The Historic Hudson River village of Catskill, NY was built along the Catskill Creek in the 18th century. Its Main Street ran from docks on the river at ‘The Point’, along the creek to the business district. There it intersected with streets leading up the surrounding hills to homes and farmsteads. Villagers heading to the shops, the post office, the docks, the court house or the banks walked or rode downhill to get to where business was done, so they referred to these trips as going ‘Downstreet’.
Fifty years ago, business located on Main Street in Catskill ran the gamut of all the goods and services anyone would need. It was a true destination for the entire community. Street level storefronts sat below the upstairs offices of Doctors, Dentists, Optometrists, Lawyers and Accountants. The J.J. Newberry department store occupied the site where the Greene County Government Building now stands. Banks anchored the street corners, local specialty retailers ranged from men’s & women’s apparel to green grocers and butcher shops, to jewelry and shoe stores, to furniture, appliance and hardware stores. People made a day of it – having a bite at William’s Lunch, or The Mayflower after visiting the beauty parlor; a cold beer at Keegan’s Tavern or the New York after a haircut and before heading ‘up-home’.
By the 1970s, consumer traffic was turning away from rural main streets to shopping plazas with big parking lots convenient to bigger highways, and in Catskill ‘Going Downstreet’ began to equate to a chore, rather than an opportunity to engage in the community. The commercial strip on the west side of town was being built up, shoppers were opting for Shop-Rite over Sherman’s Green Grocer, Jamesway over J.J. Newberry and heading to Colonie Center for shoes and apparel rather than to the Family-Owned shops Downstreet. The community destination was dissolving as driving replaced walking, and busy lifestyles drew shoppers to more convenient (and modern) locations.
While Downstreet Catkill may have languished during the 1980s and 1990s, community placemaking efforts like Main Street Revitalization, and Business Support Programs began attracting both entrepreneurs and investors in the early 2000s. The allure was becoming obvious – affordable historic brick buildings, wide sidewalks, a relaxed atmosphere and a growing number of visitors from metropolitan areas. Across the river, Hudson, NY had already transformed itself into a day-trip destination just a couple of hours north of NYC by train.
On the west side of the river, Greene County towns were beginning to experience a renaissance. Catskill Mountain Towns were becoming Four Season Destinations as ski resorts embraced ziplines, mountain biking, and a growing number of music and cultural festivals. The scenic beauty of Rural Valley Towns began to attract more vacation home owners, new businesses, and retirees moving upstate full-time. Increased pleasure boat docking facilities on the Hudson drew more and more people to our Historic River Towns.
The past couple of years have been transforming for Downstreet Catskill. The affordability and availability of commercial locations created opportunities for re-purposing properties into community destinations. A vintage 1920s era auto repair shop became an elegantly versatile event space called Joe’s Garage. The former First Baptist Church became a Fitness Facility. The former Dunn’s Building Supply property along the Catskill Creek became home to one of the nation’s leading contemporary performing arts institutions – formerly the American Dance Institute (ADI) now rechristened Lumberyard.
A walk Downstreet today shows new businesses in community with Main Street Catskill Icons. DiStefano’s New York Barbershop is one of those unique places in the country where you can get a haircut from the grandson of the Italian immigrant who founded the shop when he moved upstate in 1942. Three generations of barbers made DiStefano’s the spot to catch up on all the news, and get the real pulse of the community. The Community Theater has been showing first run features since the days when people got their video-news from Newsreels, and its upgrade to digital projection provides the perfect blend of nostalgic setting and modern technology.
A fair number of new Downstreet businesses have leveraged funding from Greene County Business Development Programs to create community destinations. The New York Restaurant was resurrected in its legacy 1920s location to become one of the premiere eateries / watering holes in the Hudson Valley (serving the perfect mix of comfort food favorites with a Polish-American twist). Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar made the basement storefront of an historic residence into a place to meet, greet, and enjoy a wide variety of treats.
New Specialty Shops are thriving, catering to the needs and wants of both residents and visitors.
One of the most exciting new spaces Downstreet is HiLo Catskill – a total restoration of a high-ceiling retail space that formerly housed a lighting store. This gathering place combines great food (for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, or Late Snack) with an exceptionally welcoming bar, conversation areas, and an intimate gallery/performance space. Also the recipient of Greene County Business Development Funding, this place is open 7 days and extended hours, so it’s easy to stop in.
It’s exciting to see Downstreet Catskill re-establish itself as a destination for a diverse community. Business, entertainment, and cultural opportunities draw more and more visitors and residents alike.
On Saturday July 15th, local businesses joined together in a special “What’s Up in Catskill” event that drew an impressive number of shoppers, browsers, diners, and fun-seekers between 5 & 8 pm on a summer weekend!
There are still some prime locations available on Catskill’s Main Street. The newly renovated vintage location of the former Mayflower Luncheonette and Candy Store is a current example.
For a complete list of Downstreet locales, visit InvestInGreene.com/river/Catskill/
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Topics: Success Stories