They were livid because everything was closed. They spend a small fortune at my store and then went and had lunch at Boitson’s. But we look horrible to the outside world by not being open.”

Longstreet has a Facebook page dedicated to encouraging uptown shop owners to consider later hours and Sunday hours. In addition to Edelweiss, Matt Pleva and Heidi Abrams’ Art Riot arts and crafts gift store, Half-Moon Books and Columbia Costume Supply are open as well.

Longstreet said several Christmas seasons ago she and her daughter were scouting around uptown the day after Christmas, one of the biggest sales days of the year, yet not a single store was open except for the bookstore. “While we were walking around dumbfounded, a tour bus had pulled in with a bunch of German tourists. They were walking around and were so upset because they couldn’t even get lunch. That is money that we will never get back, and it’s not just money for the merchants — it’s money the city is missing out on in terms of sales taxes.”

The Kingston Uptown Business Association has a new president, Robert Tonner of Tonner Doll Co., with a new focus of working together for the better of Uptown. He said he is currently assembling new committees for projects which reflect their new orientation, such as community pride (beautification), events, community outreach (what people want and care about) and marketing (both for KUBA members and Uptown as a whole). Tonner said he was not prepared to render an opinion on Sunday hours on behalf of KUBA, but he thought Uptown could readily benefit from stores being open that day. However, he admitted that his own shop’s efforts at Sunday hours fell apart within the first year of trying them out.

Let’s eat

Niels Nielsen, owner of new-kid-on-the-block Duo Café on John Street, said they have been doing very well on Sundays. Duo is open for brunch that day from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and reopens for dinner at 5:30, bringing in upward of 100 diners, Nielsen said. He said he is only competing against a few other open uptown cafés in the morning, and the competition in the evening slims down even more to Boitson’s and Stella’s. Nielsen said his Sunday morning crowd consists of “Brooklynites with funny hats,” Woodstock and Saugerties foodies and some locals. The evening crowd is made of a lot of skiers and locals who wanted to avoid the Friday and Saturday evening crowds.

Duo has decided to go against the standard restaurant closed-Monday-nights grain and hearken back to an old Southern boarding house tradition by serving one family-style meal at a 6:30 p.m. sitting called a groaning table for $20 plus wine and beer. “I don’t know anything about the shops here,” said Nielsen, “but I would like to see them open more when people are here.”

Sissy’s Café on Wall Street is also open Sunday mornings. Co-owner Denee Francese-Smith said the crowd is largely comprised of locals grabbing a cup of coffee to go until noonish when people file in, presumably after church, for brunch. “In the morning there’s not a soul to be seen,” said Francese-Smith. “There are people asking why everything is so dead, and wondering where everyone is.”

Slideshow image: Revelers enjoy an evening Uptown during 2012’s holiday open house. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe.)

There are 15 comments

  1. Sean Griffin

    The local people of Kingston need to support local businesses more. I am always amazed when I talk about certain businesses to long time residents, and they have no idea what, or where I am talking about.

    I have been hosting a Celtic Music session at Elephant for thirteen months every first Saturday from 7-10pm. I have world class musicians coming in some nights. It is usually packed but not with local people. I find it extraordinary that people say they don’t know where Elephant is? They won best restaurant in the Hudson Valley, they have been featured in the New York Times, and Rich’s Cooking is nothing short of genius.

    I think if you work for the city, you should spend your paycheck here. When the medium income of an individual is $18,000, and the average city,county, police officer, and fireman make two, three, or four times that amount, they should give back to the community by supporting local business, and not the strip malls on 9w. Where do you think the tax revenue comes from?

    I hope that that everyone continues to have success in their business endeavors. I love Kingston!

  2. P.M.Law

    I live in Uptown and this past Sunday afternoon I was sitting outside gathering in some Vitamin D and reading. More than 10 people asked me where they could get a cup of coffee or some lunch. I could point out a few places but they were rather disappointed at all the possibilities presented but then not realized in the form of dark storefronts and closed cafes.

    PS: If you want to beautify Uptown, sweep up the thousands of cigarette butts that pollute the area.

    1. Anonymous

      Common complaint… No place to go on Sunday. With a little effort from the cafes and merchants, uptown could be a very busy place on Sundays. The need is there — just few willing to fill it.

    2. The Red Dog Party

      The sidewalk in and around Back Stage Productions is treated like a dump. (I’ve complained to the local Alderman, he’s claimed it’s been taken care of.) There are many things that business owners could do in uptown Kingston to make it more inviting. I, for one, will not patronize any establishment which has no respect for it’s environment.

  3. Amanda Newman

    I would love to see more Uptown business (retail, specifically) with some reasonable evening hours, or Sunday. It’s a serious struggle for any 9 to 5-er to shop at an establishment which is only accessible to them one day out of the week.

    I truly enjoy shopping in Uptown when I can. The offerings are unique, the experience is more personal, and I believe in supporting my neighbors and my local economy… I just wish it was more feasible to do so!

