Fitting a niche

Niche businesses may seem extra-risky. Yet three area businesses that cater to a specific clientele are finding success in offering just the right thing.

The High Falls Food Co-op, the little organic market in the bright green building, turns 37 in November. Co-manager Ruth Malloy has detected a definite uptick in business over the past seven years. “We’re finding our customers are looking to make a community connection,” she said. “It’s something we’ve seen building since the 9-11 attacks. Now they’re really focused on finding a sustainable, trustworthy food connection.”

Malloy said that the cooperative, which has put a lot of effort into upgrading its interior space, dedicates a certain percentage of its shelf space to local producers. The bulk bins are all new and have a bigger selection of organic oils, including a new Thai red rice that Malloy pronounces “delicious!”

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“We’re finding people are willing to spend more, when they can, to get better-quality food,” she said.

Malloy said membership has increased from 450 to over 500 in the past year. Members can work three hours a month in the store for a discount on their purchases, or they can pass on the work time for a lesser discount. “We’re supporting a regional and local economy,” Malloy explained, “and we’re trying to be more interactive.”

The High Falls Food Co-op has a web page (though Malloy says there’s limited content there right now) an active Facebook page and a lunch bar in the entryway. They’re planning a fundraiser to put a bike rack in the parking lot.

Erin go bangers!

Not all niches are as obvious as are organic groceries. In New Paltz, Sean Ring, manager of Shea O’Brien’s, says the restaurant is successfully tapping a demand for upscale dining with a brogue. “Most people think of corned beef and cabbage when they think of Irish cuisine,” said Sean Ring, manager of the restaurant opened last October. “But that’s really an Irish-American dish. The Irish are travelers — and their food reflects that.”

Shea O’Brien’s menu features Irish specialties like bangers and mash (sausages and potatoes), fish and chips and Irish smoked salmon. But there are also many entrees inspired by the French, with sauces that you’d expect to find in a Parisian bistro.

“We offer a fine dining experience with some real Irish touches, like authentic Irish baked beans and black-and-white pudding (a sausage dish that isn’t on the menu but can be made to order). Plus, no Irish restaurant is complete without a pub — so we’ve got Guinness that’s almost as good as what you’d get in Ireland.”

Owners Kevin Murtagh and Garvin McCloskey had their eye on the location for years, Ring said, and grabbed the space as soon as it became available. “There are a lot of tourists here, lots of traffic,” said Ring. “And no one is really doing what we’re doing — offering a good meal, a chance to dress up a bit — a real restaurant. Now we’ve got a lot of regulars who come here two, three, four times a week.”

Of course, Shea O’Brien’s offers music: acoustic music Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays, and Irish music on Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m. “We’re not catering to the college crowd,” Ring said. “We’re offering something different in New Paltz.”

Fiat lux in Saugerties

Don Curry has been offering something a big different at Fed-On Lights in Saugerties for 34 years. “I graduated from the Culinary Institute in 1972,” he said, “but the restaurant business was very different back then, a lot less creative. So I got out.”

He opened a shop at the corner of Market and Livingston Streets, offering a general line of glassware, furniture and some lighting. “It was the lighting that people seemed to be most interested in,” Curry said, “so it evolved into a lighting store.”

The shop’s 3,000 square feet are jammed with vintage lighting, plumbing fixtures and some architectural salvage. “Specializing has its pros and cons. There are days I wish I still had glassware and furniture,” he added with a laugh.

Curry said he didn’t see much of a difference in his business when HITS (Horse Shows in the Sun) came to town, but the opening of the Diamond Mills Hotel and a couple of newspaper articles have led to what he calls “a lot of new faces” in his shop. “I think the variety of shops we’re getting in town now is making a difference, too. It’s really been busy in the past year.”

His website has also changed his business. He gets orders for chandeliers and fixtures on his website, and he said UPS makes shipping them pretty easy. He also likes the convenience of being able to take a picture of a fixture with his smartphone and instantly send it to a customer. It’s harder, he said, to keep the website up to date.

“I spend a morning putting a fixture on the website, then I sell it that afternoon and it’s all a waste,” he said.

Where does he find his inventory? “I don’t tell trade secrets,” he replied. But he said he spends his days off combing a five-state area for new items. “I don’t spend my days off in front of the TV.”

What led him to a love affair with lighting? “I’ve always like antiques and I like illumination,” Curry explained. “It’s like stained glass. Once you pop the light on, it looks entirely different.”

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