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.