Hudson New York: Charm Re-Imagined

By ArianDavidPhotography

I paid for my hot cup of coffee and walked through the cafe car seating area.  I spotted 4 travelers happily playing Monopoly.  I asked them where they were from, getting an answer I didn’t expect.

“Turkey!  We work in Buffalo at the new Marriott Harbor Center.  We’re all interns over there.  We’re going to New York City.”

“Who’s winning?”  I asked.

Three players pointed to the 4th, a smirking young man in the back right corner.

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You never know who you’ll meet on Amtrak, which is a big reason why I love to ride.  When you travel by train, you get the feeling that you’re traveling, not just going somewhere.  I returned to my comfy seat and reclined.  The sun was just starting to rise over a snow-dusted Upstate New York landscape.

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After hours of relaxing and studying up on my upcoming day in Hudson New York, I made my way back to the cafe car.  There I found train conductor Robert Ploss.

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“I love my job.  I have a chance to meet people, I have a chance to travel.  This job gives you limitless opportunities.”

Robert continued.

“People have a chance to interact, maybe come back to the cafe car, they can get work done or play cards, or play a game.  You get people from all walks of life coming together and interacting.  It’s kind of like having a mini-Manhattan.  We’ve had Supreme Court Justices on board, the Vice President of the United States on board, Senators and Congressmen, as well as the average traveler for business of pleasure.  It’s a big melting pot and that’s what makes it fun.”

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Before I knew it, I stepped off the train in Hudson.  A quaint, beautiful old station happily greeted me.

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I hopped on my Dahon Folding bike and made my way up the hill toward my first stop, the Columbia County Tourism office.  On my way, I stumbled upon a nice little park.

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Curious, I made my way through the park and up the hill.  As I crested the hill, a spectacular view greeted me.  This was one of those views that just a camera just couldn’t do justice.  That didn’t stop me of course!

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The Hudson River was the centerpiece of the sprawling visual marvel with the Catskill Mountains dancing in the background, containing the scene, protecting all that was in front of me.  A little way south down the river was the Hudson Athens Lighthouse.

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“Parade Hill” was a beautiful first stop, even on this strikingly cold day.  But it was time to move on to Columbia County Tourism office.  As I biked through the neighborhoods to get there, I was honestly a little surprised by the classic signs of socioeconomic struggle. Only blocks away from the amazingly vibrant Warren Street which I had heard so much about, there were ghosts of buildings that betrayed the difficult past that every New York small city seemed to have in common.

Hudson is kind of an interesting place.  If you look at it on a map, the thing that strikes you is a series of parallel and perpendicular streets, like a mini New York City in the middle of meandering country roads that tickle the northern shores of the Hudson River.  But this city of under 7,000 people had a beautiful heart, one I would quickly find.  Keep reading, this gets good.

I stopped in to see the good people at the Columbia County Tourism office, who were more than happy to give me all the information I could ever want regarding Hudson.  Like true ambassadors, they showed me all the wonderful places I had to see.  I only wish I had the time to visit all of them!

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Before making my way to Warren Street, I wanted to unload some of my gear, so I made my way to The Country Squire bed and breakfast.  Once I stepped inside, I knew I was in a special place.

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Paul Barrett kindly greeted me, showed me around and told me a little bit about Hudson and the places that made it special.  He was perfectly accommodating, while respecting the fact that I had a lot to do in a short period of time… a host at their best!

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With a little less gear and a lot of enthusiasm, I made my way to the northwest end of Warren Street.  I was told that this street alone was a very common destination for New York City residents… more than a mile of shops, restaurants, galleries and more, all comfortably walkable, and less than a mile from the Amtrak station.  My first stop was Kasuri, where I met Jonathan.

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“Kasuri is a luxury fashion boutique. We have a sort of focus on Japanese labels, with a handful of American and European designers as well.

Hudson has become a destination for not just New Yorkers, but people from around the wold. This kind of unique collection of people,people from here and who have ended up here is what drives Hudson. There are so many communities that make up the larger community: different ethnic groups, classes, generations…all colliding. Like everywhere it is complicated…One thing that has drawn people here is the architecture, the architecture is important… in the 80’s antique dealers settled here, but in the last few years things have reached a new critical mass. The proximity to the city is key… It’s become a place where decorators, collectors, artists, shoppers, farmers… gay and straight, black, white and brown, young and old can come and connect. Hudson is a beautiful, small city that has a tremendous amount of creative energy.”

