on the News
The blaze and its aftermath forced the closing of State Route 28
between the 212 turnoff in Mt. Tremper and the 214 turn off in Phoenicia
for over eight hours, with all traffic diverted along Old Route 28,
otherwise known as Old Plank Road, and Main Street, Phoenicia.
A second detour has been necessary since the Bridge Street Bridge
in Phoenicia was closed due to damage sustained in the April 2 and
3 “Cutoff Storm” flooding.
According to Michael Shew, the Emerson Inn’s night manager,
alarms in the building went off sometime after 5:00 AM Monday. He
ran to the kitchen but was unable to enter because of the intense
smoke and flame, called 911, and got the four couples staying as guests
for the night safely out of the building. Shew said that sprinkler
systems on the second and third floors “were working”
properly, but that the fire appeared to quickly overwhelm them.
Phoenicia’s three fire companies responded to the blaze, along
with those from Big Indian, Pine Hill, Olive companies #2 and 5, and
Ulster Hose Company #5 with its large ladder truck. The building was
substantially engulfed by the time the first firefighters arrived
after getting the call at 5:18 AM. According to Todd Carr of the Phoenicia
Fire District, four alarms went out through the course of the morning,
the latter two involving back up fire companies to fill in for those
fighting the fire.
“The fire took over four hours to bring under control, and another
8 before all the hot-spots could be extinguished,” Carr wrote
in a press release late Monday. “Route 28 was closed for the
duration. The building is considered a total loss and is under investigation.
Over 100 firefighters from six districts were on scene with no major
According to the County’s chief fire investigator John Russell,
the blaze appeared to have started on the south side of the building
in the kitchen area, which is where the county’s investigation
over the coming days will begin.
A team of at least half a dozen red-coated fire inspectors at the
fire site on Monday poured over materials from outside the kitchens,
where they surmised the blaze started in or nearby several outdoor
“Every system we had in place functioned correctly,” said
Wright. “Investigators will tell us what’s happened. I
have no theory.”
The 4-star Emerson Inn, completed in 2000 on the site of the original
1874 Cockburn House Inn, was widely recognized as the Catskill region’s
premier luxury lodging establishment. In addition to other recent
honors, just this past Sunday it was designated by Mobil Travel Guide
as one of the state’s 3 leading hotel-spas, along with The Four
Seasons and Peninsula hotels in NYC. According to Wright, 52 people
were employed there.
The Inn had 23 rooms including 3 suites; a full bar and restaurant
and a wine cellar holding over 5,000 prime bottles that earned accolades
from several leading wine magazines in recent years. Recent work on
the inn included the creation of a number of berms with natural vegetation
to hide nearby Route 28.
The neighboring Emerson Spa was unaffected by the blaze, and was expected
to be back up and running as soon as water use was resumed at the
Also unaffected, oddly, were a number of paintings and works on paper
by local artists that were being shown on consignment from Elena Zang
Gallery of Woodstock.
“It’s a miracle,” said Zang of the art, which had
a slight smoky smell but no water damage whatsoever, even though they
were on the walls in the main reception areas of the inn. Zang said
that most of the furniture from the showcase front of the inn was
also completely undamaged in the fire.
“The extent of the Inn’s damage is being evaluated. However,
company officials believe enough has been destroyed to eventually
merit the full demolition of the structure and a complete rebuilding,
which will commence as soon as access is granted by fire officials,”
noted Emerson Place’s new PR Director, Paul Rakov.
“It’s 9-11 for us. It’s a tragedy. But, we will
rebuild quickly,” said Wright, who originally estimated the
loss at “about $20 million.”
In a subsequent press release, which then quoted the loss at $7 million,
Wright spoke of how the fire “is a heartbreaking day for our
entire Emerson Place family.”
Dean Gitter, the local developer who came up with the idea for the
Emerson as a companion to his other Emerson Place holdings across
Route 28 (formerly known as Catskill Corners) was in New Jersey at
the time of the fire and returned to look over the damage Monday afternoon.
