Mr. Hull, I give a sincere thank you for buying the Hudson Valley Mall. I acknowledge that the mall needs you, and as a resident, based on what I see in the newspaper, I find I like you. I have watched our mall deteriorate and weaken for far too long. When McDonald’s closed, I knew we were in big trouble. I never heard of a mall not being able to support a McDonald’s. When I heard it was for sale, I wondered who would buy it, and for what? There were rumors that it would become an outlet mall, but I don’t think the one in Lee, Mass., has done much to save them. I read that it might become something completely new, like a distribution center for someone; Kingston is pretty centrally located, after all. That would bring some solid jobs, especially if it was a union gig.
Now you’ve bought it and I am grateful that someone has decided to give the old place another chance. I commend Hull Properties for that. I read the article about your meeting with the paper last week. May I be frank? I was disappointed to sense an attitude of something akin to we should be falling over ourselves to help you help us to help you. You mentioned that you are “sacrificing” a million dollars to do some upgrades to the mall, and that’s great, but you kind of spoke as if a million dollars is real money or something. When you are asking for your tax breaks, refunds from schools, and the like — please remember there are real people here, people who are struggling, children who know hunger — who will lose services and options, to make up for the windfalls your company receives. Please just keep that in mind when making your asks.
Truth is, you bought the place for an absolute song. Add the extra million, it’s still a song. While I hope your vision and your investment make the mall a vibrant part of our community again, you did not buy the mall for us. You will not “sacrifice” those million dollars for us. You have no emotional investment in the Route 9W corridor.
Investors invest for exactly one of two reasons — they expect it to pay off later or they need a tax write-off. I am going to assume you did it for the first reason, because the truth is, Kingston (which is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable in the eyes of those who live and shop here) is a boomtown. You play your cards right, and you could do very well. I will give you my best advice, the benefit of 40 years of living and working where you recently invested, in just a moment.
First, I want to mention that I disagree with your premise that if the mall fails, the corridor fails. It sounds almost like a threat, the way you mention it repeatedly, over several months, always in the context of how we are going to have to help you help us to help you. There is very little, to a layperson anyway, to back this idea up. The restaurants surrounding the area often have waits, even egregious waits, to get a table (even on non-summer weekends). The hotels who have chosen to build along there in recent years, and who charge about as much for a room as any in their respective chains, do not expect the corridor to fail. They chose to build with a clear knowledge that the mall might in fact fail. I think the mall can fail on its own and leave the rest of the corridor mostly unscathed.
That said, that is the absolute last thing I want to see. We need those jobs, Mr. Hull, underpaying though they are. We have been hit by closure after closure in these parts, and our leadership often seems more concerned with their own press and a rail trail than with the fact that a vast number of us live in poverty or close to it.
If you could include an indoor playground in your plan, that would be really great for our community. Our winters are so very long, our children bored, and parents exhausted. It might not be a moneymaking area of the mall, but as I’m sure you know, many malls are becoming mixed-use. This would be a genuine sacrifice, a gift to us, to make this part of your plans.
I hope Health Quest becomes a part of it. We need Target and Best Buy and Dick’s and some movies. (Reclining seats would be nice. Currently, we must cross the river to experience that luxury.) But regular retail is not going to cut it. See, the people from the city are not going to frequent the mall to buy knick-knacks or coverlets or even dishware. And we locals-without-credit-cards can’t afford many of those things anymore, which is why the mall is struggling to the extent that it is, along with so many others.
You need something we all are willing and able to buy, locally. You need a Trader Joe’s. This may seem like a non sequitur, but hear me out. Here in the country, one drives half an hour for everything. Plenty of us drive that far for a gallon of milk, especially if it’s after 7 p.m. And we have wanted Trader Joe’s for a long time, for at least a decade. Trader Joe’s most likely looks at our demographics and deems our population density not great enough. They don’t realize people will come from all over Ulster County to get some two-buck Chuck or some tasty cookies. They will also come from all over Dutchess County, and Columbia, Greene and Sullivan as well. You’ve heard of people who drive four to five hours to get their Trader Joe’s bargains. The challenges to the math in that equation notwithstanding, we will happily drive a mere hour or less to go to Trader Joe’s.
Why here and not Fishkill, which some people assert as the natural location? City people, of which we have many, are not going to drive to Fishkill. They simply will not. Not worth the traffic, the time away from their country place, the urbanity they seek to escape. Many locals find Fishkill too far a drive, either for their schedule or their vehicle or lack thereof. In this one instance — a Trader Joe’s specifically — Kingston is the right location.
Be sure to tell them we have a view of the Catskills. Tell them about our new hotels, and plans for additional boutique hotels just moments away. Remind them that Kingston is burgeoning right now, cited everywhere as either Brooklyn on the Hudson for our thriving arts scene, or as the new Hamptons because man, has the influx of city people raised our home values. A little town a half-hour out 209 is now called Kerhampton, due to the exclusive wooded developments going up, with small homes starting at $750K. Down in the southern end of the county and over the river we have movie stars galore. We have someone who planted an entire grove of full-grown trees to line their driveway. It looks beautiful. All these people an easy drive from the mall, just waiting for Joe.
They have one in Albany, county population 300,000, median income $56K. Ulster and Dutchess combined have a population of about 480,000, and higher median incomes (in Dutchess, considerably higher).
Trader Joe’s will bring us all to your mall. We won’t hurt Aldi much, because there is not a huge overlap in product. We won’t hurt Adam’s much for many reasons – we like their sturdy paper bags, their garden shop is exemplary, their produce and meats unparalleled in quality and price. Plus, they are very civic-minded, and for that alone, we will not forsake them.
I can think of no other store that could draw people, in droves, to the Hudson Valley Mall. Locals and visitors alike, people from both sides of the river, those with money and those without, debating the merits of two-buck Chuck and your latest specialty cookies.
Most importantly, Trader Joe’s pays its average employee nearly 14 dollars an hour. We need that. We need a place to elevate our wages, and especially one that seems to list “having fun” in the job description. We need you, and you need us, and we all need them. Help us, Obi-Wan Hull, Trader Joe’s is our only hope.
Henry Rosewater is a nom de plume for a lifelong Kingston resident.