The Village of New Paltz Centennial Yearbook, published in 1987, celebrates "100 Years of Community Life" with black-and-white photographs, a narrated timeline of major events, and ads from local businesses that are so simplistically rendered they seem alien to a graphic-design-adjusted eye. The book shows New Paltzonians in the late 19th century awaiting the completion of the Wallkill Valley Railroad and accompanying station—a station that eventually became La Stazione, where New Paltzonians of today go for a fettuccine fix. It lists the names of the village's first settlers: Deyo, Crispell, DuBois, LeFevre, Bevier—names that have been immortalized as the addresses of newly untethered college freshman. There are grainy photos of hotels-turned-apartment-buildings, bars-turned-pizza-places, and police-stations-turned-storefronts. But despite the many changes—from 1887 to 1987, from 1987 to today—there remains a pervasive familiarity to it all. Even when staring the village's evolution in the face, New Paltz still just feels like New Paltz.
New Paltzonians of today, take heed, because the village of many faces is on the brink of yet another makeover. "We're at an interesting tipping point," says New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers, who grew up in New Paltz and has served in various elected positions leading up to his mayoral win this past May. "We have to be careful about getting it right." Anyone who has walked down the village's indelible Main Street in the past few months has gotten a taste of it: Many beloved New Paltz establishments are no more—Barnaby's, Earth Goods, Suruchi Indian Restaurant, and Yanni's, to name a few.
In a place like New Paltz, though, it doesn't take long to fill such vacated premises. The village attracts a mix of college eats, like Mexican Kitchen's unfussy and dependable south-of-the-border fare on North Front Street, and date-night dining, like End Cut, a new French-Italian fusion restaurant in the former Suruchi location. The long-vacant building that previously housed Naomi's Café on Church Street was reinvigorated last month by the opening of Huckleberry, a hip cocktail bar run by Brooklyn transplant Julie Dabbs. The inviting two-story space is roomy enough to invite a big group of friends but cozy enough to feel intimate, and the fun décor (glass-doorknob tap handles!), creative pub food, and impressive board-game collection makes for a refreshing retreat from the college town's beer towers and bar crawls.
Despite some new names and faces, New Paltz is still anchored by its long-standing businesses. In fact, in an age when streaming content reigns, New Paltz is home to two bookstores and two record stores, all harmoniously located within a stone's-throw radius. But even some of these entrenched businesses are experimenting with different approaches. Main Street's two yoga houses, Ashtanga and Jai Ma, which coexisted side-by-side for over 10 years, merged this past summer into YogAlive. "Expanding the yoga room and bringing the two communities together just made sense," says Michael Stein, who opened Ashtanga Yoga of New Paltz in 2001. "It allows us to offer much more than we did before." Other New Paltz cornerstones are working to maintain their edge amid the changing faces. Bacchus, a go-to watering hole for New Paltzers of all stripes, has been defined by change over its 40+ years of business. "Being open to new ideas is huge," says owner Linda Bradford. In addition to the building's colorful past—with uses ranging from Chinese laundry to taxi station to barber shop to porno photography studio—Bacchus itself has evolved considerably, growing from a one-story bar in 1974 to a two-story Mexican restaurant by the early '80s. In the '90s, Bacchus presaged the craft beer boom by becoming one of the first beer bars in the area (first offering 99 bottles and growing to a list of up to 500); in 2005, it incorporated the billiard hall; and in 2013, Bacchus opened its own brewery, which has seen much-deserved success in its few short years of existence. (At the time this article was written, The Brewery at Bacchus was rated the #1 brewery in New York State on Untappd, a social sharing app for beer enthusiasts.)
If Main Street is New Paltz's heart, then the university is its head, and times are a-changin' there as well. Most notably, SUNY New Paltz is in the throes of a metamorphosis from a primarily liberal arts college into a STEM-oriented school. Dan Freedman, dean of the School of Science and Engineering and director of its Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center, says the number of students in science and engineering has grown by 75 percent over the past five years. Since 2014, when the college began offering use of 30 3D printers, SUNY has grown into an advanced manufacturing hub for the region, with nearly 100 commercial clients, short courses in 3D printing open to the general public, and the inauguration this past November of the first-ever Additive New York thing (ANYthing) Conference, which highlights the industry's cross-discipline impact. In 2014, SUNY New Paltz was awarded a $10 million state grant to help establish an Engineering Innovation Hub at the college—a project that is expected to generate $75 million in new economic impact.