Gitter, who is currently awaiting a legal decision from a state Department
of Environmental Conservation judge as to what elements of his massive
Belleayre Resort proposal may require adjudication over the coming
months, faced another destructive fire while in the middle of extensive
renovations of the former Mt. Pleasant Lodge across the road, in 1999.
At the time the structure that was to become the Lodge suffered a
fire in an octagon-shaped tower that investigators determined to be
“of suspicious origin.” No suspects were found and no
arrests were made
Much of the development now known collectively as Emerson Place was
funded with help, via tax benefits and loans, from the Ulster County
Development Corporation, which recently sent a letter to the governor
asking for his support of Gitter’s Belleayre Resort project.
“It pains me that we may not be able to take care of our whole
staff,” Gitter said after releasing news that the company would
try retraining some of the Inn staff for other jobs within the Emerson
Place complex of stores, restaurants, giant kaleidoscope and lodge.
“Every person that works here has played a part in the success
we have had. I simply do not know at this time what our plan will
be, but we are going to do everything we can to keep the team together.
They will always be part of the family.”
A number of former Emerson Place employees called the Phoenicia Times
from around the country Monday night and Tuesday morning, asking for
news of the fire, and wondering why the state-of-the-art fire containment
systems put into place in recent years had not proved more effective.
Bigger Really Better?
At a crowded public
hearing at the Phoenicia School Monday night, each and every one of
the 17 speakers spoke in favor of the need for cellular communications
in Shandaken, including many often portrayed as opponents to it. And
while the consensus on the need for service was clear, what wasn’t
was whether large mountaintop towers were the best way to get that
service into our valleys. Even Nextel’s Dianne Rainy, reached
for comment Tuesday, called the proposed height limit “very
The issue of height is critically linked to where in town such towers
can be sited. And a central question raised by speakers including
Tom Crucet, Chuck Perez, Rob Stanley, Mary Hermann and Judy Wyman
is why the proposed law excludes antennas from not just floodplain
but from 5 of the town’s 8 zoning districts including those
where most people live and travel.
“This law will guarantee lousy coverage,” said former
Supervisor Pete Di Modica, saying it appeared to be drafted not to
insure the best possible service but as an accommodation to some people
who owned mountaintop or mountainside land in town, and stood to benefit
financially from the placement of towers there. Typically such sites
remit between $12,000 and $50,000 a year to their leaseholders. A
2003 telecommunications law completed under DiModica’s administration
sought to locate telecom facilities at firehouses and other municipal
sites, with the financial benefits going to the town. DiModica also
asked why it’s taken Cross 16 months to propose a telecom law,
when he took office with one approved by the county and the town’s
attorney and that he called “ready to go.”
Of those who spoke at the hearing, many including Helen Morelli, Linda
Micalla, Marion Umhey and Charley Berryann didn’t actually make
reference to the proposed new law, but seemed to indicate that any
height or appearance proposed for towers would be OK with them.
“Big towers, little towers, I think a lot of people don’t
give a damn.” Said Jerry Neil. “We just need cell service.”
But for others including Perez and Stanley - half the town’s
Comprehensive Plan Committee - the issue of attempting to minimize
visual impact in accordance with county, state and regional planning
guidelines and the town’s own draft comprehensive plan appears
to be a significant one. And though no one mentioned it at the hearing,
the proposed telecom law does appear in direct conflict with the current
Comp Plan draft. And if the Plan is adopted as is widely expected,
the telecom law will immediately need to be brought into compliance
with its visual impact guidelines.
Perez also took issue with the current law’s lack of provision
for emergency communications. “With the law that’s proposed,”
he said, “there’s no guarantee that EMS service will be
provided,” a point which Cross has repeatedly identified as
one of his priorities in it.
