Too Many Visitors, or Not Enough?

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.

Main Street, Cold Spring (Photo by June Marie Sobrito)

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.”

Joseph Czajka of Pattern for Progress takes notes as Main Street business owners from Cold Spring and Nelsonville offer their thoughts. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

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

Staying overnight

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.

Sunday breakfast at the Foundry Cafe on Main Street in Cold Spring (Photo by John W. “Miles” Cary)

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.

5 thoughts on “Too Many Visitors, or Not Enough?

  1. Although I tried to remain “positive” as everyone always advises before attending an event like this, sad to say the meeting only confirmed all of the incompetence and ineptitude of Putnam County that I have experienced firsthand regarding tourism and economic development.

    I really hate to be the one to rain on everyone’s parade, but this dog-and-pony show was just another excuse to pad somebody’s pockets (Pattern for Progress) at the expense of the merchants who once again wasted an hour of their time so that the county honchos could pretend that now, finally, they were going to do something for Cold Spring.

    By the way, I didn’t notice any of our elected county legislators (Scuccimarra and Gouldman) in attendance — you know, the people who are supposed to be watching out for our interests. Nor did I see any of the illustrious tourism directors from the Visitors’ Bureau or other personnel from that agency who are getting paid to promote Cold Spring tourism.

    I did see Mayor Merandy, who pretty much sat and listened instead of standing up for the Village and demanding more services in lieu of the sales tax that he’s always complaining about. Trustee Lynn Miller was in attendance and even though she’s a business owner, it seemed most of her complaints were aimed at the tourists who keep her business afloat. As a sidebar, former mayoral candidate Ms. Anthoine made my jaw drop as she lashed out at tourists, complaining about all the damage they did to the Village infrastructure. Perhaps she is getting Main Street confused with Breakneck.

    Mostly it was the uncomprehending merchants and business owners who sat there while the moderator did his best to make everyone feel wanted and included, who ended up getting duped by the county, as per usual. Honestly, I cannot believe this younger generation of shopkeepers who invest many thousands of dollars in their businesses and yet who demand nothing from their local government! I thought the Millennials were supposed to feel such a sense of entitlement, but I guess the ones who settled in Cold Spring didn’t get the memo.

    Here is my takeaway from the meeting:

    – None of the people who work for Putnam County in tourism or economic development have any idea how to do their jobs. Instead, they hire consultants to do studies and hold meetings which come up with results that they will ignore.

    – The county has no intention of providing us with services in lieu of taxes even though our businesses contribute substantially to the sales tax they collect.

    – There are no elected officials who will stand up for the merchants of Main Street, maybe because many of us live out of town and can’t vote. They would rather see us go out of business than do anything to help us, even though it would mean the end of their low taxes.

    Pity, isn’t it?

  2. How about factoring in the competition from neighboring counties: the cachet of Beacon with a drop-dead museum, The Dia; the flight to venues with new experiences for the new Millennials. Cold Spring may have had its day. Radical new ideas are needed, not the old stand-by Patterns for Progress.

  3. I looked at the Patterns for Progress survey and found the questions very odd. I couldn’t figure out what the answers could have possibly revealed of any usefulness. I’d be curious to know what the specs were for the survey, what goal the survey was intended to achieve, and how much it cost.

    The fact that legislators did not attend the meeting is disturbing. We pay our legislators to do a job. If we’re paying private consultants to do the legislators’ jobs, can we deduct the consulting fee from the legislators’ salaries?

  4. Identifying and discussing the challenges tourism brings to Cold Spring is not the same as complaining. Our business derives a lot of our revenue from tourism, but our weakness lies in its seasonality resulting in extreme revenue fluctuations. I know this is true for many, if not all, Main Street merchants. Figuring out how to best support and encourage local businesses to strengthen their relevance to residents is one key to sustainability throughout the year.

    Exploring options for balancing the quality of life Cold Spring residents should reasonably expect with the economic vibrancy of our business sector is an challenge for which there are no easy answers. The method by which we come to consensus in meeting these challenges is as important as the effort we make to implement the solutions that we, as a community, decide upon. It’s important that we involve as many voices as possible in this exercise.

    However, demanding specific action without regard to consequence, deriding others with differing perspectives, assuming the worst of people, and speculating on others’ motivations only polarizes the stakeholders willing to contribute their time, effort and creativity to find the answers we need. Creative brainstorming and SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) are extremely useful tools to keep the conversation relevant and ultimately find these needed solutions.

    I look forward to reading and/or hearing the results of the Pattern for Progress survey and research.

    • Ms. Miller’s comment that “identifying and discussing the challenges tourism brings to Cold Spring is not the same as complaining” is spot on and that’s exactly what I tell everyone who calls me a naysayer when I discuss our tourism and economic problems. As far her spirited defense of the county politicians who are shamelessly exploiting the Main Street merchants, I think we must have some kind of collective Stockholm Syndrome.

      My main point is that these are taxpayer concerns more than anything else. In Cold Spring there are very low expectations when it comes to what people expect from their government. Every year we are asked to shell out more and more of our money. Every year our profit margins are smaller and smaller because every layer of government has its hands further in our pockets.

      Putnam County owes our Village big time for all the financial contributions that we make to the budget. Most people don’t realize that unlike our schools and towns, most of the money for the county budget comes from sales tax, not property tax. And that is a good thing because it’s less for us to have to pay from our real estate assessments.

      All of the elected officials from Cold Spring and Philipstown should have been at that meeting, demanding that the county pony up what they owe us. I can tell you from firsthand experience that nothing is going to happen as a result of the Pattern for Progress meeting that was just held. In fact, the moderator admitted as much.

      They will, with much fanfare, kick the can down the road a little further then go back and pretend to be working at their no-show jobs, dreaming of the future when they don’t have to pretend and they can just collect those pension checks for the rest of their lives.