Some Saugerties merchants see a decline in their businesses

Kingston artist Brian Fekete and pop-up art-gallery curator Alan Goolan. (photo by Robert Ford)

Strolling through the Village of Saugerties last Saturday and seeing the thousands of people jamming the streets for the annual Sawyer Motors Car Show, it would be easy to assume the village and the businesses that line its main thoroughfares, Main and Partition streets, were thriving. But some merchants and the Chamber of Commerce tell a different story.

Rae Stang is one of the louder voices complaining about business in the village. Stang, who owns Lucky Chocolates, once did a thriving business on Partition Street. She now owns a smaller shop along the driveway running from Partition Street into the village’s municipal parking lot.
“Business has been declining for the last three years,” she said. “It just seemed to go away. And this summer it’s just getting worse.”


Village businesses do well whenever there is a special event, such as the annual car show, the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, the Fourth of July Parade, merchants say. But on other weekends and weekdays, businesses have a tough time getting enough traffic to make ends meet.

Daisy Bolle nods her head with a laugh when told of Stang’s comments. “Business in the village is a roller coaster,” says the owner of Dig, a retail fixture on Partition Street for the last dozen years.

In Woodstock, Saugerties’ more famous neighbor, Bolle’s parents owned two businesses, which she now operates. “Woodstock is more consistent,” Bolle said. “My father used to say doing business in Woodstock is like having a government job, it’s always there.”

Saugerties, not so much. “Here it’s crazy.”

“Sometimes business in the village is at the top of the roller coaster ride,” Bolle explained. “Sometimes it plunges. But a new high is going to come.”

Saugerties is such a beautiful place, Bolle added. “It’s a great place to raise a family, we have our artists’ studios, the skating rink, and so many great places. We are an exciting place, but not like Woodstock.”


Changing retail dynamic

The retail dynamic in Saugerties seems to have been changing over the years, and that dynamic, Stang contends, has a name: Amazon.

“Shoppers say. Why go into a store, when all you have to do is jump online, click on Amazon or a host of other shopping venues on the Internet and your purchase is being delivered to your door within a day or two? People are even buying chocolate on-line.”

Boudoir Baby, which had been a popular shop on Partition Street, is now an online business, without having to pay rent for a storefront.

A more established business, Marky Marks TattooWorks, long a fixture on Main Street, has relocated to a storefront on Route 9W in Lake Katrine.
“We’re not Woodstock, Hudson, or Rhinebeck,” said Alan Goolan, who curates a pop-up art gallery on Partition Street.


Keeping storefronts occupied

Some businesses say local commercial rents are unaffordable for their businesses. Commercial building owners who see the crowds that come to Saugerties for the special events or the well-heeled set that invades the village for Horse Shows in the Sun during the summer and early fall believe the quaintness of the village justifies Hudson and Woodstock rents. Many young people looking to open their first business can’t keep up with those rents.

Building owner Mike Persico has found a way to keep the storefronts he is unable to find permanent tenants for occupied. He offers them for use by community groups.

The Saugerties Chamber of Commerce now occupies one such building on the driveway that connects Partition Street and the village parking lot.

Mark Smith, chamber co-chair, says the group was fortunate to have Persico’s offer of use of the building until someone rented it. Smith acknowledged that retail business has declined in the past several years. He’s hoping a chamber visitors’ center in such a visible location can help. The visitors’ center is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Goolan sees the empty storefront at 114 Partition Street as a blessing rather than a sign of tough economic times. He’s turned the space offered by Persico into a pop-up art gallery that gives local artists a chance to show off their work.

Looking out at the crowd walking Partition Street during the car show, Goolan says it’s events such as the car show that “make Saugerties Saugerties.” Knowing the car show was coming up, Goolan contacted Kingston-based artist Brian Fekete, who specializes in automotive art and figure studies. He asked Fegete to hang some of his work.

As cars lined the streets, Fekete’s work lined the walls of the art space. Also on display at the space is the work of Saugerties artist Ze’ev Willy Neumann.


Tourism continues to evolve

Tourism provides the bread and butter of the village’s business district. Marge Block, who runs the town of Saugerties tourism effort, says tourism fluctuates. “We’re going out to talk to groups and individuals about how great Saugerties is,” Block says.

She’s been to a New York Times travel show in Connecticut extolling Saugerties as a destination.  She works with travel writers on the lure of Saugerties, with its shops, restaurants and location on the Hudson River.

Tourism can be a difficult industry, Block conceded. The community is evolving. Its visitors are evolving. It’s important that the merchants evolve with them.

Among the reasons Stang believes tourism is hurting is the incidence of Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control maps showing East Coast Lyme Disease’s epicenter as Dutchess and Ulster counties. “No one wants to come up here and face that,” Stang says.


