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.
“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.
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.)