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I thanked Jonathan and his staff for their time, snapped a couple pictures of the marvelously unique store and continued my walk.

I headed down the street a little way and stepped into Dish, a small but beautiful little store with all sorts of gifts from pottery to dishtowels and more.

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The owner Peg was burning a fragrant piece of wood, almost like incense but thicker.

“That’s my newest thing, it’s called palo santo.  It was used a long time ago to promote wellness and get rid of evil spirits, but it just has such a nice calming smell.”

And it wasn’t just the scent… the whole shop was decorated perfectly with a calming, eclectic essence.  Peg’s spirit, cadence and mindset matched this earthy feel.

“I started this store almost two years ago.  I never had a store before.  I’m a graphic designer and I decided to leave Brooklyn and do something different.  One of my biggest clients I had been working with for years went away.  First I thought ‘that’s too bad’ but then I realized I wanted to focus on the store anyway.”

Peg stopped briefly to pick up her friendly cat.

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“So many people have moved to Hudson that there’s really a need for a place to buy gifts.  And there are things in here anyone can afford… this plate is beautiful and it’s $60, but this one over here is very nice and it’s $7.50.  Not everyone that comes in here is going to have a lot of money to spend so it’s important that we have pieces everyone can purchase.”

I asked Peg what motivated her to move to Hudson from Brooklyn, a pattern I would become accustomed to hearing throughout the day.

“It was my husband.  We lived in this beautiful building… it was hard to even think of leaving.  It was almost like a loft, with big beautiful windows.  We had a view of the Statue of Liberty… it was great.  But one day my husband said ‘Peg, are we gonna look at these same buildings for the rest of our lives?’  So he really convinced me to do something different, coupled with the fact that he finally wanted his own studio, he’s a painter.  So when we bought this building, we did a gut renovation top to bottom with the shop in the front and his studio in the back.”

Peg continued.  Her story really set the tone for what I saw the rest of the day.

“When we first started thinking about leaving Brooklyn, we spent an entire day in Rhinebeck, an entire day in Kingston, and after visiting  all these towns we would go back to our weekend house in Ghent and would have to go through Hudson to do so.  Eventually, I finally said ‘why aren’t we thinking about Hudson?’ And that’s how we ended up here… we couldn’t be happier about it.”

I wandered across the street to Fred E. Trout.  I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I entered…

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A bizarrely random and ultimately intriguing array of antiques and “as-is” pieces covered the store.  The best way to describe it was an antique store blended with a famous artist’s garage sale.  I loved it right away.

Whitney was working with some planks of wood in the back of the store.  Her radiant blue eyes and gentile voice introduced her as a creative soul.

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“We’ve been here 16 years.  Our store is ‘as-found’ meaning we don’t restore anything, we sell it as-is.  We’re a flooring business as well, we sell reclaimed lumber.”

Whitney pointed to the pile of old wood to her left.

“We sell our lumber mainly in the Hamptons and Long Island.   We do everything here, it’s a great community and we love it.  It used to be very artsy… I guess it still is, but it used to be a very unique, funky, weird land of misfits… we ended up here because we didn’t quite belong anywhere else!  But that’s really evolved, now it’s more people from Brooklyn… Guys Stop!”

No, she wasn’t yelling at the Brooklyn transplants, she was yelling at her cats which were audibly growling and fighting in the background.  I snapped a picture of one of the sulking felines under one of the displays.

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Whitney continued.

“There’s a lot of investment money coming in here which is really changing the fabric of Warren Street.  They’re spending a lot of money on the buildings and wanting higher rent, so in essence the people that really got Hudson going and turned it into what it was are being pushed out financially, which is in a way sad but it’s evolving and it’s becoming a little fancier than it’s been.  People who come in seem to love that change and really I guess that’s what matters.  But it’s really changed, Hudson was great because you had the gritty side, the artsy side, locals, out of town people… it just all worked.  Now there’s a big push of big money coming, so it’s really changing.  But the positives are that people are spending money because there’s a lot great things here.  A wealthier group of people are coming here to shop, so that’s a benefit, and as a result we are meeting some really cool people!”

