Swap shop’s closure is Old Kingston’s swan song

Old Kingston is officially dead. After 99 years of buying, selling and swapping, Sam’s Surplus Store in Uptown Kingston is closing their doors.

As a member of the Kogon family, I had the unique opportunity to work in the nostalgic shop, where anyone from local street people to Yoko Ono might have walked through the creaky doors. Originally an Army/Navy supply store, the family-owned business used their unique buy/sell/trade model to see them through the Great Depression, World War II and a host of other historic moments, only to become a victim of the sudden and orchestrated beast that is the gentrification of Kingston.

I could blame the death of Sam’s on a lack of foresight on the part of my family. They rented in the same building at 52 North Front St. for 60 years. Before that, they had several other locations including one on Broadway, one in Saugerties and even an outpost in Cairo. The rent was always fair and they had a good rapport with their landlord. I can remember speaking with my father-in-law Lonnie Kogon (the third Sam) in the 1980s about purchasing a building Uptown when the nicest spot on Wall Street was selling for $150,000. Even just a few years ago, a building could still have been had for around $300,000. There was always a reason not to buy; it was hoped that one day the family might be able to purchase the space they had occupied for over half a century. Little did they ever guess that spot would soar to a price tag of well over $1 million virtually overnight, displacing other family business like the Kingston Clock Shop and Mark Ferraro’s Hair Salon — formerly his mother’s beauty parlor — to name a few. The new owner has quadrupled the rents, making it impossible for small mom-and-pop shops to survive.

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Started in 1919 by Zelick Kogon, a shoemaker and gunsmith by trade, Sam’s was passed down through four generations of the Kogon family, ending with my sister-in-law Debra, who has run the shop for the past 17 years. Most longtime Kingston residents have memories of spending time in the shop, perhaps buying their first pair of ice skates or purchasing the guitar that they had placed on layaway months earlier. Though it was never a pawn shop, when times were hard, people were able to sell their property or trade for something they needed.  During my year long tenure in Sam’s I made friends with people like “Red,” a homeless gentle giant of a man who would stop by weekly to sell a small radio or other item for $5 to “see me through.” There were also families of hunters who would come down from the mountains to purchase guns and ammunition. (A hunter named Scully once offered to teach me how to cook a skunk. I declined the offer.)

Clifford Weeks, the store’s resident helper and mechanic who worked through three generations of Sam’s, happily walked my baby Miranda up and down North Front Street for me when I’d bring her to the store with me.

Not only did the store benefit the Kogon family, it left a mark on the entire community. It was a hub for locals to come in and browse the unique merchandise that ran the gamut from light pornography (carefully hidden behind the counter) to jewelry and musical instruments. Little old ladies would come in by the dozens to swap or buy the used Harlequin romance paperback books that sat in racks at the front of the shop.

The Kogon family had a long history as musicians with Seymour Kogon (the second Sam) and his son Lonnie both being professionals in that field. My son Sam — the only actual Sam Kogon in the family — has carried on that tradition and credits his success in the music world to having access to any and all instruments from the store. Kogon grandson Robert Perkins, a professional drummer who toured with Michael Buble, is also part of the family legacy, having gotten his early kits from Sam’s. The selection of new and used musical gear attracted the likes of Billy Joel, John Sebastian, The Blues Magoos, Levon Helm, Mountain, Orleans, Robbie Dupree and the aforementioned Yoko Ono to frequent the store. Lonnie Kogon once famously kicked out Dustin Hoffman when he came in during the local filming of Tootsie dressed as a woman. Todd Rundgren even filmed an early music video at Sam’s.

The closing of Sam’s is just another nail in the coffin of the demise of what Kingston had once been. Probably only a handful of people will miss the crammed windows and old showcases strewn with an eclectic mix of cameras, knives and costume jewelry. The new owners of 52 North Front St. have already started renovating the space into something new. The apartment upstairs, where a 92-year-old woman and her daughter had lived for years until recently, will no doubt be made into a high-end unit with granite countertops and sustainable wood flooring, in hopes of attracting a displaced Brooklynite. My best guess is that Sam’s will either become the venue for yet another celebrity chef or “exclusive” lifestyle brand store.

