You can feel it in the air like a crisp autumn wind. Catskill is continuing to grow and transform, even in the face of economic upheaval. Amid longtime businesses shuttering, new ones have launched, and change in all its forms, the defining feature here for better or worse—especially since the pandemic—continues.
Catskill's Star TurnFor several months this year, the village of Catskill became Millwood, Pennsylvania, the fictitious setting of an HBO Max teen slasher series. The production for "Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin," filmed extensively in the village between November 2021 and April 2022. It was the largest film production in the area this year and may herald the start of a trend, according to Kristen Brayden of Greene County Tourism.
"With the filming of 'Pretty Little Liars,' I would anticipate an increase in interest in filming in Greene County," Brayden says via email. "The economic impact is significant for both the county and municipality where they are filming, from lodging to catering to shopping and more."
There were a few independent shoots as well, Brayden said. One of those was Catskill resident Brendan Fay's Your Valley, My Valley. Fay has spent the last three years working on the film, "a humorous but earnest portrait of a community through the lens of seven seemingly disparate characters who are all connected by the legacy of strange phenomena in their beloved valley," according to Fay, who produced, wrote, directed, filmed, lit, costumed, scored, and edited the film. He recruited the all-local cast for his comedic "pseudo-documentary" from people he's met since he moved to Catskill five years ago. The film premiered on November 18 at the Community Theatre on Main Street.
The Community Theatre, which closed during the pandemic, is now owned by developer Ben Fain and once again shows movies from time to time in partnership with Upstate Films. "We were able to come up with a handshake agreement to show films and animate the space while it was being fixed up," Paul Sturtz, Upstate Films' co-executive director, says.
Since August they've had several events, including showings of The Big Lebowski, Moonage Daydream, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with live accompaniment by the Anvil Orchestra. "We really fell in love with Catskill," Sturtz says. "There's always a good feeling in the air when we've been doing events in the space."
Catskill, with its plethora of restored old homes and stunning scenery, has caught the eye of others who wield cameras for a living. Michele Saunders, who owns New York Locations, which provides settings for print and film productions, says the area's "potential is incredible. It's very inspiring for photo shoots." Her primary focus is working with interior photo shoots for home goods and furnishings. Among the companies that have shot at the various homes she represents are Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, West Elm, and Anthropologie. "I've definitely seen more interest in Catskill as a shooting location," she says. "There was a time when no one knew where I was. They would confuse Catskill with the Catskills. But now a tsunami of people has moved here. There's a lot of interest."
The Cost of Doing BusinessMain Street, a gauge of sorts of the village's economic temperature, has seen many new businesses open this year despite the shifts taking place not just here but globally. Several home and gift stores launched, including High Rock Home (at Joe's Garage), Catskill Collectibles, and Peyton's. Businesses related to health, wellness, and beauty saw an uptick with the opening of Yaad Wellness, Creature of Habit Hair Studio, Stinging Nettle Apothecary, Afterglow Tanning, and Vita Arts Bodywork Studio. The Catskill Chocolate Co., a new cafe, bakery, and chocolate store also opened in 2022.
Both Spike's Record Rack and Catskill Mountain Woodworking moved to larger locations. This year also saw a revitalized Catskill Farmers' Market under the presidency of Christine Ritmo, who, with her husband Fabio, owns and operates Nimble Roots Farm. The market once again brought local products and music on Sundays to the center of the village in the parking lot alongside the creek. A smaller farmers' market takes place at Left Bank Ciders on Thursday evenings from spring to fall.
But along with openings, there has been one Main Street staple that has closed. Liam and Laura Singer recently shuttered HiLo, a cafe that has been around for more than five years and was a downtown anchor. "A lot of circumstances coming out of the pandemic have kind of just caught up to us in terms of things like the cost of goods," Liam says. The couple also own Avalon, a Korean restaurant and music venue in the village. "Between Avalon, HiLo, and having a kid, we just didn't have the bandwidth to innovate there the way we needed to," he says. "We were finding it harder and harder to make a profit."
He says they're trying to pass the business on to new owners who have "got their own kind of ideas for the place, but will definitely continue doing good coffee there."
Escalating food costs have become an issue for many local restaurants. "It feels like once a week something's going up. Wheat, milk, cheese, meat, you name it, it's gone up," says Sam Jones, the co-owner of Goodies, a bagel and sandwich shop, in an email. "We just roll with it. We try not to raise our prices, but sometimes we have to raise them marginally."
Goodies, opened last year, has become another local go-to spot where there's an equal dose of good food, friendly service, and a wacky sense of humor exemplified by Yetta, a female sasquatch who makes regular appearances at the eatery. Jones says their business is all about the locals. "Once the community realized that we're catering to Greene County and not the out-of-towners, Goodies has become a neighborhood staple," Jones says. "The Catskill community is our bread and butter. We love and value our community and they know it."
Community NeedsIt's not only Catskill's businesses that are feeling the squeeze from inflation. Its residents have been hit by higher grocery bills, increasing rents, and fluctuating gas prices. "Housing insecurity, food insecurity, a lack of healthcare—especially mental health care—has gotten out of control," says Neva Wartell, the executive director of the Catskill Food Pantry. Wartell, who has a long history of community activism, believes Catskill, and Greene County as a whole, doesn't have a precedent for organizing on the community level. "It's something that never came up before," she says. "Now the lack of housing, the lack of services, the lack of food and healthcare is coming to a head."
The Catskill Food Pantry, at the Parish Hall of St. Luke's Episcopal Church on William Street, which is open on Fridays from 1 to 4pm, has seen a significant increase in use this year, she says. It's the only "free choice" food pantry in the area, according to Wartell. "Our shoppers come in and shop for themselves," she says. "We don't require anybody to prove their income eligibility. We work very hard to make that happen."
While the community wrestles with economic troubles, Rev. Dr. Shanell Turpin, the pastor-elect of the Second Baptist Church, sees continued social separation as another issue facing many Catskill residents. "People are still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic and PTSD from all the loss that we've endured," she says. "We lost more than loved ones. Many of us lost our way of life in the pandemic. We lost income. We lost friends. Some people lost relationships. And a lot of those things have to be grieved and are still being grieved and sometimes the best way to grieve is to come together."
She says that instead of trying to get back into an old rhythm, the church has started a new one by livestreaming services online, offering conference calls for members without internet access, and ushering in a ministry dedicated to sending out cards to people in the community who are sick, shut in, or "are going through a season of grief."
The Second Baptist Church, with its 133-year history, remains a vital part of the village and has continued to not only provide its members with spiritual nourishment, but the wider community with physical nourishment. "Under Rev. Dr. Richard Turpin's leadership, we were able to feed over 4,000 families over the span of 2021," Rev. Dr. Shanell Turpin says. "I have to give credit to Rev. Turpin for all the success of where our church is now and how we have been able to move forward as we navigate our way through this pandemic."
Rev. Dr. Richard Turpin, the current senior pastor—and Shanell's father—has led the church for 23 years and is the longest-serving pastor in its history. His daughter's election to become senior pastor when he retires (no date has been set yet) is also historic. Rev. Dr. Shanell Turpin will usher in a new era as the first woman to lead the church in its long history. "Although the shoes I'll be filling are very big, I will continue to walk by faith," she said. "God will help me take each step." As Catskill continues to reshape itself as it's done for generations, only time will tell what forms those changes will take, but if the past is any indicator, the community will flourish only through the interconnectedness of its residents.