The Catskills and Brooklyn… It’s hard to keep a secret

There’s a fascinating story in the current Phoenicia Times/Olive Press on the growing connection between Brooklyn and the Phoenicia area. Paul Smart’s article centers around the new (to the Catskills) furniture store (or “butik”) and café, Scandinavian Grace, on Route 28 in Shokan. It was opened by Catskills weekenders James Anthony and Fredrik Larsson last year, as a country outpost to their original store of the same name in Williamsburg, and their café on President Street in Park Slope… almost exactly at the point that the economy crashed.

Anthony admits that they panicked. “We had expanded 300 per cent right when the recession started,” he says, and sure enough, “Everything fell by 75% on November 1, then remained down in the City through the holidays.” The decline in business was such that they shuttered the Park Slope café and reduced the Williamsburg store to their original size.

And yet the Catskills store appears to be thriving. “It turns out that it was this store that grew consistently, allowing us to stay alive in the city while all our competitors ended up having to close down.”

Why? Well, it appears that weekenders who are terrified of spending their money in the City might loosen up with it once they get out to the country. But it’s also apparent, at least to Anthony and Larsson, that there’s a particular type of person spending their time up here. “Here” is qualified in the newspaper as Mount Tremper, Phoenicia and all points west “up to Andes, Bovina and Delhi.” And “time” is clarified as applying not just to weekenders but also to an increasing number of residents making the permanent move from the City. In particular, Anthony and Larsson, who now spend six days a week in the region, have seen a steady influx of full-time people they know (or who know their stores) from Brooklyn.

“There’s this connection between the two places that’s young. What we see coming through, and buying here, are jewelers and designers, musicians and filmmakers, all people who have found ways of utilizing the new technologies to attempt living simpler lives.” Anthony even goes so far as to say, “Stop in Sweet Sue’s on a Saturday and it’s like the West Village, or Bedford.” (Presumably he means Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.) Before this quote serves as the kiss of death, let me just note that if you stop into Sweet Sue’s midweek, it feels more like Phoenicia – which is how I like it. But still, Anthony can’t help adding, “The way we talk about the Catskills, I’m finding, is the way everyone was talking about Williamsburg ten years ago.”

Astute readers onto their second cup of coffee may have noticed the absence of a particularly famous Catskills village in this conversation. It might be because the village in question is further east along Route 28 and therefore, weekenders (and full-timers) alike have less opportunity to drive past Scandinavian Grace and discover the store for themselves. It may also be that the village in question is so well self-contained, so famous and so overloaded with tourists that the “edge,” to rely on something of a cliché, is naturally pushing further west, into the villages and mountaintops off of that Route 28 “corridor.” Either way, Anthony’s last quote in the local papers’ story is revealing:

“Now, if we can only reach out to Woodstock.”

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October 2021