Although my husband Lou and I intend to try to start a new location on Route 32 in Saugerties, the last Sam has left the building.

There are 12 comments

  1. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

    Great article! But the fact is, though the venue has changed, 52 N. Front St. now closed, Sam’s Swap Shop/ Sam`s Surplus Store IS being continued online. “Find Sam’s Swap Shop soon on Facebook and Ebay as I plan to continue to buy-sell-trade. Phone number will remain the same (845) 338-1953” is one of the very last signs I made and remains in the front window today. Since the phone is ringing off the hook inquiring, and I do not wish to mislead the public, another brick and mortar location is not in the cards for Sam’s at this point. I just need some time to regroup after this tremendous move and see where time takes me. Alyssa, too bad you missed the other tributory signs I put up, thanking the public for 99 years, and one drumhead honoring my Dad. All made with the famous dobber in shoe polish!

  2. ThisHandleIsNOTMyRealName

    First, nice article. I like that the Kingston Times gave the family a venue. Having gone through something similar (regarding my family’s home), I know how painful such a loss can be…

    Second, although gentrification sucks, I don’t think that Sam’s closing signals “Old Kingston’s” demise (no more than Smorgasburg’s leaving signals the end of gentrification). This place we call Kingston, is very old, it’s been around a lot longer than anyone living here (and, in one form or another, will continue to go on). It’s been through many stages/phases, been called by many names (i.e. Artharhacton, Wiltwyck, Kingston)–by many people–yet, always seems to stay the same. It’s home, despite it all.

    I will say, it would’ve been a nice gesture for the “New” to be more accommodating of the “Old”, but then again that would take a bit of empathy (which comes with hindsight–and cuts into the profit margin). Anyways, good luck to Sam’s (in whatever it’s next form).

    1. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

      To “ThisHandle..” I am sorry that you had to go through a similar loss, as well. It is quite painful, without a doubt.

      Though it was a beautiful gesture on the part of Alyssa to write this story, it was a total surprise to me. I was not interviewed; therefore, some of the facts are not exactly correct, i.e., “new owner quadrupled the rents.”
      The new owner did, in fact, try to work with me in reaching the 100-year anniversary of Sam’s, but I could not afford his new terms. That deal was only allowing me one more year, and he then wanted to gut the space and remodel. He did graciously allow me to stay for 8 more months at the same rent I was paying.

      Upon him witnessing some of my transactions when we first met and listening to some of my stories about some of the customers who relied upon Sam’s, he reached into his pocket and said, “I don’t even have $100 in cash on me, but here is $90. Please give it to some of these people you spoke of.” I felt awkward taking it, as I could hardly choose amongst the many in need. I split it amongst 5 people within hours, told each it was a gift from someone who wanted to help. When the new owner came in again, I handed him an envelope containing signatures of 4, as 1 could not write, merely saying, “Thank You,” along with their names.

      So I do believe this new owner does have empathy, but I don’t believe if you were sold a bag of goods for $100 that you can offer to resell it at $50. It would have been wonderful had the previous landlord of 55 years offered me a lease for a couple of years before selling, allowing me some time to transition. When I had asked them for that, they refused. Their building; their choice.

      As you said, Kingston is home, despite it all! Many thanks for your good wishes.

  3. Crankypants

    It’s home, despite it all–but not to the people who can no longer afford to stay there. I think you’re missing the point.

    1. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

      Agreed, 6 FAMILIES — 4 businesses and 2 apartment rentals — were displaced. As my sister-in-law said best, we all became a “victim of the sudden and orchestrated beast that is the gentrification of Kingston.” It’s an awfully hard reality to accept.

