Robin Kramer, who retired from running her Woodstock Design store on Tinker Street earlier this month (she passed it on to her daughter and son-in-law, Daisy and Van Bolle, of Saugerties’ DIG), recalls exactly what brought her to town in 1970.
“We were living in Brooklyn and my husband Mike was working for the state as a social worker. Then I read The Greening Of America,” she said of Charles Reich’s epochal work about the counterculture’s rise. “We came up and looked around in New Paltz, Cobleskill, then had lunch at the Cafe Espresso and figured we liked Woodstock and looked for a place to rent.”
It was autumn so they took a place through the winter. Mike got a job at the old Hudson Valley Psychiatric Hospital in Poughkeepsie and she looked after her kids, age four and 14 months. A used clothing store she frequented in Brooklyn offered her a pile of “Eskimo coats for kids” and the couple took some pictures of their kids wearing them and they put them up as homemade advertisements all around town…and she sold them all. Then she got a good deal on women’s fur coats, opened a small commercial space behind the Espresso (now the Center for Photography at Woodstock), and those went too.
“We were going to close the following February but someone said that if we could make money in winter we could definitely make more money in the summer,” Kramer recalled with a hearty laugh. “We opened up the Woodstock Trading Post selling jeans, cowboy shirts, denim jackets. We’d have a deal where you could trade in two pairs of jeans for one of ours. By 1974 we moved on to Tinker Street, and then in 1981 we moved into the space next door where we started Woodstock Design.”
By that time, the young couple and their kids were tiring of Mike having to get up at 3 a.m. to drive down to the city for their wares. Besides, tastes were shifting away from denim skirts and the like. Robin found someone selling $15 Indian print shirts out of Rhode Island and started getting her items shipped.
“We went on a vacation in the Caribbean islands and I found this store where they sold nice soft fabrics and had a comfortable place where you could sit and read magazines piled on a coffee table,” she continued. “I thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great store for Woodstock!’ And then I started looking up new designers with the sorts of things I liked.”
The Kramer’s daughter, Daisy, remembers her parents making dresses out of jeans, as well as blue jean teddy bears for her.
“I always wanted to work in the store and started at six in the Trading Post,” she said, telling a story about getting an order mixed up and ending up in tears. “Finally, after begging more, I started showing people around when I was 11, and I made all my best friends at the store, some of them 19 or 30 years old. At 13 I begged my parents to let me take over and make a punk rock store, but it was such a big failure. I started working in design and after Onteora went on to Sarah Lawrence.”
From college, Daisy met a number of friends from Los Angeles and moved out to the West Coast for 15 years, where she met her husband…and eventually let her mother talk the couple into moving back east and opening a store in Saugerties.
Thus started DIG, a younger women’s clothing store that’s been operating for eleven years now.
“I used to do 100 percent of our shopping for the stores but when Daisy opened DIG we started to go buying together,” Robin Kramer added about the comfort she feels having her daughter take over fully 35 years into Woodstock Design’s life. “And no, I never imagined I’d be passing on a business, but then you look around Woodstock and see that’s the trend now…with Joshua’s, Sunfrost. Me and Mike are 74 years old. Daisy came to us.”
“We’d been talking about this and then mom had a knee replacement,” Daisy added. “DIG was always a combination of our tastes, and I don’t see making many changes here excepting a little more of my flavor.”
Mom Robin spoke, from the Florida home she and Mike go to one month each winter, about how her clientele was basically her Woodstock peers, who grew out of being hippies from Brooklyn and started needing better clothes for work. She tried veering into men’s clothes at one time but didn’t find men as interested in trying new things.
“My clientele are my people,” Kramer said. “Thirty percent are people who live here, thirty percent have weekend houses, and the rest are divided between people from elsewhere, or people who come to us from Albany or Westchester. We have a lot of people who like that what we have fits them.”
Both Kramers, and their daughter Daisy, talked about how Tinker Street has changed over time, and yet not changed since all the buildings are the same as they were when they came. Things have gotten more upscale, but so have Kramer and Daisy’s stores.
What about those one-of-a-kind ads, started with Daisy in an Eskimo coat so many years ago?
“Mike designs them all. We worked with local models,” Robin said. “It’s hard to say how many there have been, or whether one’s been more successful than the next, just as most of our years have been pretty good.”
Daisy added that she’d continue with her mom and dad’s ad strategy, but also vowed not to start websites for their growing number of stores (with another take-on, also on Tinker Street, currently in the works). She said she’d tried online sales and found them not worth the bother, as well as counter to the hometown feel Woodstock Trading Post, Woodstock Design and DIG pioneered.
“My husband’s a computer whiz and is working to get our businesses hooked together but our shopping experience is analog,” she explained. “People shop in our stores because they want human interaction. They like the experience and Woodstock is the perfect place for such an experience, with all our stores working together.”
What would the Kramers be doing in retirement?
Robin laughed, noting how neither she or Mike like to travel.
“We’ll go to lunch, read, watch TV, take an exercise class,” she said. “And I’ll congratulate myself every day that we moved here from Cobble Hill all those years ago.”
And started what’s now a generational line of fine women’s clothing stores.