What I love about Kingston is that I can wake up on a freezing day in the middle of January to snow outside my apartment window at Energy Square on Cedar Street and, in a matter of minutes, just a few blocks away, be floating naked in a sensory deprivation salt-water tank at Zephyr Float on Greenkill Avenue. Life’s stresses being left out in the cold.
I’ll get back to Zephyr Float, but first a song of praise for Greenkill Avenue, an unassuming Kingston thoroughfare that shines with some of the brightest lights of the Midtown Arts District.
Street Whys by Edwin Millard Ford — revered Kingston city historian for 35 years — is an alphabetically-arranged guide to the little-known history and forgotten lore of hundreds of Kingston’s streets dating back to Peter Stuyvesant’s building of the Dutch stockade. The book is available at the Kingston Library. Under G, you can find out not only who lived on Greenkill Avenue in 1916 but their house numbers and what they did for a living. In 1923, Charles A. Blatz purchased the building at #49 for the manufacture of men’s pajamas. On August 31, 1851 the deed creating Greenville Avenue was recorded in the Ulster County clerk’s office.
Today, the recently opened one-mile section of New York’s 750-mile Empire State Trail borders the avenue, making for easy walking. My favorite time to head out is the late afternoon on a clear day when the setting sun puts on a sky show. The freight trains rumble by with their long line of cars covered with illicit graffiti that finds a place among the sanctioned and celebrated public art installations along the avenue.
Nani Chacon’s majestic three-story mural rises high above the street on the façade of The Brush Factory. Titled “We’ve Always Found Our Way Home,” it’s a homage to the indigenous people of the Catskills. A monumental figure of a woman reaches up to stars in the patterns of the tribes of the region.
“Robin X” by Kingston-based artists Michael Fusco and Christina Fusco speaks to climate change and the possibilities of species extinction. On a divided image on the wall of the Kingston News Service building (#49), a very-alive-looking robin in flight faces off with its own fossilized skeleton. Both murals were sponsored by Kingston’s annual 0+ Festival. Its mural program (opositivefestival.org/mural-program/) is responsible for more than 40 murals throughout the city.
The billboard-size painting of a young basketball player with giant angel wings is located in the front yard of The Ulster County Boys & Girls Club. Abstract art is mounted outside of the Greenkill Gallery building. Paintings on canvas stretched across the dumpster bins add to the driveway next to The Pajama Factory. Creativity rolls out all along Greenkill Avenue, coloring the streetscape.
It’s no surprise. A lot of artists and artisans live and work here. So do entrepreneurs who create their own works of art.
The Brush Factory and The Pajama Factory, two historic renovations that transformed abandoned buildings into vibrant creative spaces, are the big examples in the neighborhood, but The Cake Box Bakery at the corner of Greenville and Fair streets, and Village Coffee & Goods at the corner of Fashion Way are two powerhouses of the build-it-and-they-will-come variety.
Walter Swarthout turned his Culinary Institute degree and a talent for baking into The Cake Box Bakery & Café. For more than 20 years, Walt has been filling bellies with cookies, breads, pastries and cakes baked in The Cake Box kitchen.
Three years ago, Mark Palmer and Anthea White, both musicians, moved from Australia by way of Brooklyn to open Village Coffee & Goods, a specialty coffee shop that offers “breakfast, lunch and provisions.” The worldly, mouth-watering menu has everything from Oyster Mushroom Toast and Chia Pudding to Vegan Blueberry Baklava and Grilled Cheese on Sprouted Rye. Mark has over 20 years of experience as a barista. Coffee is a passion for him.
Olga Shoomaker and her husband Ryan are the pair of entrepreneurs who brought flotation therapy to Kingston. I’d walked past Zephyr Float, their spa at 111 Greenkill Avenue many times, but didn’t know what went on inside until I watched Matt Dilling, the neon artist and founder of Lite Brite Neon Studio, floating at Zephry Float in a section of a video on his website (litebriteneon.com). That was enough to send me over to find out more. Brandy Huppert, the manager, gave me a tour.
A “Beginner’s Guide to Floating” explained the basics that involve stepping into a blacked room insulated against sound and lying down on your back in a tank filled with ten inches of water and 1000 pounds of Epsom salt heated to your body temperature. Relax. The outside world falls away and allows “amazing things to happen.”
And you thought Greenkill Avenue was just another street.