Stanley for his part, also said that with the new law “the town
appears to be catering to the greed of a private corporation,”
seeming to share Di Modica’s view that the law “goes about
getting cell service the wrong way.” Both Stanley and Perez
also faulted the law for making no provision for the eventual removal
of towers should they prove obsolete, and for its lack of enforcement
While everyone who spoke, including county legislators Michael Stock
and Brian Shapiro, stressed the importance of moving forward with
a law aimed at bringing service in, both legislators stressed the
strength of the town’s bargaining position with Shapiro saying
“the town has to be in control of this” and stressing
the potential for towers to serve as a municipal revenue source. Stock,
the county legislature’s majority leader, reiterated Mary Hermann’s
point that “these cell tower companies have deep pockets.. (the
town) is in the driver’s seat, and we have to take advantage
of the situation… This is a business deal,” he said, “the
town has to make the best deal it can.”
The service providers meanwhile, seemed more than willing to try and
provide whatever the town determines it needs, without necessarily
excluding the more expensive “stealth” towers from the
According to Verizon Wireless’ John O’Malley, total installation
costs for a new tower and its transmission facilities usually run
between $750,000 and $1,000,000 with “stealth” designs
like simulated pine trees adding another 25-50% to the actual tower
portion of those costs, typically another several hundred thousand
Cross for his part, didn’t know as of press time whether any
possible changes to the law could be wrapped up in time for to vote
on it at the May 2 town meeting, or whether an additional public comment
period to review such changes would be required. As it stands, the
proposed law appears to ignore many of the most important of the 39
written recommendations made by the town attorney Paul Kellar. These
include providing for the location of facilitates in most zoning districts
and limiting tower height, as well as allowing to stand a provision
permitting the planning board to waive almost all requirements for
applicants under certain circumstances.
all be present for a Meet The Candidates night sponsored by the Onteora
Central School District’s PTA Council and moderated by the League
of Women Voters, to be held at the Onteora Middle/High School, Route
28 Boiceville at 7pm on Monday May 2.
Special budget presentations by the new administration have been set
for Monday, May 2 at 4 pm at the Phoenicia Library; Thursday, May 5
at 7 pm at the Olive Free Library; Friday, May 6 at 6 pm at the Woodstock
Library; Monday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at the West Hurley Library, and Tuesday,
May 10 at 7 pm at the Pine Hill Community Center.
The new candidates, Lisa Childers of Woodstock and Thomas Hickey of
Shandaken will be facing off against three incumbents and five other
newcomers in the coming vote at the district’s schools, which
will also decide whether the district’s proposed $43 million 2005-2006
budget, a 3.86 percent hike over spending this past year, will also
Onteora has been operating on a contingency budget for the past year,
the result of protest votes from Olive and West Hurley residents angry
over the closing of the old West Hurley Elementary School and possible
implementation of new “Large Parcel” tax distribution. With
six of the ten candidates from Olive this year (and three from Shandaken),
continuing anger over “Large Parcel” is expected to again
play a role in this year’s voting.
The fourth top vote-getter in the May elections will fill out the remaining
two years of a three year term won by Shandakenite Tom Rosato last year,
and filled by Olive resident Anne-Marie Johansson since February. The
top three in line will win three-year seats.
In addition to Johansson, incumbents running for re-election next month
include board president Marino D’Orazio, a Kingston-based attorney,
and vice-prsident Kathleen Hochman, of Olivebridge. Previously announced
candidates include, from Olive, Cindy O’Connor, Rita Vanacore,
and Mary Jane Berchholz, who have been treated as something of a slate
by fellow Olive residents, although the candidates say they are running
individually; and Cathy Neal and Jack Jordan of Shandaken.
Jordan is a longstanding regional school administrator who recently
moved into the Onteora district.
Childers is an assistant teacher and art educator who serves as a member
of the Woodstock School site team and has attended almost every school
board meeting of the last four years. She says she decided to run after
making sure she had adequate child care and back-up help to be able
to dedicate herself to active campaigning. She is running on a platform
that acknowledges her understanding of board history, policy, budget-writing,
and other matters.
“I have experience and I think I’ve made myself qualified,”
Childers said this week. “I think we are at a turning point for
the district’s future and I want to be able to work with the current
administration to move forward. I felt it important that I run this
year because I felt my experience was sorely needed.”
Hickey, of Oliverea, is a single dad who moved to the area from New
York City in the past decade and was asked to throw in his hat for a
board seat by several teachers at the Phoenicia School. He says he made
his decision to run in the last two weeks, based largely on the time
he has on his hands based on his being disabled, as well as his experience
as a business consultant.