Whitney addressed something I’ve encountered many times on my small New York cities tour… the idea that communities are constantly changing, constantly in transition.  Dealing with that change and incorporating it into the fabric of the community is often a difficult thing, and something that everyone must weigh in on.  The gentrification of our small cities often displaces folks who made it special in the first place.  While the end result of this transitional journey can be a vibrant, exciting community (like Hudson is today!), we must not forget the people who took the first steps.  Whitney finished, addressing Hudson as a destination for upstate travelers.

“For people coming from upstate, Hudson is a lot more personal than New York City.  It’s a little closer too.  You have the city feel, but you also have nature preserves just a few miles away.”

I thanked Whitney for her generous time and continued down Warren Street.  The buildings along the way more than caught my eye, they cunningly tricked me into believing I was in a city larger than 7,000 people.

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Hudson has some wonderful small galleries, which added another element of diverse artistic exploration to the city.  As a visitor, it was nice to sample such a variety of retail experiences.  One shop had clothing, another had antiques, another was a fine art gallery… I never tired of opening doors because EVERY ONE was different.

I stepped into the Jeff Bailey Gallery.

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Jeff was kind enough to step away from his work to talk with me.

“This gallery has been open here for a year and a half.  I used to have a gallery in New York City but it’s great to be in Hudson because there are so many great restaurants, galleries, things to do… and it’s so close to everything.  It’s just a beautiful place.  Even in winter, you can come here and it’s still amazing.  The quality of experience here, on a smaller scale, say for a day trip… it’s one of the best examples of beautifully preserved architecture and stores, galleries and restaurants to match.”

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I decided to move off Warren Street to visit a location on the recommendation of some residents I had spoken to.  I headed southwest toward the Basilica.

Upon arriving, I didn’t know if what I was looking at was correct.  Everything about the exterior told the story of your average factory that went belly-up years ago, lying vacant in waiting.

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But a peek in the window told a different story.  A huge, open, industrial interior… a venue for anything from live music to weddings.  I could see the hanging lights from the ceiling, the chairs for seating… this was obviously a unique space for someone who was looking for an eccentric event location.  I knocked on the door but nobody was home.  Needless to say, I was disappointed… it looked like a neat place to explore.

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I made my way back to Warren Street in need of a warm-up.  It was cold that day, maybe 20 degrees.  Traveling by bike is a freeing experience, putting you at street level without worrying about a parking space, but it can be a bit of a deep freeze!  Luckily, I found the perfect place to warm up.

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Verdigris was a delicious cafe and tea shop… the perfect place to stop and relax after a few hours of walking and shopping.  Countless tea varieties and accessories, coffee, hot cocoa, chocolates and candy, not to mention a friendly staff.

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I had a tasty, soothing cup of tea, accompanied by a little hourglass timer that told me when to take the teabag out.  I thought it was a fun touch, making the experience a little more real.

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At the table next to me, a couple was visiting Hudson in celebration of their anniversary.

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“We just wanted to get out of the city for a little while and mix it up… it’s so easy to get here, it’s just about 2 hours on Amtrak.  You don’t have to fly, you don’t have to drive, you’re not renting a car… we liked it so much last year when we came that we decided to make it a tradition!”

The store owner Kim Bach (not pictured) was also kind enough to speak with me.

“I love Warren Street, I love the historic district, so it seemed like a good place to put my tea shop.  I like to think we are the place in this town where you can sit down, have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee and write the next Great American Novel, or just watch the cars go by.  You can come come in, spend five dollars and an afternoon here.”

With my body warmed and my spirits soaring in this little city I was slowly falling for, I exited Verdigris and continued down Warren.  More historic buildings begged for a snap of my camera as if boasting of their rebirth into relevance.

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Refocusing, I spotted an open gallery.  After walking in the door and up to the second floor, I stepped into a room brimming with true artistic inspiration.  This was FRG Objects and Design.

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Rick greeted me as I walked into this creative paradise.

