The mall’s only hope

This could be us.

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.

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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.

This is what I’m talking about. (Minus the grocery store wine… this is still New York State.)

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.

There are 18 comments

  1. Abbacus Major

    Au contraire. Hull paid too much. If lake mohonk resort complex national historic building and site is assessed at half the value Of this mall then something is rotten in Denmark.

  2. J. Sheldon

    Dear Mr. Rose water, you don’t have to wait for Hull Properties to seek out a Trader Joe’s for their mall, you can suggest it to TR’s yourself, .

  3. joelle

    How about a Costco? I know there is a Sam’s Club in the same area, but some of us don’t want to support the Walmart family.

  4. paul

    Speaking as a businessman, Kingstonian, and lover of Trader Joe’s, A Trader Joe’s in our region of the Valley is pointless with all the other local food amenities around. As the reality of the current market economy filters into the Hudson Valley a few modern facts are becoming known to long time hudson valley residents. The First is Brick and Mortar are dying industries. The modern economy is responding to the new digital age where anything can be purchased online for a fraction of the price, and with better efficiency. With the decline of customer service at retail stores, the internet offers the perfect solution.
    Secondly any brick and mortar locations which survive the purge MUST become premier LUXURY destinations (yes Luxury) that offer something unique to the area which excite and attract people. How about an aquarium? Or an art / history museum? Or a planetarium, etc. The Hudson Valley has a plethora of good strong families, and an increasing influx of NYC diaspora. To attract these people, The blight of the 9W corridor should be cleaned up and modernized for the 21st – 22nd century. This transformation will create and attract jobs to the area, but is something the community should demand.
    The New mall Owners have a challenge to change the rigid mindset of the community, and their offer to work with the community to develop something that benefits all (yes even themselves, God forbid a corporation actually profit from hard work) embodies the ideal of the American dream.

  5. Jane Swart

    I would kill for both a TJ’s and a Costco. I currently drive from Kingston to Albany about once a month to go to TJ’s. I hate Sam’s Club and I love Costco which is SO much better. There are no Costco’s within driving range. My sister goes with me on my Treks to Trader Joe’s so she can go to the Christmas Tree Shop. One of them would do great here too.

  6. Ken Mc

    In the latest article, new lighting, art murals on the empty store fronts and a medical facility. Kudos to you. Now you will bring sick/ill people to the mall to walk around a well lit art gallery. I agree with Trader Joe’s. How about The Christmas Tree Shoppe. You need stores that will actually bring people into the ‘actual’ mall, not just go into the anchor stores, and leave like they do now. Shoppers go into Target and leave. Same with Dicks and BestBuy. Stores need to be filled, instead they are evicting tenants left and right. Seems a little shady to me.

  7. Upstate Guy

    I would keep the existing structures that houses Target, Dick’s, Best Buy and the Theatres; then upgrade the theatres. The entire rest of the physical building I would tear it down and build up from the ground with OUTWARD facing stores, not internal mall corridor stores.

    One of the key ‘issues’ with sick and dying malls is literally the internal
    cattle chute design and a flat, dead massive pre-cast exterior bunker walls
    are the old and dead world. You need to punch doorways, windows, and
    external access all along the mall’s exteriors and/or re-build a new structure that INVITES…shoppers in. Personally, the reason I run in and out of Target is
    because the rest of the center stands as an enormous barrier to entry.

    So – for Hull, and I agree, we’re glad you see potential in the center BUT IT MUST GO BEYOND A POLISH AND DUST-OFF; it’s gotta be a re-imagine of the place in totality.

    Now, if you keep Target, Best Buy, Dick’s and the Theatres…and build a Trader Joe’s OR a Wegman’s…and then you in-fill with new and existing stores with external entrances to the parking lot – which needs to be HEAVILY landscaped with mature trees, grasses, etc…again, vs. a vast, flat, dead landscape…and you get the proposed offices built anew on the site, and dare I say put two four-story residential buildings along the Eastern periphery you would begin to mix up the use and have an on-going consumer base.

    As for Hull’s contention that 9W dies without the mall, that is not accurate at all. Up and down there are many thriving retail and restaurant locations, Adam’s thrives, the new hotels are booked, and it is a healthy retail corridor. It would benefit the entire strip if we did upgrade the street-scape the length of 9W from Hoffman’s to the 209 interchange with a center landscaped median, consistent new street lighting, better signage standards and streetside amenities; but that would be more of a ‘Business District’ function, which frankly Ulster and the retail corridor should create. Countless retail corridors like this exist nationwide where all businesses contribute to a pool of funds and the corridors get a cohesive overhaul that takes it from a ‘strip mall’ aesthetic to a unified business district aesthetic.