    It amazes me when small local business choose to be open on the same 9-5 schedule that those of us with money to spend are stuck at our desks earning it!

  4. Anonymous

    Kudos to the businesses who are working hard to making uptown a better place, and shame on the ones that are whining and not trying to do anything but make excuses. I personally never will shop at Bop to Tottem after having been rudely told by the owner not to plan on staying long because I arrived at 5:20, and she was getting ready to go home and I’d have to leave in ten minutes. The worst customer service ever! There went a sale and a lot of others. I love Karmabee’s attitude that you stay when the customers are there! I know Edelweiss does the same thing.

    As for Traders of the Lost Ark, all of the other businesses in uptown claim they make more money during the Farmer’s Market — yet you claim you don’t. That makes me wonder what you are doing wrong. You claim you lose 25 percent of your sales. Maybe if you were open more than three days a week??? In this article, two businesses claim they make 20 percent of their sales after 5 and on Sunday. You want to whine stating that you lose 25 percent sales on Farmer’s Market Saturdays, yet give up late hours and Sundays when your sales good rise by 20%? That is not good business. In fact, that borders on stupidity.
    Do you do any marketing? Do you post specials? Are you on Facebook? Do you try and connect with your customers any way you can? Or do you sit in your store expecting people to just “come to you.”

    And Mr. Reev of Elephant — you are correct — people should not feel pressured if they own a business to be open when their customers want to shop. Of course not. After all the businesses are there strictly for the shopowners ego, not to provide a service to the community. What an inane comment and crock of nonsense! If a shopkeeper chooses to be open at their own whim and not when a customer needs and desires it, then they can pretty much kiss their business good-bye. And in time, most of them will fail. And hopefully make room for people who actually care about customers. I know you work a lot of hours at Elephant and you have a popular spot, but to state businesses should not feel pressure to meet their customer’s needs is ignorant.

    Mr. Tonner, you state you have tried Sunday hours. How long did you try? A month? Six weeks? Did you advertise that you were adding hours? Did you really try to build your Sunday business? You also claim you can’t “speak for KUBA.” Well, who does speak for KUBA then if the President won’t? Maybe less focus on putting together committees and more focus on actually dealing with important issues such as this is what KUBA should be doing.

    What I see in this article are a handful of high commendable businesses trying to their very best to better uptown for the benefit of the community and their customers and a bucketful of whiners who don’t want to do anything but kvetch. At least with this article, I have a clearcut idea of who to give my business to and who to avoid.

  5. Lynn Schabot

    Once again Carrie has written a very informative article that supports Kingston. I will be subscribing to your paper today for that very reason. I look forward to reading the entire Kingston Times at my leisure.

  6. Mollie

    It would be great if businesses in Uptown were open later, but I understand how hard it is from an owners’ standpoint, having run my own business in an area with low foot traffic. We changed our hours from time to time to try to be open when there was the most traffic. You can’t blame people for closing if they’re paying employees to man their shops or have to work the hours themselves. We’ve been disappointed too when arriving at certain places near closing time, but we’ve adjusted our expectations, and hope that these business will extend their hours as they continue to grow.

    As far as Sean’s comment regarding where government employees should spend their money- I’d say it’s no different for any other resident of Kingston. There simply aren’t many places to shop in town. I would gladly give my money to locals rather than to the chains. But this is a conversation the city should have had years ago when they allowed multiple locations of CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid to open in town. Where do I shop for basic goods? Unfortunately it’s Target, H&M and Walgreens. So ultimately this is a bigger-picture issue that shouldn’t be blamed on the Uptown store owners. It’s something the city needs to look at, to help small business and avoid the allure of taxes and “jobs” that the big boxes always promise.

  7. John Garesche

    The key to additional hours is for businesses to work together and market together. People attempting to operate on their own will usually fail – as most people come to uptown for more than one reason. They won’t come very often for just one store. KUBA needs to take the lead and organize stores together.

    The idea that stores are only open 9-5 – when people with money tend to be working and cannot shop – inane! Kudos to Julie for leading the charge.

      1. Anonymous

        Your comment doesn’t make sense and appears you commenting just to comment. It also appears that you put more stock in whining than in doing or saying anything constructive.

        First of all, many of the businesses, especially the ones that are not open later in the evenings and on Sunday in uptown, do virtually no marketing. Nada. None. Gone are the days when the occasional tiny ad in the local newspaper sufficed. There are tons of free and low cost alternatives, but most of them just do not bother. After all it is easier to complain than do the work necessary to be successful.

        Secondly, if you are going to be in retail you are going to have to compete with the CVSs, Walgreens, Walmarts, Targets etc. So you have a) offer something very unique that you can’t get at those stores, and b) provide better service (i.e., be open!), and c) you have to have be compelling and interesting to the buyer, and you have to stay up to date on trends. It can be done. But you have to want it.