  4. The Local

    Huh. What a bitter artcile. Sorry your distaste for the ‘new’ Kingston is so rancid. I guess, as a local, I don’t miss the ‘old’ Kingston. With its high crime, high jobless rate, abandoned properties and dead business districts. I guess as a local, I do like that long-vacant store fronts are now aglow with new businesses, people JUST LIKE YOU but living IN A DIFFERENT TIME. People who put their time, their money, their ideas, and their tireless energy into ‘making a go of it’ in Uptown Kingston AND the Rondout… people who have a hope and a dream to find success as SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS IN OUR TOWN.

    So, your family didn’t plan, didn’t save, didn’t do all of the things that a business owner should probably do to survive in a changing world. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out, but I take HUGE ISSUE with your negative commentary about all of the folks who are investing their money into Kingston to bring this old dying girl back to life.

    In the 15+ years I’ve been around I haven’t seen the old ladies, or the soft porn, or any of the other ‘fond memories’ you mention in your article. And as for your sister-in-law…really!?!?! You being part of a dying community was preferable to your community coming back to life?!??! Not on your life!

    My challenge to you – IF you really are ‘suffering’ the fate of your false accusation of forced gentrification…do you not have the vision to take space in a different store front and move your boxes of trinkets into that space to sell?

    Me thinks not, and me also thinks that you were not offering what people are wanting.
    THAT my friend, is very, very, very different than what you accuse.

    Shame on you. And good luck.

    1. JamaicaonHudson

      First, I love that you think that your “15 years” here makes you a local. Yeah, not even close…My family’s been here since the late 1930’s, and we’re still considered newbies. The letter-writer’s family has been in this area for a century. In fact, there are many other families who trace their roots to before the American Revolution. You, and your “15 years”, are a but a sneeze this area’s collective history.

      You are not a local, you’re transplant and, more than likely, will be moving on for greener pastures once presented…

      Second, I have no idea why you’ve become so combative (especially toward this family who is losing something very dear to them and their community)? The owner has taken time to explain the situation and, though her sister-in-law seems to be less understanding, both have a right to discuss what precipitated the store’s closing. is less understanding and is voicing her opinion. I can only surmise that you take issue with the fact that gentrification (and those benefiting from it) are not welcomed with open arms here. I ask you, why would think they would be? Did Native American tribes of Artharhacton welcome the Dutch? Did Wiltwyck’s Dutch welcome the British? Did Kingston’s Brit’s take kindly to the early American insurgency? Of course not.

      See, the problem with people like yourself–presumptuous people–is that you only possess a visceral understanding of community in which you live. You like the layout, views, historic profile, and intact housing stock–but you’re not comfortable with the people which occupy (and, ironically, have shaped) it. Newsflash: You’re not the only one who lives here, and just because you’ve “discovered” a place, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist prior to you “discovering” it.

      1. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

        Thank you for your compassion, understanding, and taking your time to post your thoughts. Your kindness is greatly appreciated at this time!

  5. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

    To the unnamed “local” of “15+ years”: It is quite unfortunate you cannot see the article for what it is: A beautiful tribute written about our family and the harsh realities of gentrification.

    My family has been truly blessed to have proudly served our beloved Kingston for 99 years!

    I, nor my family, accept the “shame” you want to place upon us.

  6. Kevin Bartlett

    Debra,
    I will sorely miss the store and wish you all the best in the future.
    Can I inquire somehow to see if that white electric violin is somehow still available for purchase ?
    Cheers,
    Kevin

    1. Debra Kogon, owner of Sam's Swap Shop / Sam`s Surplus Store

      Kevin, Thank you so much for your good wishes! I, too, will miss the shop. Already do.
      Yes, the white violin is still available. If still interested, the shop number remains as it was: 845-338-1953. Feel free to call. No message machine, but if I’m not available, I will return number called from.
      Sorry for late response. I just saw this post. Be well. Debra

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