After having been a part of the New Paltz landscape for more than nine decades, Agway has closed its doors, marking the end of an era heavily defined by agriculture and independent businesses.
Customers expressed sadness and shock as they entered the farm-and-garden retail shop last Wednesday, April 15, when they discovered that the doors were closing. “This is sad!” said Nathan Roddy, who was just stopping by to get some wildflower seeds and fertilizer, as he typically does every spring season.
“This place has been here as long as I can remember,” he said. “This was where we got our rabbits. I bought all my lilac bushes here. We get our seeds and bulbs and fertilizer here every year. Agway is a big part of our agricultural history.”
According to longtime store manager Debbie Dingee, several factors led to the decision by owner Sandra McDonald to sell the building and the multi-acre lot on which it rests. “Sales just haven’t been good for the past three to four years, and we’re not seeing the traffic we used to,” said Dingee, as she continued to answer customer questions and run the register on the final day of business. She let the clientele know that all the products will still be available at their other Agway store, Mac’s Farm and Garden World in Red Hook.
“It’s a combination of the big-box stores moving in, online shopping, grocery stores carrying so much of what we do, like pet food, and even selling plants,” she explained. “We also don’t have the farms that we used to have.”
That sentiment was echoed by Glen McCord, who worked at the original store (where the Salvation Army is now located) for eight years from 1983 to 1990. “It was a much busier store then,” said McCord, a native of the region who began working while he was attending New Paltz High School. “There was no competition from the big-box stores, and we had so many more farms then. There were tons of dairy farms, horse farms, chicken farms, agricultural farms…We sold so many tractors that we had to rent a barn to house them all in.”
According to documents unearthed by Carol Johnson, coordinator of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at the Elting Library, the original Agway building was constructed in 1938. To get started on that building, the founders first had to move an existing house built in 1886 from the Salvation Army lot to 16 Mulberry Street, just next to the entrance of the Moriello Pool and Park.
“Agway actually started out as the Grange Federation League, a farmers’ cooperative with the farmers getting a dividend at the end of each year,” explained Johnson. In 1964 the GFL merged with Agway, and the business operated with stockholders and a locally run board of directors that included area farmers.
They had local farmers Pete Ferrante on the board, and Don Lenz, who had a chicken farm in Tillson. “We serviced all of those farms, and I remember when the train used to run behind the store and it would actually stop, so that we could unload some of the cars full of feed directly into our building,” said McCord. “We would sell twelve to 18 tons of feed a week sometimes. We sold chemicals, seeds, hay, fertilizers .… I had a delivery route I would go on every Friday that took me all over the county to different farms.”
Agway was then a one-stop shop for farmers and backyard gardeners alike. “We sold gas grills, lawnmowers, chainsaws, garden tractors and even had a repair shop. We also had a ton of perennials and shrubbery and trees.” McCord remembers that every time it snowed he would have to drive to Benedictine Hospital to deliver two tons of rock salt for their parking lot. “It was hard work, but we took pride in it,” he said. During those days, there were a half-dozen Agways in the region, including ones in Gardiner, Pine Bush, Middletown, Montgomery and Accord.
“Each year they would have a ‘spring cleanup’ contest to see who had the nicest store, and we would work like crazy cleaning every inch of that store. And New Paltz won almost every year that I was there. It was silly how hard we’d work scrubbing everything down.”
Rhe present building was constructed in 1987. There were at least two other owners, but Sandra and her husband Gary (who passed away last year) owned it for the past 19 years.
While it moved away from being predominantly agricultural in nature, the “new” Agway still offered all of the seeds, grains, mulch, fertilizer and hay that it had in the past. It also had a large outdoor nursery and garden shop. Inside, it grew to include a large array of pet supplies, birding supplies and products for all kinds of home landscaping needs like shovels, salt, sanders and mud boots.
Each spring, local kids would beg their parents to take them to Agway to see the new batch of baby chickens for sale to those looking to do their own backyard chicken coops. “If it was spring all year, we’d do great!” said Dingee. “That’s our best time of year.”
Longtime Agway customer Ron Crovisier asked Dingee if she remembered that “big old angry orange tabby cat that used to always be in the store.” She laughed. She did remember. “This is also my dog’s favorite store, because they give him a biscuit every time we’d come in.” Aalthough he lives in Highland and is only a stone’s throw from the Lowe’s on Route 299, Crovisier “much prefers coming here. It’s really too bad [about its closing]. It’s just a friendly place to get all of the stuff I need for the garden, and it’s where I get my water softener and salt.”
The local Agway has weathered many different economic shifts and storms. Everyone who stopped by that day and the weeks leading up to the official closure expressed their sadness and regret that the owners had to close their doors.
Dingee was careful to note that the warm, inviting, pet-friendly atmosphere that was a signature of the New Paltz Agway is still alive and well. The same offerings up will be available at her store in Red Hook: https://macsfarmandgardenworld.com.
The New Paltz property is currently for sale. A pending sale has fallen through.