To be eligible to vote in the May 17 election, one must be a US citizen
of at least 18 years of age and a resident of the Onteora School District
for at least 30 days. Absentee ballots are allowed but must be applied
for before May 10. Contact the district offices for exact procedures.
Meanwhile, proposed redistricting plans for the Onteora School District,
brought forth as a means of alleviating overcrowding at the Woodstock
Elementary School that resulted from this year’s closing of the
West Hurley facility, were pulled back in lieu of a new approach presented
by district superintendent Justine Winters at the OCS board meeting
Tuesday night, April 18.
Noting how she and other administrators had “listened closely”
to both complaints from Bennett School parents and testimony from the
Woodstock community that things were running okay, Winters said her
new approach would substitute a push for volunteer variances over bus
route shifts from one school to another.
She said she will have a survey ready to go out to Woodstock School
parents in the coming weeks, describing the situation with overcrowding
in the school, asking for parental responses to it, and seeking any
volunteer transfers to the Phoenicia School, which has the lowest attendance
of the three elementary school facilities in the sprawling district.
“We’re trying to have a process here that’s open and
responsive to our community,” Winters said as the board opened
discussion to her proposal, which they agreed to let proceed. “We
want to thank the parents who submitted this idea as a proposal.”
Previous plans for the shifting of bus routes between the three schools
ended up drawing numerous complaints from Bennett parents who noted
the role the school played in their sense of community.
Board vice president Kathy Hochman helped shift the decision-making
process for redistricting at the board’s last meeting, on April
5, by questioning whether it was appropriate to set up a plan before
consultants being hired to look at the district’s use of facilities
even started their own review process.
In public comments, Olive Town Board Member Bruce LaMonda again asked
the school board to state its intentions vis a vis the controversial
“Large Parcel” tax issue that has pitched many in the town
against the school board and its proposed budget, which was repeatedly
pushed as being barely above a contingency amount, and much needed,
before being adopted at Tuesday’s meeting. Board President Marino
D’Orazio heatedly replied that such campaign talk was not allowed
at school board meetings, and was better reserved for upcoming Meet
the Candidate evenings, or one on one with the district’s crowded
field of candidates.
Later discussion saw the loud applause given LaMonda bested by cheers
when Woodstock parent Tina Harp protested against Olive residents’
“holding Onteora students hostage” to their threats to vote
the school budget down “out of anger and spite.”
In other business, the board granted permanent tenure to 11 district
teachers and administrators, including Woodstock principal Bobbie Schnell
and Phoenicia Principal Linda Sella. A celebratory cake was had by all.
The Boiceville Sewer?
The following day a lecture on "Post-environmentalism"
will be given at Harvard University and the same topic will be addressed
at Yale on May 6th. There's a pattern behind the scholastic talks
with links to the meeting in Olive.
"Nothing is etched in stone," said Olive supervisor Brendt
Leifeld, in reference to the feasibility study for the plant project
being underwritten by New York City's water department. "I don't
know if it will be a sewage treatment plant or a community septic
system but, when we signed the Memorandum of Agreement with the City
(in 1997), they picked out potential problem towns in the Watershed
and Boiceville was one of them."
That fact should end speculation that the plant is the product of
the DEP's concern about groundwater contamination from developments
upstream on the Esopus. In fact, in January Shandaken approved their
own projected $11 million plant for Phoenicia. The culprit, it would
seem, resides in Boiceville itself.
"Onteora keeps having septic problems," said Leifeld of
the ongoing woes at
the school site which was supposedly repaired last spring after reportedly
paying a Poughkeepsie waste management company $15,000 a month to
pump out the system for 3 or 4 years. "That's why we're number
one on the list."
Although sewage treatment plants are attended by a number of environmental
concerns, Leifeld's immediate anxiety fixed upon the eventual price-tag
for the plant's upkeep. Critics of treatment plants like the influential
Abby Rockefeller have stressed the "immense energy and economic
costs" of centralized sewage plants to paid for down the road:
"We must remember that, when we have improved the quality of
a local body of water, the environment somewhere will still pay a
heavy price- in direct
proportion to the amount of pollution from which we have saved the
water that we undertook to protect. We will have paid only to move
the problem," she writes.
