Spend a Saturday in Rosendale

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Downtown Rosendale seems ever-poised on the brink of a tourism boom, most recently fueled by the completion of several links in a transcounty rail trail network that should theoretically be bringing in plenty of visitors in search of active recreation by day and food, drink and entertainment by night. And yet, many small businesses still find it challenging to stay afloat; a number of Main Street storefronts have acquired new tenants in recent months.

One of the newer businesses, in operation for about six months now, is Rosendale Waxworks, an artisanal candle and soap shop run by Shaun Johnston and Wilda Gallagher. “It’s difficult to promote Rosendale,” says Johnston. “You can’t just advertise your own store; you have to promote the whole town.” He reached out to neighboring businesses, seeking a way to collaborate to create the sort of collective visibility that transcends the modest advertising budget of each shop or restaurant or service individually. He found significant interest, but no clear roadmap for working together.

So Johnston undertook to create that roadmap. A professional Web designer and publisher (among other past professions, including biochemist) who for a decade ran two online travel guides, http://getawaythehudson.com and http://getawaythecatskills.com, he has ample experience in connecting visitors from New York City to weekend getaways upstate. But the key to making Rosendale businesses viable, he concluded, was to reach potential visitors closer to home, rather than weekenders from out-of-town. He wanted to make the downtown a more alluring option for people in New Paltz or Kingston or Stone Ridge who are looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, or an outing to share with visiting family and friends.

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Johnston’s solution: a simple, cellphone-friendly website called Rosendale Outings, designed to tout the Main Street business district’s low-key historic charm and funky cultural vibe. “It feels like a stage set. There’s nothing else like it around,” he says of Rosendale’s walkable downtown. “The idea of Outings is to present Main Street as a mini-vacationland, an outing. It has an art moviehouse; there are five restaurants on Main Street and three more on Route 32. Its forte is entertainment. And for afternoon shopping it has a wild mixture of shops, with not a chain store in sight.”

Noting the current massive popularity of the social media giant Instagram, Johnston designed a webpage that displays a similar-but-more-curated grid of colorful tiles, one for each participating business, with attractive graphics designed by himself. Click on any one tile and it opens up to inform the viewer about a giveaway, discount, special service, exhibit, performance or activity that a particular business has committed to offer during a specific time window: Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. for the entire current month. A few of the tiles refer to historical features or other attractions worth checking out in downtown Rosendale, such as the remnants of D & H Canal locks and cement kilns. You can maximize one at a time or let them scroll through like a slideshow. At the end of each month, the entire display is updated, the offers changed.

Beneath the grid of tiles, you can find live links to websites for restaurants and other participating businesses. There are also a couple of downloadable, printable maps that Johnston has created: one of a downtown walking tour and the other a suggested loop for a scenic drive, to High Falls, Stone Ridge, Hurley and Kingston. Another sheet is a sort of scavenger hunt of architectural details to look for in downtown Rosendale, which should bring the street to fascinating life for kids especially.

By way of creating a brand identity for Main Street, Johnston has adopted the slogan, “We may be the boondocks, but we’re your boondocks.” His plans for expansion of the website include a feature spotlighting prominent local characters, whom he has dubbed “Boondockers,” and a sort of social network for regular visitors and fans, to be known as “Boon Companions.”

So far, downtown businesses seem excited about Rosendale Outings, Johnston says, as did the town’s Economic Development Commission when he made a presentation to them about the idea. He’s hoping for future involvement from the Chamber of Commerce, and perhaps some links to the Ulster County Tourism office to maximize outreach in the region. “There’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm,” he says. “The stores know that they have to work together. The Internet provides a channel to do that…No one person can do this.”

To check out what there is to do in Rosendale on any given Saturday afternoon, check out www.rosendaleoutings.com. You can also sign up there to receive monthly newsletters and updates. The only personal information requested is your e-mail address and the name of your town. If you’d like to promote your own Rosendale-based business on the website, contact Shaun Johnston at (845) 658-2448, e-mail shaun@rosendalewaxworks.com or visit his shop at 415 Main Street (Route 213).