        To say that “businesses are already doing it on their own.” is naive and not based on fact. Any business model shows that when merchants work together to bring customers to an area, there success raises exponentially. Why on earth do you think malls are successful — because their leases require that they work together to make a good shopping experience for the customers. Stupid, stupid comment.

        In addition, your previous post above indicates that you are more interested in not supporting the local economy and are one of the people who’d prefer to complain rather than actually do anything constructive. You actually tried to blame the city for allowing CVS, Walgreen’s, Target etc. to open up stores here for your reason not to shop local. You say you would prefer to shop local but since the city allowed these chains in, you shop there. Are you such a puppet that you can’t decide where to spend your money? Seriously? It’s the city’s fault that you don’t spend locally. Unbelievable. Actually, it’s just blathering.

        John has great points. Your commentary is nothing more than whining.

        1. Mollie

          You’re missing my point. The local stores that would sell the same items that the big boxes sell simply don’t exist in Kingston. I do support small business in Kingston, just like many people, whenever I can. But where are you going to buy shoes in Kingston? Where are you going to buy men’s clothing, children’s clothing, or women’s clothing that doesn’t fall within a particular demographic? (not my demographic) Where are you going to buy housewares? Kingston loses tax money, jobs and neighborhood goodwill to Lincoln Park, Poughkeepsie, Albany, Bergen County and New York City because there are simply very few places to shop. Restaurants, coffee shops- yes, we have them. But beyond that? It’s slim pickings. Even the small shops I do try to support- their inventory tends to be small and the prices high. Sean had said that government workers should spend their money in Kingston- and I’m asking- where? Where are these magical shops?

  8. bryan x

    I’ve experienced both boom and bust times in cities on both coasts. It seems to me that in boom times everybody appears to be a genius – stuff is flowing, everything works, every idea (no matter how seemingly half-baked) gains traction. But in bust times everyone is a chimp, and no matter how many brilliant ideas are hatched, nothing really takes hold to make things better.

    I see some really good things happening in uptown. Because of those handful of shops that I like, I try to visit as often as possible and support those businesses as much as I can.

    I know what it is like to run a small brick n mortar operation. I know that even though their hours seem limited that the owners are probably putting in 60 hours a week or more. The extra hours doing maintenance and back office work… pushing hard just to keep things afloat.

    I see some other businesses that appear (on the surface) to maybe not giving it the “old college try” – a little evidence here and there that things are slipping a bit. But here too I’m pretty sure they are also doing their best to stay afloat, but suffering under many months (or even many years) of sagging demand.

    We are, after all, only about halfway through this “lost decade”; economic doldrums reaching into almost every corner of the world.

    A half Century of SPRAWL-ification has severely distorted the area’s retail landscape. The 1961 Comprehensive Plan had some very clear ideas on how to deal with the issues in uptown/midtown/downtown Kingston. Some suggestions were implemented, but it seems that the ongoing issues were NOT matched with an ongoing dynamic conversation. Who can blame them? Who has the time to address the big picture while fiddling with budgets and crime, etc.

    Sprawlification continued unchecked.

    The many-decades-long shift has had a toxic effect on the city of Kingston and many other little villages and hamlets throughout the region.

    I’m sure that the various leaders and career bureaucrats of Ulster County have always been very motivated about the development of car-friendly commercial development in Lincoln Park and Lake Katrine. The property tax and sales tax bounty from the big businesses of the past and present have probably gone a long way toward subsidizing the various public needs of County infrastructure and payroll for needed public services.

    But the “1/2 Century of sprawlification” that has occurred has left the villages and small municipalities with a gutted core. The push-back has been gaining momentum. The internet has assisted greatly. The more stories that come out about the reboot of business in villages, hamlets and nano-urban centers across America, the more other people want to make a go at it.

    As thousands of locations of various national chain stores are set to shutter in the next year or two, opportunities might be cracking open for local operators.

    Yes there are a variety of goods available in Kingston, but not as comprehensive a selection as could be. If you want a new flatscreen TV, where are you gonna get it? WalMart/Target/Best Buy/Sears/Office Depot/Radio Shack.

    Best Buy is closing 200-250 stores. Sears closing 100-125 stores. Office Depot 125-150 going away. Radio Shack 450-550 shutting down.

    Will any of the ones around here be closing? Does this then become an opportunity for a local store, or for WalMart, or for Amazon.com? Or maybe a leaner physical/virtual hybrid sales model that has yet to be launched.

    Right now bigger cities are benefiting from having a critical mass of people. From Des Moines to Pittsburgh to NYC: successful urban revival from what not long ago could not have been imagined by even the most optimistic of observers.

    A little vision, a little tweaking of public policy to promote a widening base of private investment… that can quickly transform an area into something more amazing. Despite long-term structural issues and systemic weaknesses.

    But you gotta look those weaknesses straight on. One ignores the big picture at their own peril.

    I’ll continue supporting those local businesses I enjoy. I might even launch one of my own. Right now I’m in a holding pattern. There are so many factors in play; much of which is well beyond anyone’s control.

    Its best to be mindful and deliberate.

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