Block can understand the concern of families about the dangers of Lyme disease. But she said there weren’t many locations where deer ticks, which carry the disease, live.

As the economy changes, so will the fortunes of the merchants, Block and Bolle both believe. “Those that adapt will survive, those that don’t …” Bolle added.

There are 16 comments

  1. Jen Dragon

    I think that the Saugerties Village Merchants have recently become very creative in their marketing ideas as they plan a “Girls Night Out” shopping event on Thursday, August 17 as well their monthly First Friday evening festivities on the first Friday of each month. Other regular events like the Saugerties Farmers Market each Sat from 10-2pm brings shoppers into the village and Kylie’s Gelateria and Bella Luna Restaurant feature music in the courtyard every summer weekend. These combined efforts bring a festive air that is unique to Saugerties village and will continue to build business throughout the year. Follow @SaugertiesScene inn Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about special events and news about Saugerties Village!

  2. Jan

    In all honesty I think lucky chocolates was way over priced paying almost $4 for one little square of chocolate is only for the well-heeled. I also don’t believe Lyme disease is a discouraging element. In Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease originated and thrives, Tourism of people going to the beaches is at an all-time high. I think places that are affordable can attract people who live here, if you’re looking for the well-heeled then Lucky’s or Lucy’s is the place to go. Lucy’s only caters to well-heeled people anyway. Way too snobby for me.

  3. Chad

    Woodstock businesses have come and gone too. Candy stores, baby boutiques, restaurants, have all gone out of business. Woodstock is nothing like it used to be, now the Brooklyn hipsters are coming in and making it unaffordable for anybody of normal income. I think the key for Saugerties is having a fair amount of affordable things for locals. Otherwise move your business to Rhinebeck.

  4. Stanley Hess

    This article is yet another poorly reported poorly researched piece of swill from a paper that is fast gaining a reputation equal to that of Apologies to Ms. Stang but the difference between a large storefront on a main drag and a small shop in a municipal parking lot is astronomical. But perhaps the more laughable part of this article and a theme continuing throughout this paper from week to week is the praise for convicted felon Michael Persico. This gentleman owns the majority of the unoccupied storefronts in the village and has a history of having problems with almost every ex tenant of his. His predatory pricing is not good for either the village or its local merchants. If there is indeed a downturn in business it has more to do with people like him than any larger trends. Once again this town should open their eyes and take a close look rather than complain without purpose.

  5. J.R.

    Have they considered the possibility that their lack of success could be some flaw in their business. Products, service, prices, & employees play a much larger role in the success of a business than the community in which the shop is located. Saugerties certainly has the traffic to support these businesses. The ongoing parking problem is proof of that. Furthermore, I don’t think a dozen years in business establishes one as a “retail fixture in the village”. Did the author of this article speak to any of the actual long established businesses in the village? There are many. None of them are mentioned in the story. Maybe some more research should be done.

  6. Lea Cullen Boyer

    Interesting article. I’ve seen Saugerties business district come alive in the last 10 years. Would disagree about the tick Issue being the force that keeps folks out of town. Visitors from Westchester, Rockland, New Jersey and Long Island have long contended with truly brutal tick issues. We are somewhat of an oasis from this plague despite this year’s uptick in Dog Ticks. It makes sense that folks up here coming to terms with potential of Lyme disease and it’s timing coincides with the downturn in business might lead to connecting those two issues.

    The town of Saugerties holds on to a somewhat conservative political feel in advertising and social media. Wondering if the newest financially empowered folks are bypassing the town for more magical, edgy, forward thinking and undiscovered locations? Saugerties is well positioned to become the new Montauk while Hudson, Village of Catskill, Rhinebeck, Athens and Tannersville are looking more and more like realized or at least potential “Hamptons”. Thinking that this type of designation might be just fine for the people who live in Saugerties. (The Hamptons do stink to live in.)

    There might be some opportunity in rebranding Saugerties. Perhaps providing more access to the Park and Ride and creating walkable vacation packages for urban people who don’t drive. Encouraging bed and breakfasts and perhaps promoting Suagerites unique architecture interlaced with art as an economic driver.

  7. Kaya

    Woodstock sucks. The shopping and the food is old and dusty. Saugerties has become much cooler the past couple years and I’m pretty certain the good restaurants and stores are making money. It just needs a few more fresh concepts to come to the village and force out the old stale ones. I think this article should dig a little deeper than a few stores that are failing. We love coming up to Saugerties. Very charming.

  8. Suzanne

    Lea, I like your ideas. Are you in marketing? Saugerties could use some help. It really is one of the more conservative towns in the HV, but it’s really going to have its limits pushed soon. Artists are here now–this didn’t happen a 10-12 years ago when the Village saw its first renewal. Last time it was all just pretty shops and restaurants that replaced the antique shops. This time, the artists are coming and things may actually change!

