As a local business owner, volunteer and community activist in New Paltz for the past 18 years, Amy Cohen says she’s all about “making things better for people who live here and people who visit here. I’m really proud of New Paltz, the village and the town, and I want to make it all that it can be.”
But there’s “a little bit of a divide here between constituents and village government,” she says. “There’s a lot of money being spent on legislation, and not a lot of money being spent on things that enhance our lifestyle here in the village.”
So earlier this year, Cohen created a sculpture garden on the property across the street from her business, the Groovy Blueberry Clothing Company on Main Street. She invited artists to create works for the site, including Jennifer Contini Enderby, who contributed one of her signature heart-themed works, a mixed media dimensional heart in purple, now transformed for autumn in pumpkin and gold colors.
The small park-like space at the corner of Main and Water streets — now named “Blueberry Fields” — has since then hosted several New Paltz Artisanal Guild Arts and Craft fairs put together by Cohen along with Michele Riddell of the Unframed Artists Gallery on Huguenot Street, Sevan Melikyan, director of Wired Gallery in High Falls and events coordinator Ina Kramer. The events are held under tents and include dozens of exhibitors, live music and food vendors.
“Michele is all about getting the word out there about different artists and sharing all that the local artists have to offer,” says Cohen. “I had been going to things at Michele’s gallery and one day I said, ‘We have this space over here we haven’t been using; we’d like to share it and help empower local artists with our property.'” Melikyan is also an avid supporter of local artists, the co-creator along with Riddell of the recently produced Gunks Art Trail Map, a free guide available in print and online that details all of the places in the Shawangunk region where art can be found.
Cohen says they plan to make the art and craft fairs an ongoing thing, with one planned for Memorial Day weekend next year, to be held at the same time as the Woodstock-New Paltz Art & Crafts Fair at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. The craft fairs at Blueberry Fields have an entry fee of just $35 for artists, which is considerably lower than the fee to participate in the fairground craft shows. Cohen says she isn’t out to profit from the events, though; it’s about empowering and promoting local artists and their wares.
Blueberry Fields also hosts Hula Hoop Sunday on a regular basis, with Ashley Gannon of Sunset Hula Hoops offering free lessons. She’s there from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weather permitting, and beginning November 1 will offer free hula hoop lessons at the New Paltz Community Center on Saturdays. Gannon sells handmade hula hoops in beginning (one inch diameter), intermediate (3/4 inch) and advanced (5/8 inch) sizes and even a travel hoop, as well. “It’s good exercise and great fun for all ages,” says Cohen. “There are grown women and little girls all together, and it’s just a good way to get together and be positive.”
Getting people together in a positive spirit is behind all of the projects that Cohen takes on, she says. Inspired by attending a women’s empowerment conference last year in New York City that town supervisor Susan Zimet invited her to, organized by state Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Cohen says she came back from the conference ready to organize women’s empowerment events on a local level. Since then she’s been working with college students, local women artists and some women in business. “The idea is, I have 30 years of retail and wholesale experience and a manufacturing background. In my business, I was able to take a concept that my husband and I developed here in New Paltz 18 years ago and now we ship our product all over the world. We’re in major department stores, and we’re on [the website] Zulily — we ship them thousands of pieces of clothing every week. I’m really excited and happy about the things that our company has done and I want to spread the wealth and help empower other people in our community.”
Cohen says she’d like to see situations in New Paltz where women work together as a team and help each other. “Together, we are much stronger than we are alone. That’s how I run my business: I run a team of 15 women, and we all work together.
“There’s a lot of negativity in our community,” she adds, “especially regarding the college and the students… people don’t like the noise, they don’t like whatever, but we live in a college town and that’s what makes it exciting to live here: The young people, the arts, always something to do. I’ve been trying to kind of sand down the rough corners and figure out how if everybody just tried ten percent harder, we could all be relatively happy here together.”
For more information, look for Groovy Blueberry Clothing Company on Facebook.