Regardless of the amount of flowing adjectives, photographs, or event listings that one might use to paint a picture of the Warwick Valley, there remains but one way to gather any kind of realistic perspective: get in the car, or grab a bus or a train, and see for yourself. Of course, depending upon the trip, it may require all three—one of the signature, paradoxically charming truths of the region is that it blends proximity with a remoteness all its own. Arriving at the destination may require a few extra turns, but the results will be well worth the effort.
The town of Warwick—just 50 miles from Manhattan—strikes a balance of bucolic and modern. Along with the neighboring town of Chester, the region offers a panorama that spans from cutting-edge culture to carefully preserved vistas of rich farmland. The soothing, captivating fields of "black dirt" that are special to the region give way to a plethora of sights, sounds, and flavors unequalled throughout the Hudson Valley. The region's progress is fueled by a fiercely independent, community-minded sensibility, suffusing everything from a roadside farmstand to the annual Applefest harvest celebration with a welcoming sense of home.
In fact, every facet of the region's progress seems to stem from both a proud sense of tradition and a forward-thinking commitment to enhancing the local quality of life. A deeply ingrained respect and regard for the past continues to promise a bright future, with light enough to spare. There is no better example than Chester's hamlet of Sugar Loaf, known as a haven for notable craftspeople as far back as the 18th century. Today, it remains a dedicated community of artists and artisans, and a premiere destination for those who appreciate all manner of carefully crafted quality. Those "in the know" won't miss a chance to visit resident leatherworkers Elie and Paula Aji's Into Leather for a glimpse of their latest creations; and no mention of "Sugar Loaf" and "light" is complete without noting 40 years of candlecraft courtesy of Peter and Amy Lendved's Sugar Loaf Candle Shop (where Peter's signature farewell of "enjoy the light" is as appealing as his specially scented recipe).
It was that same combination of community and country that convinced Sugar Loaf's Rosner Soap owners, Kiki and Yaron Rosner, to relocate to the area, and handmade soap enthusiasts remain thankful that they did. Formerly living in France, and then Israel, the leap for the Rosners and their children to Sugar Loaf required more than just faith, but the collective appeal that the community provided. Joining the involvement and dedication of the community has proved a successful choice, says Kiki Rosner. "We came here precisely for that quality of life," Rosner explains. "There is a special energy here that creates possibility. Most of the artisans do live and work here, and that is an unusual thing to find. You wont find another community like this on the east coast."
Of course, that spirit of artistry and craftsmanship translates beyond the tangible, and the richness of Sugar Loaf is exemplified by far more than what can be purchased on its shelves. Sugar Loaf's Seligmann Center for the Arts, once the home of renowned Surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann, is now a cultural hub as well as a far-reaching community development, hosting the Orange County Citizens Foundation, the Orange County Land Trust, as well as film screenings, live performances, and art exhibits. For longtime resident Russ Layne, the Seligmann Center provided just the right inspiration for him to rejuvenate his Sugar Loaf Music Series. Soon after moving to the area 30 years ago, the former Paterson, NJ, schoolteacher began his folk-and-jazz-centered concert series, drawing a growing number of well-known names and providing great entertainment for what was once a limited musical landscape. After closing a successful 25-year run two years ago, Layne is now planning a more intimate "Salon" series at the Seligmann Center, beginning this fall and featuring the likes of folk artist John Flynn and incomparable jazz guitarist Vic Juris. "There's a lot of great energy here," says Layne, "and we are definitely hoping to keep it going."
And the Winner Is...
There is certainly no shortage of that "great energy" at the core of what makes the Warwick Valley run. The roots of Warwick's constantly evolving vitality can be found both in the celebration of its storied past and in the fresh energy of its new arrivals, the combination of the two garnering palpable results. For instance, in the recently-posted Times Herald-Record yearly "Best Of" competition—a solid barometer for the finest favorites in the region—Warwick's dominance is reminiscent of a Peter Jackson jaunt to the Oscars.
In the case of Al and Judy Buckbee's Bellvale Farms, that commitment can be traced back to founding of Warwick itself, with the farm now under the care of 9th and 10th family generations (with 11th generation also assisting!). The now 450-acre dairy and vegetable farm also features the ice cream shop that is a perennially award-winning favorite.
Since 2006, a conversation about Warwick's favorite institutions must include the village's own Tuscan Café—not only a true herald of the region's burgeoning art and music scene, but simply the ideal picture of a warm, welcoming place to eat, sip, and relax. As much as co-owners Cristie Ranieri and Kristen Ciliberti take pride in the well-deserved accolades they have earned (among them, the Record's "Best Cafe" and "Best Small Music Venue" this year, along with a few more), it is the family-like sense of connection they have brought to the community that they cherish most highly. "I get thanked for existing," Ciliberti says, humbly. "I also get thanked for my cookies. Both hold value," she adds with a smile.
It Takes a Village
That special quality of mutual support and responsibility gives rise to a constant evolution within the village of Warwick, manifesting itself in new businesses and efforts that reinvigorate the community's vibrancy. New on the village forefront is another award-winner ("Best Vegan" to be exact), Kim Gabelmann's Consciousfork restaurant. Gabelmann traded a successful career in corporate media for a certification as a holistic health counselor, choosing Warwick as the perfect place to launch her multifaceted approach to raising awareness of nutrition and sustainability. "I want Consciousfork to be a gathering place and platform for all the amazing artists in our area," describes Gabelmann. "These artists are the farmers, chefs, painters, healers, and so on, who are living in Warwick for all it has to offer and creating incredible things."
From food to nonprofit fundraising, Warwick's spirit continues to inspire new and diverse endeavors. Though Nicole Repose's Etched In Time Engraving is not brand new—Repose has been an established Main Street business owner for eight years—her newly minted Community Vision puts a new spin on the "buy local" movement. Along with her son, Greyson Floss, and local PTA president Laura Callaghan, Repose offers a better, locally supported fundraising option for local organizations. "Community Vision was created to help these nonprofits and local businesses partner to create a sustainable way of supporting each other," she explains.
Finally, nothing exemplifies the joining of old and new quite like Thomas Roberts' new Main Street creation: a good, old-fashioned bookshop. For the former theater professional and New York City denizen, Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe described his purpose perfectly—and Roberts and partner Joseph John Justin are more than happy to provide Main Street's "missing piece". "I owe a lot to the lovely people of Warwick," says Roberts. "Being a cynical old New Yorker prior to arriving here, we never expected anything like the reception we have received. It really is Brigadoon, a step back in time to a better place."
Center for Metal Arts
Glenn Bryon Hair Salon (845) 987-1150
Jean Claude’s Artisan Bakery
Linton Designs (845) 987-9933
Marina Smith Massage Therapy
My Sister’s Closet
Newhard’s (845) 986-4544
Ye Olde Warwick Shoppe
Sugar Loaf Art & Craft Village