    I have owned a business in the Village for ten years. Rae and Daisy are correct about a drop in business three years ago; there are many many reasons –Our town’s lack of good marketing is obvious. Business owners do their own individual marketing, generally. Village businesses have recently started organizing a better social media presence –The absurd parking situation and poor infrastructure due to being positioned exactly on a truck route on a state highway makes the Village always too loud, too narrow, and too dirty to be fully enjoyable. Dog shit and cigarette butts line the village streets in true Saugerties fashion. Plants are pulled, windows broken… paint a garbage can once in awhile. Our town has trouble appreciating beauty and those of us here slugging it out in the Village–with very little help from the Chamber or Tourism or local government–persist. Our efforts are often appreciated only by those coming from wider places. It’s a sad, sad cycle. But as the city moves north, we will continue to do what we always do in Saugerties–wait for the smartest of the movers to find out what a gem it is! Those of us who have been here for a while know this kind of renewal is worth waiting for.

    J.R.: Daisy really is a retail fixture; you don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course Mr. Ford should have checked with Smith Hardware and Montano’s also, but your comment is silly.

    And she is completely correct in her statements about change or perish. I’d say the same thing to the old stodgy guard protecting this town from being better for their own selfish purposes. Good luck Saugerties.

    1. J.R.

      Suzanne my comment is not meant to be “silly” but to point out that the village of Saugerties is made up of many businesses. Dozens that have been here for forty plus years and who are thriving. The article paints a picture of a failing business community based on the opinion of 3 relatively newcomers to the village. It is poor journalism. Also, Businesses need to be self sufficient. Business is competitive. Many good quality businesses make up our good community and good business district.

  9. George Markunas

    I recently read that almost half of the people in Ulster County live at or below the poverty line, and a lot of the rest just above it.
    I’ve watched the area decline since IBM closed up shop in Kingston and Poughkeepsie. While I might feel bad for these merchants, I feel worse for the people trying to live in Ulster County, where rent for a one bedroom apartment can be unaffordable for many locals. I’ve always complained about what I saw as New York City prices on an Ulster County salary.
    So, if these merchants want to thrive, my suggestion is to cater to the locals rather than the tourists. Rather than figure out how to make Saugerties more tourist friendly, make it more local friendly. That might mean increasing wages or lowering rents and prices, I don’t know. But i think the thought process has to change.
    If you want people, locals, to shop locally, they have to be able to afford it.
    Just my rambling two cents.

  10. Valley Guy

    The “Amazon” excuse is not real in this case. Saugertise business is 75% reliant on its weekender, tourism, and visitor customers. Their shopping habits on a holiday are not influenced by “Amazon” at all – those
    purchases in Saugertise by that shopping consumer are almost all nearly what would be considered ‘in the moment / impulse purchases” as well as dining and drinking. The real issue with Saugertise as someone who used to visit regularly and hasn’t gone for quite some time is it has been feeling more and more down and out, dusty, not cared for, rough. You’ve got Hudson which is a formidable ‘tourism’ draw in 2016-2017 more than ever; you’ve got Rhinebeck, which while losing several stores recently has a much better ‘feel’ and
    atmosphere to it – it is nicer, to be honest. And now we have Kingston which has seen a dramatic increase in high quality retail, dining, and shopping in the past few years – and that is only going to get far, far better in the coming years and so much investment is moving into Kingston. Kingston’s Stockade and Waterfront are architecturally far superior to Saugertise, and it has the potential to blow our regional competitors out of the water in the next couple of years. Saugertise, if it wants to compete, is going to have to step up their game – as a Downtown and what it offers.

  11. Valley Guy

    Following up; Woodstock is ‘established’ but its consumer is aging and it’s ‘new’ business growth isn’t really happening. Castskill and Tannersville really aren’t players in the competition set, they are very small and offer very little additional options.

    Back to Kingston – it’s got the cool / edge / investment / and population that is bringing what visitors to the Hudson Valley today are looking for – a riverside town with a Brooklyn vibe that once the several new hotels open is going to amplify tremendously. Folks are buying houses and lofts there as well – it is happening in real time. Excited for it.

