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Rhinebeck: Urbane Terrain 

The man in the stylish puffy orange coat has a much better haircut than you’d expect on an insurgent, so the advice given to him by the girl in the bandana comes across as a catchy non sequitur. “You can’t use a debit card and be a revolutionary,” she says warmly.

The man smiles and leaves a cash tip, in accordance with the counterperson’s pointer. But he may have been planning to do so, anyway. He takes his to-go order and heads out, leaving the young woman to attend to the next customer at the Garden Cafe in Rhinebeck Health Foods.

However funny ha-ha the mix-and-match aspect of the scenario—an urbane and soap-opera-handsome man being waited on by a bohemian woman dispensing radical epigrams and carrot-orange smoothies—may be, it’s not funny odd. It’s just part of the appeal of Rhinebeck Health Foods—and Rhinebeck, generally. According to proprietress Lynn Forman, it’s exactly this kind of exchange that keeps her interested in the business after more than 30 years.

“I think about retiring,” Forman says. “But I’d miss the interaction. The diversity in Rhinebeck makes it so much fun: It’s a show.”

So, the conversation at the counter is merely part and parcel of everyday goings-on: A young woman with a bright glint of diamond nose ring cleans the windows of the front door, briefly making way for a middle-aged woman in exercise tights carrying a purple yoga mat and a Nalgene bottle; two teens mill in the produce section discussing the events of the past weekend and examining the organic lettuce; a fleece-vested man pushing an empty stroller playfully asks his toddler if the hardcover cookbook the boy has pulled from the shelves is really the one he wants; and a writer stops his eyeballing and eavesdropping long enough to be excited to find a nutritional supplement in stock, after failing to find it in several chain drug stores.

It’s a bright and bustling 3,000-square-foot space tucked down Garden Street. (Forman describes it as “slightly off the beaten path,” though it’s only a seconds-long walk off Market Street.) Forman bought Rhinebeck Health Foods back in 1978—from a friend of her husband’s who was, and still is, a “skydiving, adventurous sort who didn’t want to be in store all day”—moving it to its current location in 1990. Though the store was at that time only one of five businesses in the building, Forman has been able, over the years, to acquire those spaces “little by little, in hopscotch jumps,” now occupying the entire structure. She’s put the space to good use. The store features a full produce section, bulk and frozen foods, books and gifts, and the aforementioned cafe and well-stocked supplement selection.

The clientele, according to Forman, draws from each of Rhinebeck’s resident, quasi-resident, and transient populations. “We’ve got a really great source of customers: local, weekenders, and tourists. They’re all so supportive.” Forman expresses appreciation for all her varied shoppers (with the exception of the “cell-phone shoppers,” but, hey, you take the bad with the good).

A Hyde Park native herself, Forman has watched Rhinebeck evolve and, while she’s seen some mistakes made by individual business owners who think Rhinebeck is an unqualified gold mine—”I’ve seen businesses come and go. It’s a revolving door now, more than ever. I feel I can look at a store and instantly know: ‘Oh, yeah. That’ll go.’”—she praises the core businesses and community. Forman says Rhinebeck’s Chamber of Commerce, especially, has fought hard—and fought smart—to preserve the qualities that make it a special place.

“I’m not really a meeting person, myself,” she says. “But they all work very hard together and they’re very strong in their feeling of history. They do a great job of preservation, while allowing for growth.”

Contrasting it with her own hometown, which let its four-corners area be developed out of existence, Forman praises Rhinebeck’s vision and vigilance: “It’s easy to let it go. It’s like raising a kid—you’ve got to persevere. You’ve got to keep at it to keep it the beautiful town that it is. It’s like a walk back in history.”

Special Care
Another of Rhinebeck’s veteran retailers, Lila Pague, backs up Forman’s contention that Rhinebeck is the beneficiary of a special kind of care. With business partners, Pague brought Winter Sun Summer Moon’s collection of clothing and gifts inspired by Ecuadorean and other indigenous, exotic cultures from Key West to Rhinebeck. She says that she had always known that Rhinebeck was the place for her—right down to the storefront.

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