Uptown Kingston ‘on the edge of a big renewal’
KINGSTON >> Uptown, the consensus goes, is on the upswing.
Kingston’s historic Stockade District is bustling with activity by small technology firms, eclectic retailers, mainstay businesses, an amped-up music scene and events that draw thousands of people.
Kevin Quilty, a longtime member of the Kingston Uptown Business Association (KUBA), said there’s no question the Uptown business district is fast becoming a hot spot.
“I think that, right now, we are on the edge of a big renewal in Uptown,’ Quilty said. “All the pieces are in place right now. ... We are in a very good place.”
Gone is the past incessant talk about Uptown being a ghost town that shoppers abandoned to go to the big-box stores and the malls in the town of Ulster, Quilty said.
“I don’t think there are any available spaces,” Quilty said of Uptown’s storefront occupation.
At the same time, the town of Ulster business district is suffering, having lost large J.C. Penney, Office Depot and Sport Authority stores in the past year and losing Macy’s in the coming months.
Quilty said there is a youthful revival that has spawned widespread interest in Uptown Kingston, and not just as a shopping area.
“I see unfamiliar faces on the streets, mostly they are younger, men and women, all communicating with each other,” he said.
Former Mayor Shayne Gallo, who led the city from the start of 2012 until the end of 2015, said the Uptown buzz is palpable.
“People come and see Uptown and think that this would be a good place to work, live and play,” Gallo said.
He noted, in particular, the annual New Year’s Eve celebration on Wall Street, which the organizers say is attended by a crowd in the thousands.
The O+ and Chronogram festivals also have been huge draws, while the summertime Kingston Farmers Market on one block of Wall Street draws crowds every Saturday.
Uptown also is getting buzz and a boost from a plan by three young entrepreneurs to bring a food emporium called the Kingston Food Exchange to the former F.W. Woolworth store on Wall Street.
Zach Lewis, Bradford Beckerman and Ben Giardullo are planning a $6 million undertaking to create the healthy food emporium in the long-vacant storefront.
The three men formed a company called BBG Ventures, while a company called 311 Partners, owned by Lewis’ father, Hugh, purchased the 35,000-square-foot Wall Street space for $475,000 at a bankruptcy sale.
The partners say they will turn the former five-and-dime store into a center for healthy food, complete with a 9,000-square-foot organic grocery and a small café, both on the main floor. The grocery store and cafe will have their own names. There also will be 9,000 square feet set aside on the main floor in which up to 12 vendors will be able to operate.
The basement is to have commercial kitchen facilities for rent and an area for on-site fresh cooking. There will also be a community space for food and cooking education, among other things.
Giardullo said the choice of Uptown Kingston had a lot to do with the vibrancy of the area.
“I think that Hudson River towns are seeing a rapid revitalization,’ he said. “I think a lot of young people who are like-minded progressive people are looking for better options than the higher rents in New York City.”
Giardullo said Kingston, including Uptown, is a walkable city with a number of features that lure investors and people who just want to live here.
“It is the overall lifestyle,” he said. “I think a number of people are looking for a better balance between work and access to nature. ... I think Kingston is really starting to pick up on these efforts and these demographics, and it’s happening all over Kingston, not just Uptown.”
Among other changes Uptown, the popular boutique Bop to Tottom moved in October from one storefront on Wall Street to another, giving itself more space. And the John Street restaurant Duo, around the corner from the old Bop to Tottom location, announced it would expand into the vacant space.
Tom Hoffay, the Uptown area’s former alderman and a lifelong Kingston resident, credited a burgeoning music and technology scene with aiding the Uptown revival.
“It is all centered around the music business and the computer business in Uptown,” Hoffay said, adding that reasonable rents in the area help attract millennials.
“If people can live or room over some of the venues, I think that is an attraction,” he said, citing BSP (Backstage Studio Productions) on Wall Street as one of the draws.
Hoffay also noted Pugsly’s Barbershop, a new Apple computer store, Vapology, the Exit 19 furniture store and Outdated, a stored billed as an “antiques café” where almost everything is for sale.
Aaron Sheldon of Highland, a partner in Vapology, said he and his associates were so impressed with Uptown that they signed a lease the same day they looked at the 39 North Front St. locations a few months ago.
The store offers accessories and other products relating to electronic cigarettes.
“We have a shop in Poughkeepsie and we were looking to expand,” Sheldon said. “We saw the [Uptown Kingston] space, and it is just such a beautiful building.”
He said the business is “doing well.”
KUBA President Jane Garity also is bullish on the Uptown area.
“I understand there’s nothing left for sale on Wall, Fair or John streets,” she said. “Everybody at KUBA is working together, and there’s lot’s of harmony. ...
“People are looking at us as a viable alternative to living in the city,” Garity said, referring to New York. “You have great access to the city, but you don’t have to be sitting in Manhattan every day.”
Staff writer Brian Hubert contributed to this report.
GETTING TO KNOW: BENJAMIN GIARDULLO
• Co-founder/CEO of BBG Ventures LLC, company establishing Kingston Food Exchange in former Woolworth store on Wall Street in Uptown Kingston.
• Sole proprietor of Hudson Valley Market LLC business development and food systems consulting.
• Independent sales at Hudson Valley Harvest LLC, Kingston-based distributor for 50 farms in Hudson Valley.
• Board of Directors chairman at Common Ground Farm, a Beacon-based non-profit farm focused on food access, food justice and food education programs.
• Lives in Beacon; co-founder/co-coordinator of Beacon Food Cooperative.
• Grew up in Rosendale, graduated from Rondout Valley High School and University of New Hampshire (bachelor’s degree in mathematics).
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