Saugerties: Keep On Pushing | Saugerties | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Saugerties: Keep On Pushing 

Last Updated: 03/05/2021 4:50 pm
click to enlarge Frolicking on Hudson River ice in early February near the Saugerties Lighthouse.

David McIntyre

Frolicking on Hudson River ice in early February near the Saugerties Lighthouse.

Ask someone from Saugerties how they're doing and they tell you the truth. They're exhausted. They're tired and fed up with all the endless extra work that's yet another side effect to the pandemic's trauma. Saugerties has always been extremely proud of its community spirit. Residents seem preternaturally compelled to support each other, but to sustain the level of organizing and charitable giving necessary to keep their collective heads above water is draining.

"Yes, it is exhausting," says Peggy Schwartz, Chamber of Commerce co-chair, owner of Town and Country Liquors, mother-in-law of Congressman Antonio Delgado, and community matriarch. "But we are existing. There is activity and we are keeping on. Saugerties is a very social town. People love to get together. Another e-word: excited. We are excited for spring."

Business in Saugerties Rolls On

This year, the Chamber of Commerce gave their Spirit of Saugerties Award to the entire business community. Legacy businesses like Montano's Shoe Store and PC Smith and Son Hardware fought through challenges, and some new businesses have actually opened or are coming soon, including Dante's Pizza, a bagel shop from the owner of Village Pizza, Josie's Coffee Shop, and a soon-to-open coworking space.

Saugerties is a "festival town," Schwartz says. Being able to run the yearly Sawyer Motors Car Show, HITS horse shows, the garlic festival, the upcoming Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen's Convention and Parade, and other events is what generates a good deal of revenue for local businesses.

In the spring of 2020, when it became apparent things wouldn't be going back to normal anytime soon, the Saugerties community came together in a multitude of ways to make it possible for some semblance of business and community culture to persist. The village built two outdoor food courts with menus from all the restaurants and had socially distanced seating and even live music.

click to enlarge Looking across the creek toward the waterfront homes on Esopus Creek Road from the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.
  • Looking across the creek toward the waterfront homes on Esopus Creek Road from the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.

"Summer was actually pretty good, all things considered, says Dallas Gilpin, co-owner of the Dutch Ale House. "Our customers were very supportive and we did a lot of creative things. We put up a tent behind the Dutch and people felt pretty safe eating outside. That was the difference between life and death, to be honest." Gilpin and her husband, Ted, run the Shale Hill Hospitality Group, which includes the Dutch, Windmill Wine and Spirits next door, the soon-to-open Farm Kitchen market across the street, and the Millstream Tavern, opening in April at the Woodstock Golf Course.

Gilpin made the decision to close the restaurant for the winter after business dropped off through the fall. "Now everyone is just tired of everything," says Gilpin. "As a small business owner, I'm burnt out. As a person, I'm burnt out. Especially when you are watching your business take a financial hit. Now it's all about surviving until spring, financially and emotionally."

A Community Eager to Give

Through funding from Ulster County's Project Resilience, 3,600 meals a week were supplied by Saugerties restaurants and delivered to homes by a cadre of 30 volunteers. Restaurants were paid $10 per meal, and, while it wasn't much, Village Mayor Bill Murphy said it helped keep staff working and the eateries were extremely generous with the amount and quality of food they supplied.

Tom Struzzieri, owner of the Diamond Mills hotel and restaurant donated trays of food from the restaurant, which were distributed through the Boys and Girls Club two nights a week. Mayor Murphy estimates that between mid March and May 30,000 meals were served to the community through both programs.

There's been a vital continuum of giving throughout the pandemic in Saugerties. Five thousand dollars in gift cards to local restaurants were donated to the village to be distributed to residents in need. That idea has been expanded as the Chamber of Commerce has launched their "Takeout Project," where gift cards can be purchased and donated to food aid organizations for distribution.

The community's generosity consists of more than just food, however. Robert Siracusano, owner of Sawyer Motors, donated 5,000 masks. More recently, in January when the nursing homes in Saugerties couldn't get COVID vaccines, Saugerties native Neal Smoller of Woodstock Apothecary located 400 doses and brought them to the town's most at-risk seniors. "From March to November I knew one person who had COVID," says Murphy. "Since November I've known about 50." As of early February, the community had registered eight deaths from COVID.

