The eyes of Carrie Haddad

The Carrie Haddad Gallery at 622 Warren Street in Hudson (photos by Dion Ogust)

Carrie Haddad

In the mid-Hudson Valley, many galleries have come and gone, despite the abundance of both artists and curatorial talent. The Carrie Haddad Gallery, occupying two floors and 3,000 square feet of a building on Hudson’s Warren Street, is the exception. The eponymous owner, who attended Bard College and served on the boards of the Columbia County Council of the Arts, Hudson Development Corporation and Hudson Common Council, has been involved in the city since the 1990s. She opened her gallery in 1991, when Warren Street was practically vacant, its industries mostly moribund.

Twenty-seven years later, Hudson has been transformed. Not missing a beat, Carrie Haddad has kept pace – or rather, led the way – with seven exhibitions a year on its main floor and a rotating selection of photography displayed on the second floor. The gallery also does art consulting, in which its staff collaborates with design professionals and architects across the country. Almanac Weekly’s Lynn Woods interviewed Carrie Haddad last week in her gallery about her business and 27 years of changes, many of which she made happen.

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Where are you from originally, and how did you end up in Hudson?

I am from San Francisco, and I went to New York City when I was 20 years old to be a famous dancer. I got a scholarship at Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham, and I did a lot of dancing and acting and tried to get modeling jobs. I met Nick Haddad, who grew up in Red Hook, when I was in my 30s. After we got married and had two kids, we decided we wanted to move upstate. We lived in Clermont on 9G and Nick worked at his family’s business, Red Hook Electrical Supply. I helped him open Hudson Electrical Supply and that’s what brought us to the city. I instantly fell in love with Hudson and its architecture but was struck by how empty the main street was. There were so many boarded-up storefronts.

Had you ever run a gallery before?

No, but I had a clothing store in a big loft in SoHo called Cash and Carrie. It was rough, and there were artists everywhere.

What led to you opening the gallery?

In the early 1990s, I purchased a building I knew I’d want to have for money later, to pay for my kids’ college. After the tenant left, my artist friend Howard Crouch suggested that I use the space to open an art gallery. I didn’t know anything about running a gallery! The building was at 316 Warren, and as soon as we opened, we sold things. The antique dealers were already here. It was their third or fourth year, and there were only a couple. They were like incubators: Five or six dealers would be sharing the space, and as they gained more confidence and sold more, they bought their own buildings and spread out.

You did the same.

Yes, I thought I needed a bigger space, so I bought this building. It was listed for $35,000, but I complained about the cracks in a wall and got it for $30,000. There was an apartment on the top floor, which I rented out to an artist as his studio.

The building had been a pharmacy and housed a business called Action TV Rental before being abandoned. On the second floor were all these old prescription books. I gave them all to the artist Joy Taylor, and she used them to build an installation titled “Years of Pain.” 

I liked renovating, and the prices were so low my husband and I bought a couple of buildings. My kids helped. Eventually a lot of people bought buildings, and at one time there were 70 antique dealers and art galleries. 

You also ran the Arts Walk in Hudson for 10 years. How did it start?

I tried to help Hudson by having the Arts Walk, and it was a success. There were artists’ studios going up and down Warren. I had great help from Perry Cooney. He and his wife had opened the Red Dot, which was a hub for newcomers and sometimes had live music. There were a lot of really good bars back then.

For every building that was empty, I would call the owners and ask if they could give me a key and make sure one lightbulb was working. The first Arts Walk, in 1993, was pretty outrageous. So many people came to town it was great, and there were lots of artists – from outside of Hudson also. It wasn’t just on Warren Street. There was a woman who owned a building that had been a pocketbook factory, and I called her asking if we could use the space. 

One other event I organized before that was a Community Day, in which we blocked off one entire block and had jugglers, chess games and other activities to build the community and make people realize it’s safe here. So many stores got rented after that. We raised a lot of money. 

There were three billboards as you came into Hudson from 9G, and I called the billboard company. I flipped the paper around and had it read “Welcome” on the first billboard, “To Hudson” on the second and “The Friendly City” on the third, which used to be the logo in the 1960s.

Back then, were people afraid of going to downtown Hudson?

This was the only town in the county that had any African American people. There was a fear of the unknown in a predominantly white county. When we started the Arts Walk, we got kindergarten classes and first- and third-graders in Chatham and Kinderhook and other towns in Columbia County to put their artwork in the store windows here. That meant, of course, families would have to come here. I remember one woman said afterward no one had broken into her car, and “This nice young black man helped me carry my bags.”