    Lastly, to the letter writer’s comment, Kingston IS booming, and there is a huge wave of new investment coming to Kingston. The entire Ulster County region from Kerhonkson-Accord to Hurley and in Kingston itself is seeing unprecedented investment and growth with the ‘city’ consumer segment and it is only going to continue as a multitude of new boutique hotels, one-of-a-kind retailers, cultural spaces, and new move-ins accelerate far beyond our history of ‘weekender’ home owners. Hull needs to better understand the demographics of this place as it isn’t the old Catskills demographic, and it isn’t any longer the suffering post-IBM demographic only. There’s a big push of people and money choosing to move here year-round as well as part-time, and if we do this right it can benefit everyone.

  8. former NYC TJ's employee

    As a former employee at the 3rd most popular TJs in the USA (in NYC), I requested this personally to the East Coast regional manager of TJs. They said no – not enough revenue for them, not enough promise. No matter how many requests you put in, they have told me they will never have more than 2 upstate stores. I love Kingston and wish this would happen, but it never will.

  9. gerald berke

    Tear the thing down. Make it a park. It’s got a great view.
    Then put a Trader Joe’s There…
    There is simple too much space…
    Mothball it?
    Movies? We have great theatres in Woodstock, Rosendale, Saugerties and a multiples over in Redhook and we could surely use one right in Kingston in addition to UPAC…
    Oh, and take a look at a serious and fast shuttle service into KIngston… connect to the KingstonCorriidor.org and look at the shuttle bus…
    You know retail is failing… The way we shop is changing, just like when the malls came in a ate the smaller stores… sic transit and all that… make way for change…

  10. gerald berke

    Tear the thing down. Make it a park. It’s got a great view.
    Then put a Trader Joe’s There…
    There is simple too much space…
    Mothball it?
    Movies? We have great theatres in Woodstock, Rosendale, Saugerties and a multiples over in Redhook and we could surely use one right in Kingston in addition to UPAC…
    Oh, and take a look at a serious and fast shuttle service into KIngston… connect to the KingstonCorriidor.org and look at the shuttle bus…
    You know retail is failing… The way we shop is changing, just like when the malls came in a ate the smaller stores… sic transit and all that… make way for change…

  11. JR

    It does, or did have, the most incredible view. There should be a movie theater in the mall. Can anyone revive Hess department store? I don’t understand anyone’s fascination with Trader Joes, nor do I understand people not wanting to support WalMart, because with one thing and another, I have never met a WalMart employee who didn’t like working there; Costco? no no no

    Use the incredible view and turn it into what Mystik Village once was.

  12. Bill Thecate

    Put some residential spaces in it too, make it a village, with food and all the amenities. Tear up the parking lot and put in a community garden. Start a mall of small popup stores selling local goods. Anchor that part with a few solid hot stores. Maybe Apple Bin would want some space. Get a full sized NY goods store like the one on the Taconic. Put in an outdoor ice rink for the winter, with skateboard park in summer, near the food mall. Invite teens in to liven up the place when you get it going again. Host hot air balloon festivals, circuses, carnivals, gymnastics exhibitions, pig racing, home beer brewing contests. Make it fun and necessary.

  13. Todd

    Sir, your argument is flawed. You state that “locals are willing to drive an hour to get to a Trader Joe’s, they’d come to Kingston from Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Greene” yet in your next sentence you claim they won’t drive to Fishkill (less than 1 hour from Kingston) that logic doesn’t square.
    Whatever does become of the mall, let’s hope it will actually benefit the community.

  14. Stephen weir

    Trader’s Joe would certainly help and I agree with Costco. We need to have stores that are in Danbury, Westchester and surrounding areas but not here – what about Whole Foods? I am sure there are others people can thing of.

  15. D.Q.S.

    SUNY Empire State has 35 locations across New York State. The closest to Kingston are Newburgh and Albany. It would be nice to have a school right here that would allow one to pursue a 4-year degree with options for continuing education and online study, matriculated or not. I don’t know how much space a SUNY Empire State would take up at the mall…. And while we’re at it, improve public transportation for the whole County, this school included.
    https://www.esc.edu/locations/

  16. Doug Freese

    Traders Joe’s is just fine but not some great saving grace. Put in a Wegmans and you will see the mall come alive. When I visit relatives in a area with a Wegmans, I’m floored with the variety and quality.

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