Main Street merchants share concerns with county
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Shortly before the busy Labor Day weekend, consultants dispatched by Putnam County asked Main Street merchants to describe the positives and negatives of doing business in Cold Spring and Nelsonville.
The event, held at the Cold Spring firehouse on Aug. 30 and organized by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, a nonprofit think tank based in Newburgh, drew about 40 attendees, including Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy.
Pattern for Progress is surveying businesses in nine commercial corridors as part of a study commissioned to inform county initiatives and grant applications.
“Let’s think about all the good stuff and bad stuff,” Joseph Czajka, senior vice president for Pattern for Progress, asked participants. Everyone obliged.
The challenge of tourism
Much of the discussion involved tourism. Comments ranged from “tourism consumes our infrastructure well beyond our ability and sales to pay for it” to “tourism is not a problem, it’s a solution” to “we need to embrace it” to “Beacon is killing us; they welcome people with open arms.”
Greg Miller, co-owner of Go Go Pops in Cold Spring, said “for us on Main Street, tourism is a great thing” because it provides a living. But he said some residents contend the number of visitors makes it difficult to stroll down Main Street.
Besides tourism, other positives cited by participants, in random order, included:
- The Hudson River, mountains and scenery
- Strong property values
- Talent and creativity in the arts, entrepreneurship and services
- A strong sense of community
- Local heritage, including American Revolution and Civil War history
- A variety of alluring businesses
- Cold Spring’s ban on chain stores
- “Walkability,” or ease in getting around
- The desirability of Cold Spring and Nelsonville as places to live and work.
Along with tourism, negatives included:
- Lack of signage, both in Cold Spring to give directions and inform visitors of services and amenities (such as parking places, including the availability of free parking at the Metro-North station on weekends), and on Route 9 to guide visitors to the villages
- Poor information about the trolley and confusion about its purpose and routes
- Broken sidewalks
- Too little street lighting
- Lack of support from Putnam County, particularly the fact it does not share sales tax revenue with the municipalities that collect it, as well as from New York state and the federal government, and a perception that village government is unwilling to deal with certain issues such as parking
- Inadequate public restrooms
- High Main Street rents and absentee landlords
- Steep school taxes and a small tax base
Alison Anthoine, immediate past president of the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed concerns about the low number of bed-and-breakfasts.
Lynn Miller, a Cold Spring trustee who co-owns Go Go Pops, noted that lack of B&Bs has led to both the positives and negatives of Airbnb rentals proliferating in the villages.
Cathryn Fadde, owner of Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill and a former Cold Spring trustee, urged the Village Board to update the zoning code to address Airbnb rentals, warning that too much housing could become solely Airbnb establishments, reducing the availability of homes and apartments for long-term housing.
Hostility toward ‘outsiders’
Ray DiFrancesco, who runs Whistling Willie’s tavern, observed that often “a lot of people don’t like outsiders” and that “all I hear is complaints, complaints, complaints,” typically from those “who want to live like 40 years ago.”
“It’s more like 60 years ago!” someone interjected.
But Jack Goldstein, a member of the Chamber of Commerce board who was involved in the revitalization of Times Square, advised against portraying the conflict as outsiders vs. old-timers. Some people who arrived in Cold Spring more recently are wary of newcomers while some lifelong residents welcome everyone, observed Goldstein, who owns JLG Antiques.
Goldstein proposed that communications must improve among various sectors of the community. “We’re not looking at the layers of potential buy-in” to community development, he said, including newcomers, long-time residents and Main Street businesses. “The village can’t survive unless we understand all these” perspectives, he said. “I get concerned the conversation just looks at pieces” rather than the overall picture.
Pattern for Progress distributed a survey asking participants about ongoing plans for their businesses, how much they pay in rent, their views of local regulations and similar questions.