“I’m all about furniture, objects and lighting… we’re having a group show right now.  These are my five artists, the people that I represent all the time.

People that come here from New York City and from everywhere are looking to slow down for the day or the weekend.  First they come for the Hudson Valley and then they discover what we have here.  Hudson seems to charm people.  The more it comes together here, the more it attracts people here.  It’s one of the most hip small cities in America.  You can come here and spend a weekend, but so many people like myself end up moving here because they love it.  I can’t imagine getting a space like this in Brooklyn, what would that even cost?  It’s beautiful here, I love it.”

Rick raised a subtle but important topic.  Often artists, retailers, even restaurant and bar owners leave large cities in search of a community where they can afford their creative visions.  Over and over again during my day, I heard the story of New York City transplants realizing their artistic and entrepreneurial dreams in the small, approachable city of Hudson.

I moved on to another retailer, a jewelry maker by the name of Geoffrey Good.  Geoffrey and his assistant Allison were delightful to talk to… both seemed to appreciate the intricacies of their city…

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“My style is unique because I come at it from a very high-end jewelry background in The City, and I’m German-trained.  I’m not making things as expensive as I was when I was working on Madison Avenue, but I’m having a lot more fun!  I made a conscious decision to leave that world and lean toward this world, and my business just sort of exploded up here.”

Geoffrey continued.

“Coming up here [from New York City] is a fantasy.  People come here, you see the stars in their eyes because it’s very charming.  There’s this deceptive sophistication here that, when you spend a day or a weekend , makes you realize that the energy is different.  There’s not one single thing that draws people here, and it’s easier for creative people like us to be here than in the city.  Hudson is the perfect storm in many ways because it has a close proximity to the city, but you have this great lifestyle too.  I live on top of a mountain, I have a giant tractor, but I’m right around the corner from New York City… it’s pretty great.

And you have Amtrak.  It’s a straight shot into the city by train.  I hate driving, I hate the stress of driving in the city.  Amtrak gives you a chance to sit back, enjoy the scenery, it gives me time to think, time to plan, time to research… time that I wouldn’t otherwise carve out for myself, all while getting to where I need to be.”

I spoke with Geoffrey and Allison for some time, just talking about life, business and even politics.  They were delightful, intelligent, approachable people with a hunger for creativity and a friendly demeanor.  It was as if Hudson had become a place for those who could seamlessly blend creative talent and artistic appreciation with an extremely personable vibe.  As much as I loved the shops I was visiting, I loved the conversations I was having even more.

The same was true when I walked through Lili & Loo, a wonderful store featuring everything from gifts to jewelry.  Almost everything was VERY reasonably priced too!  I spoke to the owner.

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“Every business here in Hudson is owned by an individual.  It had it’s revival in the 80s, because all the buildings  were intact and unscathed by urban renewal, at least on Warren Street anyway.  The antique people were here first, they kind of put Hudson back on the map.  For a while it was a tough town… great people of course, but there really wasn’t much here.  In the last three years people really started coming here and discovering.  We have Amtrak here, which really helps bring people in from New York and all over.”

OK I loved Lili & Loo.  I walked out with great gifts for my girlfriend and I didn’t break the bank.  The store was beautiful… very nice displays.

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I took a brief tour through Hudson Supermarket as well.  The antique store’s name betrayed the former incarnation, as did the vast open space containing thousands of unique items for any “pre-enjoyed” enthusiast.  To fully appreciate the furniture and merchandise in this store, you really had to dismiss any concept you may have ever had about antiques.  Admittedly, I am not an antique person… but I wanted to buy so many items in this store.  Whether you are a treasure seeker or just like interesting and funky pieces, this is a must-visit.

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Virtually next door, I popped into Source Adage NYC, a high-end fragrance shop.  A dark, masculine atmosphere with a blend of modern style and classic accents, this shop smelled amazing as soon as I walked in the door.  One of the owners came out from the back to greet me.

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“Hudson almost feels like a the 6th borough because there is easy access to the city.  It’s an easy day trip for people from New York, they can just take Amtrak… and people come from anywhere too.  They can come out in the morning and go back at night, or stay overnight at the B&B, and they get all the great shopping experience of New York in a short trip.”

