America On The Hudson

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Bang! Explosion. The thing ballooned, and today 65 places attract customers from all over the world. Designers and decorators come from England, Brazil, Japan, Australia. Both Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey were seen in town last summer.

 

IN THE WAKE OF THE ANTIQUES SELLERS came art galleries, a chichi women’s clothing place, vegetarian and organic food shops, and real estate firms negotiating purchases at constantly rising prices. (At a recent Common Council meeting a man remarked that a house on Fifth Street had been sold for $500,000 and “for $500,000 you could have bought all of Fifth Street not so long ago, and been thought crazy for doing it.” Five snazzy restaurants opened last summer, some asking New York City prices and getting them—at least on weekends. During the week business is slow, for the Friday-to-Sunday people making the Hudson Valley an alternative to the Hamptons are back in the city talking about the places they’re fixing up or about the gloriously lush Columbia County countryside.

And so we find a new societal fabric being woven as the old-time Hudsonians stand around gaping at the new people with their jazz recitals, readings, concerts, puppet shows and art shows and drag shows—for not a small number of them are gay. Local craftspeople may gain employment making Warren Street just beautiful, “a living movie set,” as Bill Fallon, editor of the Register-Star , puts it, and the sidewalks are jammed with mechanical devices lifting painters to work on facades. But the locals don’t fit in. It’s not as if the stores resemble the Gap or Old Navy, where anyone can do the selling. A few men are employed by specialized freight companies carefully shipping out antiques, and a place may give a couple of kids a few hours’ work moving heavy pieces around the display floor, but otherwise, there’s very little for the people born in the Columbia Memorial Hospital. And the drudge work there, mopping the floors and making the beds and emptying bedpans, is now the province of the immigrants. So the locals get excited about the rumor that the great cement plant that gave their people employment for generations before shutting down in the seventies may reopen, even as the new people, fearing limestone dust and roaring trucks, put up signs denouncing the idea.

What has this compact little place not seen? Henry Hudson and the Mohicans, the Dutch, the English, the Proprietors, the Calico Indians, the women on the Block, prosperity, decline, prosperity, the new people of flair and artistry (and, in local eyes, outrageous attire and strange tone of speech and attitude), the man-is-wait-for-bus immigrants, The New York Times calling Hudson a “nirvana” for antiquers. What a sweep of disparate scenes. My God, this place is America.

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