During the holidays each year, Siracusano provides $25,000 worth of toys for needy children through the Sawyer Toy Express. This year, that effort was taken to another level when a Saugerties resident got the town designated as a gift donation site for Alfred Kahn's First Responder Children's Foundation. The foundation added $200,000 worth of toys to the annual event. More than 800 children were given bags of four to five toys. "It was really cool, in a year that needed it," Murphy says. "Everywhere I turned people were helping each other."

A Home for Allyship

For a small town in upstate New York, Saugerties has become a beacon of progressive politics. After the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police last spring, local resident Kevin Freeman organized a daily Black Lives Matter demonstration that ran from June to November on the corner of Main and Market streets. Once President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid, they cut back to weekly events. "One march might move the needle a little," Freeman says. "But when you're out there every day, you have more opportunity to integrate ideas into the community."

Freeman says he and his fellow demonstrators try to stay focused on the issue of systemic racism and not bring other causes to the protests in an attempt to instill the idea that it should be a nonpartisan issue.

click to enlarge Kevin Freeman organized a daily Black Lives Matter demonstration that ran from June to November on the corner of Main and Market streets in Saugerties. It’s now a weekly event. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Kevin Freeman organized a daily Black Lives Matter demonstration that ran from June to November on the corner of Main and Market streets in Saugerties. It’s now a weekly event.

Even from his street corner, Freeman says he doesn't see much partisan rancor in town. "I think that people are just somewhat exhausted," he says. "Life goes on. We have to keep pushing at the local level for the things we believe in. I can understand the seduction of an authoritarian model. You don't have to think for yourself."

Inquiring Minds bookstore has been a gathering place for freethinkers in Saugerties for many years. Political meetings, talks, gatherings, and conversation of all sorts were ever-present before the pandemic. Now the shop is quiet. "We miss it," says owner Brian Donoghue. "It was an integral part of our mission. After the last year, and the Trump nightmare, I can't wait to have the public back in here. We need to be together, to heal and talk about what we need to do next to move forward."

Donoghue said the bookstore has survived the pandemic because people seem to be reading more during their lockdown and due to the vital aid from the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP). While Inquiring Minds is famous the protest signs in its windows taking political leaders to task, Donoghue was quick to give credit where due to local and state politicians who fixed the PPP, saving many small businesses like his. But, the bookseller says, after a while, navigating all the pandemic paperwork and changing protocols, became "exhausting."

Daughter of A Favorite Son

Newly elected State Senator Michelle Hinchey is a daughter of Saugerties. She's also the daughter of the 10-term congressman Maurice Hinchey (1938-2017), who had the uncommon political characteristic of being well liked by constituents of both parties. Hinchey says she's excited about the way her hometown is evolving but is glad for the many ways it's stayed the same.

"I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Saugerties and to be a part of it," the senator says. "In the last decade, we've seen a renaissance in the community with businesses and restaurants coming in. All of it speaks to the quintessential vibe of the town. People have finally discovered us."

As it was throughout the Hudson Valley, in Saugerties, real estate sales boomed in the first half of the pandemic as New York City residents fled for safer pastures. The influx of new residents and capital is destined to make an impact but how much, and to what ends, is undetermined. Hinchey sees it as an opportunity. "It's critical that we think about how we grow and support the town's economy while protecting what made it special in the first place," says Hinchey. "The people that built the community need to be able to reap the benefits of their work."

Committed to rural broadband access, Hinchey has already spoken out against her party's leader, expressing disappointment over Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent veto of the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act. She wants to protect natural resources, like water and open space, and bring the renewable energy jobs economists hope might fuel the COVID recovery.

Having likely first trod the Capitol's marble corridor's in baby shoes (her father served in the Assembly for 18 years), Hinchey now finds herself, at 33, the chair of the Food and Agriculture committee. It's a significant position important to her farm-filled district and her results-driven constituency. One program Hinchey is keen to expand and make permanent is the Nourish New York Program, which facilitates getting locally grown products into communities suffering from food insecurity.