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From the Source Adage, I moved across the street to a place that I quickly discovered was truly special, the Hudson Opera House.  General Manager Sage Carter greeted me as I walked in the door.

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“This is where we do our performances, we have a conference tomorrow here on climate change, we have trios, piano concerts… we do hundreds of program in this building each year.  A lot of them are ‘drop-in’ events, so people spending the weekend here can just come in and enjoy.  And for the residents, this place is critical.  We are always involved in community conversations, and then on the weekends we cater a little more to tourists, which is important too.  The whole city does a lot of both!”

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Sage took me upstairs.  I audibly gasped as I walked into the historic space.  Peeling paint and years of neglect only added to the magnificence, the almost mystical feel.  The sun poured through the tall windows, splashing onto the worn but still reflective wood floor.

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“When it was built, City Hall was on the ground floor but upstairs was always a community center.  We are doing a full historic preservation, revitalizing it.  This is all happening very soon!  What we have here in this space is really, really special.  When we finish, we will be able to host a wide variety of events.  This used to be a place where the community would gather… Teddy Roosevelt was here, Susan B. Anthony was here.  It will be that place once again, a place where people from the community and from everywhere can gather for events and high quality performances.”

Floating around the Opera House was Program Assistant Louise Smith, an extremely friendly and articulate young woman.

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“I went to Bard College, so I really fell in love with the area.  Working here just seemed like the perfect opportunity to see and do a lot of different things.  Hudson is full of the arts for people of all different ages.  There are so many older artists that are very willing and accepting of the younger generation which is really nice.

I live with two of my friends who are also artists and I live near three other friends who are also artists.  Surrounding yourself with other artistic people is the only way to question your work, to get good feedback, as well as explore other options, get inspired and not get so stuck in your ways.  One person’s creativity feeds another, which is kind of what makes Hudson great!”

Looking at my watch, it was now past 5pm.  This is the time when most galleries and shops close, which meant it was now time to focus on restaurants, bars and nightlife… which, like everything else cool, Hudson had in abundance!

My first stop was one I had been looking forward to all day… The Spotty Dog, a bar bookstore.  That’s right, it’s a bookstore with a bar in it.  To all of you who are reading this saying “why didn’t I think of this first?” I’m right there with you.

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Russel Jones, a jewelry designer was sitting at the bar next to me.

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“I had a lot of friends here that encouraged me to live here.  I was losing my studio in Brooklyn, someone bought it and was turning it into shared desk space for startups, which is great, there’s a need for that, but it wasn’t studio space which is what I needed.  I started my search, and that’s how I found my way here.  I’d always known about it but I realized in being here it was actually really great.  People work hard here, they all quit their crazy New York City jobs to start businesses here, where you can have a crazy idea and make it work.”

Russel had mentioned losing his studio space in Brooklyn, but didn’t seem upset about it.  It made me think about how many people I had spoken to throughout the day who had actually been adversely affected in some way by gentrification, higher living costs and exploding populations.  Almost none of them seemed bitter or angry about it.  Everyone seemed to accept it as natural progress, even if it meant that life might be a little more difficult for them.  It was a refreshingly “big-picture” view of progress, something I very much appreciated.  There was no “us against them,” it was simply an acceptance that things change and they had to change with it.

After finishing my beer at The Spotty Dog, I backtracked to Swoon, a gorgeous restaurant with a gloriously delicious menu and tremendous people.  I started with dollar oysters, a Friday night special until 6pm!

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I had a delightful conversation with members of the staff…

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Had a steak that was juicy and just about melted when it hit my mouth.  Best part of my job 😉

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Of course I had a cocktail… or two.

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Met some new friends at the bar.

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And spoke with the owner.

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“In the last 5 years Hudson really rebounded from the depression and now there’s a very diverse set of high end, independently-owned businesses with a lot of thought behind them.  It’s a really great place for people to visit right now.”

I was talking with the bartender and finishing up my meal.  We were speaking about the Basilica, the event hall I had visited that morning but couldn’t get inside.  The bartender glanced up at the front door…

“Actually, here comes the owner now.  By the way, she was the bass guitarist for Hole and  Smashing Pumpkins.”

