Local commerce: Woodstock, Shandaken businesses reel and rise

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

Even before Governor Cuomo responded to the coronavirus pandemic with a mandate that New York restaurants and bars close indefinitely (except for take-out) starting Monday, March 16, many business in Woodstock and nearby towns had already taken action.  

With three sold-out shows for the weekend of March 13-15, venue/restaurant Colony Woodstock cancelled everything on Thursday, March 12. “In simple terms, it was the right thing to do,” says co-owner Neil Howard. “The way the news was changing literally by the hour, we decided it would be treacherous to gather people together with nothing to go on but Italy. They’re two weeks ahead of us. It was actually an easy decision.” 

The Colony subsequently used St. Patrick’s Day to soft-launch a drive-thru and pick-up service, offering bargain-priced corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and potatoes. “We’ll be doing delivery soon, too,” Howard says. “There’s always been a dearth of delivery options around here. It was something I wanted to explore anyway.” Plans are in motion to bring the renowned Monday night Open Mic online. 

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The Golden Notebook is also undertaking a delivery service. “We delivered our first book today,” says co-owner Jackie Kellechan. “To a longtime customer in Saugerties.”

Following Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan’s March 13 directive that schools close for (at least) two weeks beginning Monday, March 16, Kellechan saw a rush on children’s books: “Especially weekenders, buying stacks.” The bookstore is remaining open even as customers have since dramatically dwindled. The staff cleans rigorously, wiping down counters after every sale, maintaining distance. Meanwhile, all spring book fairs are canceled. Kellechan accepts they may need to temporarily shutter completely, but for now, if you need a book or three, they’ll make it happen.

“I had to lay off 40 people,” says Courtney Malsatski, manager of Dixon Roadside in Woodstock, and the Phoenicia Diner. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, definitely surreal.” The decision was made after a Sunday rush at the Phoenicia Diner on March 15. “Even when we went to 50% capacity at the diner,” Malsatski says, “people — mostly 20-something out-of-towners — were not social distancing. They seemed not to recognize what was going on. We just didn’t want to be part of the problem.”

Take-out continues at Dixon Roadside and the Phoenicia Diner Airstream. “We’re going day by day, adjusting our menu accordingly, doing more soups, making things people can freeze, and trying to figure out ways to help the community,” Malsatski adds. “There’s always room to help, we have to be creative enough to find a way.”

Corinne Gervai has temporarily closed Woodstock’s Euphoria Yoga, customarily open 365 days a year (barring heavy snow) since its 2009 founding. “I really agonized over it,” she says. “It’s been sad and scary. It had been wonderful to bring people together, working to help keep them calm and centered, but all the data says to isolate, which is counter to all of that.” 

Once a semblance of normalcy returns, however, she will honor all class cards, and begin anew. “I believe some power beyond the darkness will bring a positive shift,” she says. 

Gervai’s Tinker Street neighbors Oriole9 have also completely shut down for now, a decision owner and operating manager Jessica Anna made on Sunday the 15th. “I have asthma, and my kids have been in the ER for asthma, and I’ve had pneumonia,” Anna says. “I was looking at video and pictures from Wuhan, and studying the coronavirus, and I just want to be as safe as possible.” Similar to the Phoenicia Diner, her staff — some of them employed since the restaurant’s 2006 opening — were nervous when patrons refused to employ social distancing, and impeded efforts to deep clean. “It’s a scary prospect to lay off 20 people,” she says. “They’re family. I hope they’ll come back.”

Even in the chaos and loss, Anna sees a potential bright side. “I’m trying to embrace what is,” she says. “This is an opportunity to slow down, appreciate things, work on things we don’t usually have time to work on.”

While Tom Fraser’s Phoenicia Belle B & B initially saw a few NYC tourists seeking refuge, he’s mostly had cancellations, primarily overseas visitors in lockdown. “This has stopped our business in its tracks,” he says. “No new bookings coming in. It’s the slow season anyway, but the worry is how long. But we’re holding on.”

He contrasts this global problem to previous, weather-related disruptions: “When a flood hits here, you don’t also worry about Massachusetts and Vermont. But this is the world. At least here we have woods to walk in.” 

Emily Sherry, co-owner of Provisions restaurant, and CEO of no-cost prepared food program The Table at Woodstock, is busier than ever. On Friday, March 13, she and her business partner Anthony Heaney joined with Onteora Central School District to help feed homebound students, all while maintaining the Table of Woodstock meal program on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the Woodsock Reformed Church (4 p.m.‘til they run out) at 16 Tinker Street. (Now with social distancing.) The Table, which runs on donations, already serves over 1000 meals a month, including delivering to housebound adults and the elderly. With the extreme spike in demand, it soon looked like she and Heaney would be tapped out. 

Until the county stepped in: “We just heard from [Director of Ulster County Department of the Environment] Amanda LaValle, who works with Pat Ryan,” Sherry says, sounding relieved. “They’re going to help us out with their ‘Project Resilience.’” This countywide effort includes a community fund, in partnership with the United Way; an online portal for anyone in need to ask for help; a robust food distribution network; and a partnership program for businesses and community groups to provide food and other critical services. Sherry and Heaney take no salary from the Table, so this will allow them to continue, while keeping themselves afloat, too. 

Provisions has suspended service for now, but Sherry plans to offer take-out beginning April 1. This frees her up to focus on working “boots on the ground” with the Table to get food and other supplies to hungry people sequestering and/or quarantining. She stresses that people can still sign up for services, no questions asked, by calling (845) 399-0376 or (845) 633-2120 or going to thetableatwoodstock.org.

In the midst of it all, she is stubbornly optimistic. “The only way I can do this is to remain hopeful,” Sherry says. “There will be light, life after this. I look at my kids and think about next fall, when things are normal again. I have to. And I’ve never been prouder to be an Ulster County and Woodstock resident.”

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