It’s taken a few years, but the building once occupied by the Phoenicia Pharmacy has developed into a cheerful, bustling market and community space, with two rental areas in back, an art gallery, and an abundance of unusual and esthetically intriguing items for sale. Phoenicia Arts and Antiques (or the A & A) is now being managed by Margaret Owen, former director of the longtime community gallery, Arts Upstairs, now occupied as a studio and gallery by artist Christina Varga.
In February 2017, when Owen gave up the second-floor space halfway down Main Street, Arts Upstairs was thriving as a community but struggling financially. Many artists mourned the gallery when it closed, even as the town had mourned the demise of the pharmacy, a year after the 2015 death of co-owner Marty Millman. After standing empty and bleak for over a year, the 5000-square-foot building was purchased in fall of 2016 by John and Olga Zirinsky, who turned it into a crafts market, with plans for renovating and renting out spaces.
Owen, who had been selling her hand-dyed and hand-painted clothing in a back room at Arts Upstairs, moved her shop into the market and later set up a gallery show of local artists in an underutilized side space. Now the gallery occupies a corner room, fronted by huge glass windows on the Main Street and Route 214 sides, attracting considerably more visitors than Arts Upstairs was able to do.
“We get people from all over the world,” said Owen. “They drive by the windows, and they stop and come in.” With the rising popularity of the Catskills, there’s a new set of visitors to the gallery each weekend. Instead of hanging a whole new show each month, Owen takes on fresh work as pieces on display are sold. When the Shandaken Inn recently reopened, the new owner, Jay Jacobs, stopped by and bought a substantial number of landscapes to decorate the walls of the inn. Prominent among the purchases were Marty Carey’s grand paintings of trees and a sampler of work from the East Branch Delaware River Plein-Air Painters, whose delicate watercolors hang in a back corner. Members of the core crowd from the Arts Upstairs are also showing in the new space — Lynn Fliegel, Astrid Nordness, Dave Channon, Bronson Eden — and Owen’s late husband, Gavin, watches over everyone from his self-portrait on the back wall.
Couches with brightly colored pillows give gallery browsers a comfortable seat to muse over the work. The couches also come in handy for the knitting group that meets on Sunday afternoons. The gallery recently hosted a singalong of John Lennon songs. Owen is hoping to host community events in the spring, using the parking lot that’s part of the property. She’s contemplating street fairs, a Sunday farmer’s market, and a fundraiser for the Reservoir Food Pantry in Boiceville.
Antique dealer Esther Toro, who has her own space at A & A, said the wide variety of items on sale includes museum-quality antiques and collectibles from all over the world. You’ll find accordion-folded Japanese “pillow books,” a vinyl album by the J. Geils Band, an eight-piece set of 1950s highball glasses. Ivan Bilija, who used to have a shop in Kingston, specializes in imports. Liz O’Grady has mid-century vintage. Maureen Millar’s quirky assortment includes glass crystal, a splendid writing desk with shelves, and political posters from the 60s and 70s. Other vendors offer vintage maps, vintage clothing, carved walking-sticks, and plenty more.
Mary Certoma sells blown-glass and fused-glass work created in her Chichester studio. Roxanne Marinello fashions jewelry from semi-precious stones she mines herself — Herkimer diamonds from Herkimer County, garnets from Ellenville, calcite from Kingston. Marinello once fabricated sculptures for the New York City’s High Line and the 9/11 memorial, but now she’s happily ensconced at the A & A. Owen’s printed clothing hangs opposite the jackets, hats, and gloves made by Woodstocker Lisa Samuels of Wisdom Eye.
Rebecca Shim used to formulate her Phoenicia Honey Company products at a site in Kingston, but she’s moved into one of the two rental rooms at the back of A & A. She makes her infused honey and skin care products right onsite, stepping through the lab door to sell items at a table along the back aisle.
Artist Erika Hornburg, who used to run a community arts program in Pennsylvania, has turned the other rental room into Notch Hollow Art Studio, where she makes her own meticulous paintings and holds art classes for kids. Starting in January, she will offer Homeschool Art on Fridays, Creative Kids on Saturday mornings, and Teen Studio on Saturday afternoons. Certoma will be teaching guitar lessons in the space, and Hornburg invites other creative people to propose classes.
Owen is gratified to find the spirit of the Arts Upstairs cooperative reinvigorated at the former pharmacy. The emphasis may be different, with more retail than fine art, but the beauty, creativity, and community energy persist. And it’s a relief to have the corner store, such a prominent spot on Main Street, filled and thriving.
As stylish, appealing shops proliferate — including the gift shop Tender Land Home, the boutique Mélange, and the ever-helpful Phoenicia Supply, all on mid-Main; a crafts vendor in front of the Phoenicia Market; and Blue Barn Antiques a few miles west on Route 28 — Phoenicia is becoming a popular shopping district, surely a boost to the local economy.
Phoenicia Arts and Antiques is located at 41 Main Street, Phoenicia. On the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas, the A & A will hold an open house with mulled cider, cookies, cheese and crackers, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They’re open every Friday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they’ll be open Christmas Eve as well. For more information, call 845-688-0021 or check out the Facebook page.