I turned to see Melissa Auf der Maur, former member of two of my favorite bands.  She was coming in for dinner with her family.  The Swoon staff kindly introduced us.  Within thirty seconds of talking, Melissa asked me when I was leaving.  I told her early in the morning.

“Are you going to be here for a while?  I will write down the instructions to get into The Basilica so you can see it in the morning before you go,” she said.

I couldn’t believe her trusting spirit… she knew me for less than a minute and was giving me unrestricted access to her place of business.

Normally I take a picture of the people I speak to, but Melissa was there with her family for a nice dinner and was kind enough to give me the information, so I wanted to respect her time and privacy so I didn’t snap a photo.

I thanked the wonderful people at Swoon and moved on to the Red Dot.

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The dark and funky interior challenged my camera’s ability to capture light, but it made for a pretty cool ambiance.  I spoke with Cassandra, who was more than happy to pose for a photo… her own way 😉

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“I grew up here, but I’ve lived in Miami Beach, Key West… It was nice to come back here, it’s great to be able to make a living here, buy a house… it’s amazing.  It’s easier to get to than the Hamptons, less expensive, we have the mountains… so much.  We’re a two hour Amtrak ride to the city, it’s so convenient.  That’s key, it’s easy access to anywhere from here, and it’s easy for anyone to come to us.”

I finished off the night at ör Gallery and Tavern, an old service station turned nightlife spot.

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After a beer and some conversation with the locals, it was time to call it a night.  I headed back to the comfy confines of the Country Squire B & B where I laid down for a much needed rest.

The next morning I woke bright and early, gathered my gear and headed downstairs where a simple but plentiful breakfast waited for me.

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Paul had everything, from coffee to orange juice, oatmeal, fruit, yogurt… all prepared and laid out with an incredible attention to detail only a true host could execute.  He sat down and had breakfast with me.

“Hudson is a two square mile city, everything outside of this is country.  What makes living here so nice is we’re a city but we may very well be a town or a village.  There is a closeness and a sense of intimacy here, and it’s felt by people in the community and the many people who visit.  You can be as involved or invisible as you would like to be.  There is a whole arts energy that pervades everything, which is what makes living here so special.  We even have the culinary arts now, we are a fine dining destination in New York.  It’s all this creativity, this free and fun thinking that really brings life to the city here.

I am starting my 12th season here on Valentine’s Day.   The October before I opened I was in the process of renovating, and it was October…  one of the workers said ‘there’s someone here.’  There was a couple at the door that said they wanted to stay here that night.  I told them I wasn’t open, but the woman said ‘but we want to stay here tonight!’  I explained to them that there was so much that wasn’t done, plumbing and such, so I really wasn’t open.  So she said ‘we’re coming back on Valentine’s Day’ so that was my impetus to open!  I realized that with all the renovations, I needed a deadline, everything was open ended!  So Valentine’s Day 2005 was going to be my opening weekend.  That’s how I got started.”

Paul was just the most wonderful host.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.  In fact, I will be staying at the Country Squire when I visit again with my girlfriend in March!

Before hopping Amtrak home, I biked down to the Basilica for a look.  Using the code Melissa gave me the previous evening, I made my way inside the old factory and began snapping photos of the intriguing industrial venue.

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What an amazingly unique space for live music, events, and even weddings!  The potential was limitless.  For anyone who wanted to combine an elegant experience with an industrial setting, this was the place.  I felt honored to be there, honored to have the opportunity to be standing in the middle of that space.  And I almost didn’t get to see it.

But that was Hudson… it was a place with a million little surprises.  It seamlessly blended the charm of an intimate community with the high end touch of a big city neighborhood.  The people I met, the places I stumbled upon, and the food, oh the food!  Hudson was most certainly a destination, but it was also a home.  It was a haven for people looking for a vibrant community with a laid back feel.  It was a place where so many creative souls united, doing their part to maintain and grow an oasis of arts and culture for visitors near and far.  It was a place where an adventure was only steps away, all the time.  Whatever your love, whatever your taste, your passion, your palate, Hudson’s re-imagined charm has something in store for you.