What did Hudson do to draw so many outsiders?

The Amtrak train station worked in our favor, as did the undying efforts of the antique dealers, and we had lots of art galleries. And the architecture is so beautiful. It’s quite unique. The whalers from Nantucket started it, because there was a lot of pirating on the open seas, and that was before we were a nation. Then there were so many manufacturing plants and jobs. They made more matches here than anywhere else on the planet, along with all that fuzzy carpet used in cars. Columbia Street used to be called Diamond Street because there were a lot of prostitutes here during the time they were doing ship repairs.

You were living in Clermont, but eventually you moved into Hudson.

Our mortgage was almost paid, and my in-laws had purchased a church for $45,000 on Union Street in Hudson. It had a big empty parking lot. My mother-in-law got friendly with the priest in the building across the street – the congregation was Ukrainian Orthodox – and said to him, “Why don’t we just trade buildings? This one is a real church,” with the intent that we would buy that building from her, so we did. It was a regular house with a church added onto the front of it, which was great for us. We moved in, did some renovations and had huge parties and non-profit fundraisers in the church. 

How has gentrification affected the city?

Thank god people became interested in Hudson and took advantage of the low prices. They restored a lot of the old homes. The gentrification saved Hudson because while there was a community here, there were a lot of empty buildings on the main street. The restoration has attracted a lot more tourism and diversified businesses. We still have thrift shops, but there are also a lot of boutiques and upscale dining options. 

Is there a functioning waterfront?

There’s a boat launch access and a nice park, but there’s very little. There’s a boat club kind of place that’s exclusive to members, and I wish they would open it more often to the public. It has a cool 1950s bar. 

Are there resources for the local kids?

The Hudson public library is very active. We have a Boys and Girls Club and Perfect 10, whose membership is for girls. We also have the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, which has a school for kids, and Kite’s Nest.

Were you glad the expansion of the cement plant was stopped, back in 2005?

Yes, if it had happened there would have been more pollution and a lot more trucks coming through here, plus it would have created only three jobs.

What’s the biggest challenge in Hudson today?

The high taxes. You got rid of all your mom-and-pops, which made the town so fascinating and contributed such diversity. We have so many nonprofits not paying taxes that people who do have to pay are paying too much. We have to do something about it. Churches (we have 17) and nonprofits should still have to pay something for our police and fire departments, which are two of the most expensive things we have, and we need them. What nonprofit does not reap the advantages of those two departments? They have to insert some kind of new tax or fee if you are a theater or a church to help pay for this.

Thank god we have lots of restaurants. They encourage people to come and visit and shop. There has also been an increase here in the amount of Airbnbs.

Is that a problem?

I think it’s reaching a tipping point. But people have to make their place an Airbnb because otherwise they can’t afford the taxes. Now they’re paying a lodging tax of four percent.

It’s changing the feel of some of the neighborhoods, where they are no longer occupied by the owner and are just a business with people going in and out. But it is enabling people to make a living, and it brings more people to the restaurants and art galleries. The bars and thrift stores are doing really well.

Are newcomers from the City involved in the community? A criticism of having a lot of second-home owners is they don’t vote in the community and don’t want to be involved.

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People are more involved in the government than before. We made a real effort to stop people from voting in Manhattan, and a lot of the second-home owners vote here now because their vote makes a difference. Others, when the prices went up, sold their houses and split.

Are millennials moving to Hudson?

Definitely, younger people are moving in. 

Do you still live in Hudson?

I don’t live in town anymore. I live in Claverack, which is quiet and five minutes away. I do sometimes miss my little apartment upstairs. It was fun to be right in town.

How is your gallery doing?

We make more money every year. I have two full-time employees and one part-time person, and we’re open every day, which makes a difference. We’re an all-service gallery, and we are really good: We ship to you, send you pictures, and you can send us a picture of your living room with how wide the wall is. We represent about 60 artists, including photographers, most of whom are in the Hudson Valley; and we’ve been showing for a very long time. We also work a lot on the internet. A little under half of our sales come from the web.

We’re a rather conservative gallery, but we also show some really weird stuff, such as an enormous hanging blouse sewn out of sailcloth. We really are committed to showing Hudson Valley artists, and I love to do things that will jar people a little bit.

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