  12. Bart Friedman

    Has anyone wondered how many places there are in Saugerties making pizza? The town has more pizza purveyors per capita, I’ll bet, than any town in the state. Count them yourself. Village Pizza has been on the same corner since 1971 and Domino, one of the nations’ big pizza franchises recently set up shop outside the village. I love pizza. We love it. I honestly have it for breakfast every morning after gym workouts. I sit at a window stool in Slices and watch the fantastic parade pass by. And today, in the time it took to down one plain slice I got to see trucks by the score going north and south. One was carrying donkeys and another toted a colorful carnival ride. Incredible fashionistas paraded by in camo, tank tops, yoga pants and other worthy concoctions. Today I held up traffic for a few minutes as I parked in front of Montano’s where a cluster of out-of-towners shared that they drove many miles to scan the clearance rack of shoes on display. Sitting there eating my slice with a knife and fork I noted the sign stating that the tattoo emporium across the street also offers piercings. Remember, there were two tattoo parlors last year and now there’s just one. The tattooers took over the hot towel men’s hair-cutting place that departed when another men’s barber opened down the block. I haven’t counted the number of places you can get a hair cut in the village. There’s a handful or two, certainly.
    I’m reminding myself that when I moved into the village 17 years ago there were five florists, two on Main Street, two on Partition St., and another in Barclay Heights. They decimated any chance of surviving in that business and in a short time there was none at all. That year there was only one place to sit down for a slice of pizza. The theory of natural selection would suggest that Saugerties loves pizza more than anything else. Gazing into my crystal ball I can see chocolate and ice cream making gains. The more the merrier, I say.

  13. Bob S.

    There are several issue’s, at play, in Saugerties. Yes, the village, is hard to maneuver, hard to park, and shopping in the village, lacks any real diversity. However, the main reason Saugerties village businesses find difficulty, is that very few cater to Saugerties, itself, and the needs of the local resident, at affordable “local”, fair prices, but these businesses cater to tourism, HITS, when in town, and the visitors, which have far better places, in the area, for shopping and dining, along with spending one’s quality time and spending cash. Look at the longer term, “successful” businesses, such as, the already mentioned, in a previous letter, Smith’s Hardware, and Montano’s Shoe store, or how about, The Exchange Hotel, Sechuan King, Franks Jewelers, to name a few, the common link, is that their businesses cater to the people who live here, not the tourist, or visitor, but the residents. In the 1980’s, you could have fired a cannon on Main Street, Saugerties, on Saturday, or Sunday afternoon, and maybe, someone might’ve asked; “Did you hear a loud bang?”, that is, in fact, if someone was actually in the Village of Saugerties, on a weekend afternoon, back then. Then came the antique shops, and resturants, catering to the more bohemian minded city dwelling weekenders, and it did revitalize business and trade, temporarily, weekends especially, to an extent, until oversaturation, and exorbitant prices designed to have those city dwellers depart with their cash, slowed that economic engine, stagnating, for a time again. Then, HITS came, infusing money into the local economy, and as with, the antique shop era, this too, has became oversaturated, with all the same narrow minded, businesses, that cater to them, and really only them. However, there are ten more months, or so, a year, where Saugerties can not use, nor afford, twenty dollar hamburgers, eight dollar drinks, and the like. If I were too, start a business in the village of Saugerties, I would design a business, that would cater to the residents who live there, and the surrounding area, not the visitor, and if I made my business affordable for the locals, then the visitor, or area tourist, would come, when in town, for the great bargain. Not, how most business owners, in Saugerties, in recent years, are trying to do it, trying to get rich, charging ridiculously high prices, as to extol the part time wealthier tourist, from their dollar, on a few weekends a year, along with the twenty other restaurants. And, in doing so, pricing my way out of business the other three hundred and thirty, or forty days of the year, where the only money, in town is the humbled local residents’ penny, who cannot afford it. The narrow vision, of most, of the village of Saugerties businesses, looking for tourist, HITS, or festival visitor’s money, only, and not filling the needs of the local residents, and in doing so, high pricing the locals’ out of town, to Ulster, or Albany for their own needs. Catering to only the visitor, disregarding the local resident, and a complete lack of vision, is what is broken in the Saugerties Village business dynamic.

  14. Bart Friedman

    When I was calculating the number of places in Saugerties that serve pizza I neglected to count the Exchange Hotel, which I hear, bakes a tasty pie.
    Reading all the letters responding to the above article, I’ve been trying to arrive at some conclusion regarding the true nature of Saugerties so I might offer an edifying opinion.
    Yes, it’s sad but true that you can’t buy fresh meat or vegetables BUT, you can still get a beer, a haircut, a slice of pizza…and some pretty nice used furniture.

  15. Jessica Claire

    More ‘magical and edgy’? In most cases I find ‘forward-thinking and edgy’ equals pretentious. I like Saugerties the way it is. Most pretentious ‘forward-thinking’ businesses don’t last. It isn’t realistic to be raising a family and be able to pay $8 for some homemade goat soap. Or $18 for a grass-fed beef burger, no matter how much better it is for the environment. I think people like to hear themselves talk big and try to impress others with it, than live in reality. Most owners of those ‘edgy, magical, forward-thinking’ stores look down on anybody who doesn’t look like a hipster anyway.

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