While Hinchey is too smart to name her favorite businesses in Saugerties, she admitted she grew up eating at Mirabella's Italian restaurant. In general, Hinchey is particularly excited about the expansion of the arts community, namechecking Upriver Studios, a film production house being developed in Saugerties by actor and director Mary Stuart Masterson.

The Art of Resilience

After a winter break extended by the pandemic, Jennifer Hicks reopened 11 Jane Street Arts Center in August with a group show, "Read to Me," followed by an exhibition of Jan Harrrison's animal paintings. Harrison's show was well received despite Hicks having to change everything she knew about art openings. "We can't do openings like we used to," notes Hicks. The artist was present from noon to 6pm as people trickled through, wearing masks. Harrison and Hicks sat behind plastic. "It was actually a much better experience than a traditional art opening, says Hicks. "The artist got to talk with people about her work and people didn't just come for the food, because there was no food. And people bought work."

click to enlarge Jennifer Hicks inside 11 Jane Street, the art gallery and creative space she opened in 2019. Currently closed, the gallery will reopen with a show of Norm Magnusson’s work in May. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Jennifer Hicks inside 11 Jane Street, the art gallery and creative space she opened in 2019. Currently closed, the gallery will reopen with a show of Norm Magnusson’s work in May.

This summer and again at Christmas, Hicks produced a pop-up artisan market at the J. J. Newberry building on Main Street. Plans are in the works to launch a permanent artisan market in the former five-and-dime store in late spring.

Hicks said other art venues and events in Saugerties, like Emerge Gallery, and the Saugerties Art Studio Tour are doing better than she would have initially expected. "People have moved online and artists and gallerists are engaging audiences online—and that seems to be fine," Hicks says. Art endures in times of hardship, she notes, adding that she's currently hosting residencies for artists Wendell Beavers and Erika Berland. "Artists are having deep conversations right now about life and why we make art and loneliness," Hicks says. "It's a time of global reflection about what's important. People don't seem to be making art about COVID, it's about this deep reflection."

Rocky at Rest

In times like these, the mind searches desperately to find meaning in suffering. Humans look for metaphors of resilience. Additionally, to feel better, they often look at pictures of cute animals on their phones. In Saugerties, this sacred object of healing appeared around Christmas time, in the form of a little owl rescued from the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Dubbed Rockefeller, the adult saw-whet owl had taken a 170-mile ride from Oneonta to Manhattan, trapped in a 75-foot-tall Norway spruce. The diminutive raptor—saw-whets are one of North America's tiniest owl species—hadn't had anything to eat or drink in days. A worker for the tree transportation crew from New Paltz told his wife, who called the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties. "When she said where her husband found it, I thought I would die," says Ellen Kalish, Ravensbeard's founder. "Rocky was in much better condition than I expected. She just needed TLC and time."

click to enlarge Ellen Kalish of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center with Twyla, a rescued barn owl. Ravensbeard was in the national news after Rocky, a saw-whet owl who was rescued from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, was rehabilitated there. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Ellen Kalish of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center with Twyla, a rescued barn owl. Ravensbeard was in the national news after Rocky, a saw-whet owl who was rescued from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, was rehabilitated there.

Once the news was out about the feel-good Christmas story, calls poured in to the avian rescue center—from news outlets and regular folks looking to support Ravensbeard's mission. Kalish says the other birds didn't seem jealous of the attention the celebrity owl was getting, though her two parrots, Jasmine and Papaguy, were annoyed by the incessant phone ringing. "It was wonderful. People were thrilled to give something," says Kalish. "I've been doing this for 20 years. For me it was no big deal. People needed something uplifting I think. To have a story like this just brought out the good in people. It shared a message of hope and freedom."

Ask the residents of Saugerties how they're doing and they'll tell you they're exhausted. They're not looking for sympathy. They're honest because being tired isn't the same as being defeated. They're exhausted. That's a fact. But so, too, is the fact they won't stop working. "We are really hopeful for spring," says Gilpin. "As a community, as human kind. We are just waiting for the sun to come out."

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