Like the proverbial ill wind, COVID-19 has blown good to some, even while it has proven fatal or nearly so to many businesses and organizations. Techniques for sales, meetings, delivery of goods and services, learning and communication have had to be reinvented for the sake of public health. Entrepreneurs who spotted the opportunities amidst the obstacles, and whose business models were flexible enough to take advantage of them, sometimes even throve during these difficult past couple of years.
In our region, among the entities poised to make the needed changes was the co-working space in New Paltz known as One Epic Place. When the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce announced recently that it was folding as a result of the pandemic’s stifling effects on its fundraising capacity, One Epic Place had already assumed responsibility for some of the Chamber’s most popular functions. Its two co-founders, Julie Robbins and Nicole Langlois, had held leadership positions in the Chamber for a long time. While it’s hard for a community to say farewell to a professional association that has been providing services to businesses for 66 years, it was clearly time to pass the torch to someone amply ready to bear it.
Last Thursday afternoon, October 7, a gathering at 126 Main Street made the transition official. “It’s an honor and a privilege to hand our beloved Chamber over to Nicole, Julie and the One Epic family,” said Michael Esposito as he stepped down from the dubious honor of being the last board chair of the NPRCoC. The occasion was the opening to the public of the new New Paltz Visitors’ Center: two leased rooms in the front of the building on the east side of One Epic Place, which is part of the Pine Professional Center. Months before the Chamber decided to cease operations, Robbins and Langlois had agreed to serve as hosts of a new location for the Visitors’ Center, which has existed at several addresses over the years and was homeless at the time.
“The New Paltz Visitors’ Center is not just for tourism; it’s a center for the local community, residents and small businesses,” Langlois said as well-wishers and civic leaders assembled prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony that launched the newly relocated resource. “We have a lot of ideas and plans for what that can look like.”
Robbins expressed sadness over the Chamber’s demise and gratitude that “You put your trust in us.” Both women gave shout-outs to people who had been instrumental in the transition: One Epic Place staff, especially community and office manager Melissa Common and operations manager Kristi Parnell; a long list of members and sponsors; their supportive landlords, the Pine family; their own patient families; volunteers from the high school Interact Clubs in New Paltz and Highland, who help staff the center on weekends; and municipal and county officials who had assisted in the process.
When the volume of Main Street automobile traffic made it impossible for the speakers to be heard, the attendees moved behind the building. “A worse problem would be no traffic,” observed Town of New Paltz supervisor Neil Bettez wryly as he congratulated Langlois and Robbins. “We just have to get them to stop and spend their money right here in New Paltz. We really need this.”
Village of New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers agreed, saying, “I’m excited about this new iteration of the Chamber…We have new blood flowing with this business community concept.”
On hand to convey the well-wishes of county executive Pat Ryan was Ulster County Tourism director Lisa Berger. Terming the Visitors’ Center “charming and adorable,” she said, “I know it will serve the community and visitors both for a very long time.”
In the world of real estate, “charming,” like “cozy,” can be a code word for “small.” And indeed, the front room of the Visitors’ Center is compact, but it does what it needs to do: offers space for plenty of shelves, racks and counters that display publications of interest to new arrivals to New Paltz. There are enough different brochures to inspire several weeks’ worth of activities, along with periodicals, business cards, bookmarks and travel guides. On the walls are displayed four paintings by local artist Peter Fairweather, whose company Fairweather Consulting is one of the sponsors of the Visitors’ Center. A video and slideshow loop depicting many of the attractions of New Paltz and vicinity plays continually on a wall-mounted screen.
Behind the front room is a welcoming, slightly larger reception space with a blue-and-white color scheme. A thick rug lies on a polished wood floor in front of an ornamental fireplace. Last Thursday, a buffet of snacks was laid out on tables underneath bay windows facing east, supplied by a mini-fridge and microwave at the western end of the room. A discreet door leads to a bathroom: an essential first stop for visitors to any new town.
Judging by the variety of local businesses that have already paid their dues to have their promotional literature distributed at the new Visitors’ Center, there’s a lot of life left in New Paltz, and optimism for the future. Acknowledging that small business owners in the community “have had a rough couple of years,” Robbins reported that she and Langlois had recently gone door-to-door and “asked them how they’re doing. And they say things are on the upswing. Some of them say they just had their best weekend in 17 years.”
And now, once again, they have an official town “gateway” where new potential customers can discover them. To learn more about the New Paltz Visitors’ Center, visit https://visitnewpaltz.com.