Building Community Together

Map of Dutchess CountyEach season as I sit down to write our newsletter cover, I reflect on what’s happening at Hammertown and in our region, the Hudson Valley and Berkshires. I follow my stream of consciousness from one topic to another, looking for a theme that connects to Hammertown, entices and entertains our readers, and reflects our hopes and dreams for our community. After a long and quiet mid-winter, I’m very excited that spring has finally arrived. It is an especially inspiring time of year and my thoughts center around hometown events and activities as our communities celebrate the arrival of warm weather and the colorful blossoms that mark the return of spring. For me, Memorial Day signals the beginning of summer and always brings back fond memories of town parades, picnics and other family and community gatherings. Though the holiday was created to honor fallen soldiers, it also offers an opportunity for each of us to celebrate the unique character of our hometowns and brings us a sense of community. We pay tribute to those who have struggled and fought for what we hold dear by rejoicing in our homes, our families, our hometowns and each other.

As a business owner in a small rural community, Memorial Day also signals the beginning of a more vibrant economic season as the semi-hibernation of winter ends, and people are excited to make the most of this beautiful area. Community spirit and local support make our hometowns special, and it is never more apparent than this time of year. The people who live in the Hudson Valley and Berkshires really love where they live and love sharing it with others. Of course, I am no different. Whenever I have friends come visit from other parts of the country or world, I insist we spend some time traveling the countryside, hopping from town to town, sampling the wonderful restaurants, stores, farms and outdoor pleasures that abound.

A recent visit from my brother and his wife found us going the distance in this regard. We started our local journey in Garrison, NY where my daughter lives, and where my brother arrived on the train from New York City. After a wonderful dinner at Le Bouchon (a lovely French Bistro on the Main Street in nearby Cold Spring) we headed up river. Their short visit was chock full of local fun and fare…breakfast at the Farmer’s Wife in my hometown of Ancramdale, shopping in the many wonderful stores of Rhinebeck, lunch at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington (an incredible music venue by the way), afternoon tea at Harney’s Tea Room in Millerton (and a quick hello to Mimi in Parlour next door), and, of course, plenty of time spent enjoying Hammertown in Rhinebeck, Pine Plains and Great Barrington. On the way to the train, we visited the almost-finished Club Helsinki on the Hudson. This incredible venue will carry the same energy and quality music as its namesake in Great Barrington, but on a much grander scale. Look for it this summer…though I imagine it will be hard to miss.

As we traveled from town to town, my brother and his wife could not stop remarking on how wonderful and unique the shops and restaurants were. Coming from an area of Florida that is lacking in this regard, they were struck as much by the landscape as they were by the authenticity of each business and business owner they met (me included, I’m happy to say). It’s a feeling I share. It is truly gratifying to feel such an intimate connection with this part of the world — this place I call home — and to be able to share it with my loved ones. As my brother and his wife boarded the train and rolled away, I spent some time thinking about what he had said — What exactly does make our towns so special and how do we hold on to what we care most about in the face of a changing world?On any given morning in my own town of Ancramdale, you can see tables of locals and weekenders talking and sharing stories at the Farmer’s Wife. As with other towns, people are concerned about taxes, growth, being able to stay in their homes with the high cost of living around here, keeping their jobs or their businesses growing, and questioning how do small towns survive being small. Just recently, in Ancram, the town’s comprehensive planning committee sent a survey to all Ancram residents…locals and weekenders – asking them what they thought was most important to the growth and future of their town. The top 3 characteristics locals and weekenders thought were most important? Maintaining the area’s rural character by supporting agriculture; protecting the environment; and, developing new small businesses to bring valued services and good jobs for residents. The Pine Plains Comprehensive Plan finalized in 2004 says much of the same thing and I hear these sentiments all of the time from my friends and customers.

Over the past year, we’ve been developing an idea here at Hammertown. The idea is that small businesses and communities such as ours need to work together to stand up against the “big box” model of consumption and their race to the bottom – not just in price, but in quality, authenticity, wages and community support. Last fall, we launched our Lifestyle Guide and the Hammertown Blog on our website. We see these efforts as a way to promote not simply Hammertown, but other unique businesses and communities in the region we care so much about. We’re quite pleased with the results. The Guide remains a useful reference for visitors and residents alike (truth be told, I often find myself flipping through it for phone numbers) and the Blog has become a great way for us to communicate with our customers on a regular basis.

During times of economic uncertainty such as these, it is so important for local businesses and customers alike to be thinking (and shopping) outside of the box. For Hammertown to remain a vibrant, thriving business, I’m constantly seeking ways to bring something new to the work we do. I see it as my responsibility to bring my vision and fresh ideas to my work and share them with my community. It’s led me to the best customers, the most loyal and talented employees, and a most wonderful place to go to work each day. In thinking about what values we share as community members, perhaps it’s not so strange to think that in working together, our sustenance, growth, and our collective vision can be achieved.
As I drove home from the train station, I was able to look out at our familiar landscape with spring eyes – a renewed, rejuvenated, hopeful set of eyes that see all there is to see rather than what is missing.