The importance of events to the Saugerties economy

(Photo by Mookie Forcella)

The dead will not walk this fall (Photo by Mookie Forcella)

Each fall, for the last four years, zombies came to roam the streets of Saugerties in the thousands, and those who wanted a glimpse of these brain-eating fiends came along too. They jammed the village and spent liberally in the restaurants and bars.

But not this year — the Zombie Crawl has been canceled. It joins the Bed Race and Old Timers Day as another upstart event that won’t be happening in 2014.

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Village Apothecary owner Neal Smoller, who has organized and sponsored the crawl for the last two years, said that with the opening of his new shop in the new medical center on Rt. 9W in Lake Katrine, and the rising costs of insurance, police overtime, Diaz Ambulance, and marketing, he was no longer able to pay the approximately $5,000 it cost to run the yearly event.

“I asked the restaurant and bar community to take it over since they are the ones that prosper the most from the event but they turned me down,” Smoller said.

Jorge Rodriguez, who owns the Main Street Restaurant with his wife, Rhianna, said he would be willing to contribute to keeping the event alive, but many restaurant and bar owners feel the event has changed. What started as a way to bring folks to Saugerties and have a good time had become about making money, said Rodriguez.

Jamie “Captain Cruella” Moxham, who organized the first zombie crawl, said the event became “way bigger than anyone imagined, certainly bigger than I ever expected. With that comes huge costs. Paying ambulance services, the police, permits for the street, insurance and on and on. It got to the point where it was so much money to run that it was overpowering the money we were raising for a charitable event. In short — no one wanted the liability. I started this whole event based off my love for Halloween, zombies, Saugerties, and keeping big businesses out, while supporting local mom-and-pop shops. I thought it’d be a fantastic way for people from all over the place to come check out a town which I loved so much. Besides — at night it’s a perfect setting for a creepy zombie/horror take-over.”

Last year’s crawl brought more than 3,000 people into the village and raised $6,700 for the Small World playground at Cantine Field.

“Losing these smaller events affects us a lot,” said Marjorie Block, who chairs the town/village tourism committee.

“We’re all volunteers on the committee and it’s tough to staff all the events,” she said, which spelled the doom for the Bed Races and Old Timers Day this year.

Block said from a tourism point of view, it’s important to have events spaced out over the course of the year to keep Saugerties on the minds of people, and in that respect, fewer events will have an adverse impact. The main “big” events, according to Block, are the Sawyer Motors Car Show, the Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks, Garlic Festival and Holiday in the Village.

Daisy Bolle of DIG Boutique on Partition St. said retail businesses will miss these smaller events to a certain extent because “they do keep Saugerties before the public. But they really didn’t mean a lot of money to us.”

Bolle said the best times have been “holiday weekends, when there were no special events, and during the Horse Shows on the Hudson (HITS) weeks,” as well as First Fridays, the monthly village event which has become quite popular since being established in 2012. In fact, the crowd was so thick for the August event that police are now thinking of closing the streets for future First Fridays.

Speaking of success, another type of event shows no signs of diminishing — sports tournaments at Cantine Field. Greg Chorvas, the town superintendent of parks and buildings, said various tournaments at Cantine Field and the Kiwanis Ice Arena are a significant source of revenue for the town.

Cantine Field has become so popular for tournaments, Chorvas said, it’s booked solid.

Chorvas said the Ulster Fillies Girls’ Softball Tournament, held at Cantine for the last 18 years, was so successful organizers had to add a second weekend this year.

Rich Sickler, a board member with the Fillies organization, said teams came from New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and across New York State.“We had to turn teams away we have gotten so big,” Sickler said.

Most of the growth is due to the location.

“It’s all in one place, unlike many other tournaments’ fields,” he said. “Coaches and parents love the fact that you can walk to all the fields without having to drive to them or having a long hike.”

Some of the tournaments include: MHALs baseball sectionals, the Dutchess Debs Mothers’ Day Tournament, the Mid-Hudson Rebels and the New York State Babe Ruth tournament. In 2015, it will be home to a collegiate league team, the Saugerties Stallions and the Babe Ruth Mid-Atlantic Championships.

The Kiwanis Ice Arena has played host to the New York State High School Varsity Ice Hockey Championships for the last few years. Next year, it will be home to the New York State High School Junior Varsity Ice Hockey Championships.

New activities and premium parking at the Cantine complex and ice arena should mean a spike of about $25,000 in revenue next year, Chorvas estimates.