As hotelier and horse show operator Tom Struzzieri looks to the immediate future, he sees some relief from the strict regulations brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Struzzieri’s June hunter-jumper competition schedule was canceled because of regulations forbidding large gatherings. His restaurant, conference center and hotel in the heart of Saugerties were also shuttered. Though the hotel could legally open, without the weddings, expositions and banquets in the conference center, visitors were far sparser than previously, he said in an interview last week.
The county’s change in regulations that will allow restaurants to serve meals in an outdoor setting is great news, Struzzieri said, not just for him but for a struggling restaurant industry as a whole. After having been shut in, “It’s good for people in this county to have someplace to go where they can get a cold drink and some comfort food, so we’re happy, as are many of my peers, that are opening restaurants.
Not that Struzzieri hasn’t been producing and serving meals. During the pandemic, “When I got back from Florida at the end of March, some of the people who really make a difference in this community – not me, but mayor Bill Murphy, Dan Whalen from the Boys and Girls Club, town supervisor Fred Costello, Michael Berg [Family of Woodstock executive director], of course, approached me and asked what I could do for the community.”
Five thousand meals a week
In the earlier days of the operation he was producing some 5000 meals a week out of Diamond Mills, he said. His wife, a son and his daughter got involved in preparing meals because “we didn’t want to involve too many people that weren’t in our circle,” he said. Cooking the meals was the easy part, Struzzieri said. The distribution was handled by the local leaders and organizations.
Struzzieri praised the many volunteers who picked up the food and took it to distribution points to be sure it got to the people who needed it. He did not charge for the meals, although the county was offering restaurants payment for contributed meals. “It makes perfect sense; we didn’t actually need it,” he said.
At the same time, some restaurants that were struggling needed the help, he added, and he is glad that the county offer occurred. “I think that was a smart move on the part of the county [the meals program]. It helped a lot of restaurants that were struggling, and we didn’t need it, so it was fine.”
In addition to his restaurant in Saugerties, Struzzieri owns restaurants in New York City: Black Barn on 26th Street across from Madison Square Park, and another in Chelsea Market. Both are closed now because of restrictions due to the virus. Struzzieri said he hopes they can reopen as restrictions are eased.
Struzzieri has been sponsoring marathons in Ulster County, another business that has been closed down by the virus. “Will the New York Marathon run? That will be the next big question.” Struzzieri doesn’t run in the races he sponsors, he said. “I do Iron Man. I tend to go long when I go. My last Iron Man was in Mexico.” An Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run.
A shorter show season
The horse-show season is set to start in July, Struzzieri said, and the first two meets will be from a Manchester, Vermont facility, which Struzzieri is in contract to buy, and which will open as a HITS (Horse Shows in the Sun) facility next year. Shows this year will give the Vermont track some exposure; in Vermont, out-of-state competitors and audiences would be subject to a 14-day quarantine, he said.
The HITS name derives from the first of the shows, which took place in Florida, The horse-show season is limited in the Northeast by cold winters, so by opening in Florida Struzzieri could offer enthusiasts a winter-show season, he explained. The Saugerties entrepreneur had run shows in Poughkeepsie under the name Rose View Stables. But Florida was in the sun, which became name for all the company locations. With HITS’s own shows and shows from others leasing the facility, Struzzieri said, “we’ll be running horse shows right up to the Garlic Festival,” set for September 26 and 27 this year.
The June show schedule for Saugerties has been shut down, but “We are holding horse shows in Chicago,” Struzzieri said. HITS recently acquired the Lamplight facility in Chicago. The venue is observing the necessary precautions of the pandemic, such as masks, social distancing and scrupulous cleaning.
Loss of the horse shows is not just a loss to Struzzieri or the competitors, he said. There are the trainers, the groomers and the many other members of the crews that work with the horses and owners, as well as buyers and sellers of horses, all of whom depend on a busy show season for their livings.
Struzzieri’s operation has, in the past, required him to fly frequently to the various venues he runs in Florida, Chicago, Culpepper, Va., “I haven’t flown in the past few months, and I miss it,” he said.
Struzzieri plans to add dressage to his hunter/jumper line. Dressage does not involve racing as such, Riders in dressage are judged by how well they control their animal through a series of precise moves. Like hunter-jumper sports, dressage is an Olympic event, Struzzieri said.
Saugerties is Struzzieri’s home, and he has more local businesses here than in other venues. Diamond Mills is his only hotel and convention center, and he does not have restaurants at his other show venues. In addition to providing upscale accommodations for participants in horse shows, the hotel offers a place to stay for wedding parties and guests, and for people attending conventions, he said. The newly renovated facility on the Saugerties waterfront, the Steamboat, is solely an event venue.
“Saugerties is a great place to live,” Struzzieri said. “My daughter just got a teaching fellowship at Columbia, and we’re excited about that.”
He has been living in Saugerties with his wife and three children for 21 years. “I love the river; I love the feel of the community,” he said. “My wife is from Hyde Park, so that’s a good fit. Saugerties has been great for the Struzzieris, and hopefully the Struzzieris have been good for Saugerties.”