Cold Spring residents open dry goods shop
The space at 44 Main St. in Cold Spring has for the past two years served as a weekend pop-up shop for a revolving array of sustainable wares.
But now the storefront has its first longer-term tenant, Understory Market, a low-waste market with dry goods and bulk refills for the pantry, home and trail. It opened two weeks ago and will remain at the location for at least five months, said its co-owners, Lara Shihab-Eldin and Sammy Smith-Coleman, who both live in Cold Spring.
“We’re learning how to collectively reduce our footprint as we source basic pantry dry goods and household items in a more local, direct and environmentally conscious way,” Shihab-Eldin says.
Basic pantry goods include grains, rice, oats, beans, pastas, nuts, flours and granola. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own containers, although they are also sold at the store.
The stock also includes cleaning and laundry products and personal care items such as deodorant, toothbrushes, soap and razors, all sustainably packaged or without packaging. Liquids can be refilled in the back room, while a table out front has glass growlers with a pump for items like soaps, cleaners, shampoos and conditioners.
To accommodate hikers, the market also sells snacks. “We did a lot of research on snacks and items like flatware and straws with compostable packaging,” Smith-Coleman says. Shihab-Eldin adds: “We live in a beautiful natural landscape with lots of outdoor resources and tourism, so we carry products that encourage stewardship of the environment, along with fun, flavor and nutrition.
“We have colored bins for hikers to bring back their packaging,” she says. “We’re working with a place in Cortlandt Manor that we can bring compostable things to. You save a certain amount of packaging, pay a fee and bring everything to them.”
In sourcing all these products, “we’re also trying to represent people of diverse backgrounds: We have a Mexican American soap-maker, and seek out women-owned businesses,” says Shihab-Eldin.
Smith-Coleman, a former social worker who specialized in care management for the elderly, and Shihab-Eldin, an architectural designer, met while walking their dogs in the woods. Smith-Coleman, who moved to Philipstown from Brooklyn three years ago (Shihab-Eldin has been here for six), says she “noticed how much waste was accumulating, and how everything was plastic.”
“I thought: ‘What could I bring to Cold Spring that was low waste? I love grocery stores — I’ve always been that person who travels around to markets. I mentioned my idea to Lara, and she had been thinking of it, too. Soon we had a solid plan, full of ideas, a million texts a day.”
That was about a month before the pandemic shutdown, which extended their “research stage” considerably. Aided by a like-minded group on Facebook, the pair spent time in stores with similar practices and met via monthly Zoom sessions with members of SCORE, a network of small business mentors. “They’re a crucial part of how we got here,” says Shihab-Eldin. “There’s so much knowledge we would otherwise havehad to learn about on the fly.”
Between them, they spent a lot of time considering what to call their endeavor. “We had both read The Overstory [a Pulitzer-winning novel about people who defend forests] and we found ‘understory’ correlated well,” Smith-Coleman says. “The understory layer [of a forest] has the most biodiversity of any of the layers and felt perfect. Our current consumer world is extractive. As humans we like to forage, we like to hunt, but how do we tap into it in a way that feels more interconnected and respectful?”
The name is set, but the co-owners were still not certain about the space; 44 Main has visibility and foot traffic but lacks street parking. They opted to sacrifice the parking and start small and re-evaluate in the spring.
Both women said they don’t want to come off as sermonizing. “The market is not saving the planet and individual choices won’t change things right away, but collectively people can shift, and that can have a small impact,” says Smith-Coleman. “The other piece is our shop is a welcoming place, not too boutique-y. We’ve been conscious about our pricing. It’s also fun, if you like jars the way we like jars!”
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