Want a glimpse of the Hudson Valley in peak new form, mixing past, present and future in a naturalistic, decidedly yummy fashion? Look no further than bucolic Germantown, just south of Hudson and north of Tivoli, with its K-12 school, one of the state’s last family-owned hyperlocal phone (and now telecommunications) businesses and a quietly cool central business crossroads that draws customers from several counties.
Holding down the “new” Germantown, besides a growing number of imports from the city, has been the expanding Otto’s Market, a dream version of what a small-town grocer can be these days. It was built within the former home of Central Market, constructed in 1927 and in existence until 2006, when the place closed for nearly two years before reopening with a mission to be “the best small grocery store in the Hudson Valley” on December 3, 2008.
New owner Otto Leuschel’s arrival in Germantown follows a modern-day regional pattern: He recalls running markets in his state-of-Washington home as a kid, went on to work at Whole Foods in a variety of hipster locations, San Francisco, New York City and London among them. Then he happened on the store that’s now his namesake “while driving around looking at farm properties. The minute I walked in, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Now the place holds down a busy trade serving made-in-store meals, from breakfast to dinner takeout, as well as a wild assortment of cool items such as Quisp, Chemex coffeepots, GuS Soda, Rick’s Picks pickles and loads of locavore products.
That has led Leuschel to the opening of the newer Germantown Variety store across the street, in what was built in the early 1920s following a disastrous community fire as a Grange Hall that, among other things, previously housed a dancehall, a basketball court, a movie theater, a brassiere factory, a jewelry factory, a drugstore with soda fountain, a piano store and a café. Now the place is an updated version of an old-style general store, offering everything from Made in America hardware, office supplies and housewares to top-shelf Wooster artist brushes, sewing “notions” and gads of eco-friendly cleaning and beauty supplies – all in an old-style, penny-candy-at-the-counter sort of way. Two grey store cats, Hansel and Gretel, make things even homier.
Next door, the old Lawlor’s Liquor Store – not yet renovated and in the same family that was running the place 50, 60 years ago – has upgraded its wine and spirits offerings to match the upgrades in clientele, available foods and stemware available at the Variety Store. Furthermore, the old Central House Inn, built in 1876, has been restored, and there’s talk of possible eateries coming to town, besides a popular pizzeria a short drive out of the center.
“We want to be the local Main Street grocer of a bygone era that people now long for in these times of high stress and limited free time,” reads the rest of the Otto’s mission statement. “The store is designed and stocked for the full-time and part-time residents. Prices and selection are approachable, and the store is a reliable one-stop shop… We will operate as an excellent community citizen, participating in the town’s events and initiatives and working with local business and organizations to improve the economic development of the area. The store is a community gathering place…” Talk about the new Germantown, the evolving Hudson Valley.