Rockefeller declares that "the more advanced the treatment of
the sewage, the more sludge will be produced, and the worse- the more
unusable and dangerous- it will be...If landfilled, it will contaminate
the groundwater. If incinerated, it will cause serious air pollution.
When dumped in the ocean (amazingly permitted by the EPA until 1989),
it will cause- and has caused- great harm to marine ecology. And 'land
application,' the latest
disposal tactic, may be the most insidiously dangerous of all."
Town officials have yet to consider the responsibility of disposing
of sludge which some experts say can't be eliminated safely- perhaps
solutions like those applied to radioactive waste- "solutions"
like food irradiation, fluoridation or fashioning sludge into bullets
to be fired at terrorists in other lands (as in depleted uranium shells)
will ventured- for now, it is the initial problem of operational costs
that are being mulled.
"The City builds it and, when it's done, they turn it over to
us," explained Leifeld. "Then it belongs to the Town of
Olive- (which) will be responsible for maintaining it, hiring the
help and all the rest of it. We have the right to say 'no' but, 5
or 10 years down the road, if it does become a
problem, the state will come in and say you have to build it and then
you've got the WHOLE monkey on your back. Those are the threats they
use but where the hell do they think all this money is supposed to
come from- when they take away our reservoir? Plus, we have no place
for expansion. Where are we going to build? We can't even put in a
laundromat with all of the restrictions they have on us. We're just
like any other town, they say, but we're not..."
It is rumored that New York City's DEP, which contracts over $1 billion
to construction projects each year, is interested in acquiring a saw
mill near Onteora High School as a potential site for the plant. Even
with the current scarcity of available land, however, the mill's position
in a flood plain is problematic for environmental reasons.
Beyond the toxic and unpleasant odor of hydrogen sulfide associated
with the operation of such plants, the presence of large quantities
of chemicals like chlorine and chlorine dioxide gas are troublesome
in areas which experience storm water run-off situations- even in
cautiously designed systems. Additional contaminants, including oxygen-depleting
organics, nitrates, bacteria and metals (not to mention the controversy
of sludge disposal) are only the beginning of environmental questions
which raise their shaggy heads in relation to water treatment projects.
These kind of questions, and others- such as the town board's vote
last year of support for the Crossroads development project- would
have interested the
last holdout of Olive's Environmental Committee, Ann Altshuler, before
her retirement in spring of 2003. For decades, Altshuler studied developments
in environmental circles, attended conferences and lectures, and dutifully
reported items she deemed of local significance at town board meetings.
"From the time I moved to Olive in 1971, I was interested in
how the town functioned," said the slender, soft-spoken Altshuler
before she relocated to a new home near her brother in Chenango County.
Intent on being more involved in the community, she approached the
then town clerk Ollie Crawford who, she noted, "conducted his
duties from the back of his auto repair garage in Olivebridge."
Since she had a lifelong interest in wildlife and nature, Crawford
urged her to apply for an appointment to Olive's fairly new committee
on the environment then chaired by Ruth Hilth.
"Other members included Marcel Maier, then highway superintendent,
and Wally John, who chaired the committee for a number of years later
on," Altshuler recalled. "There were many turbulent issues
during the 1970s and 80s and over the years, despite philosophical
differences at times, I have appreciated deeply the genuine commitment
to the best interests of town residents shown by our officials. Disputes
not withstanding, they have compromised and worked together to maintain
the fabric of this community while adjusting to demographic and other
changes which have taken place over 32 years."
Altshuler remembers a hot button issue during her early involvement
packed town board meetings at the Olivebridge fire house, where they
used to be held, as the debate over whether to resurrect a defunct
racetrack in Olivebridge. Another committee activity, spearheaded
by then chair Henny Wise, was a stream survey which enlisted a few
teachers at Onteora and volunteer students to gather water samples
for testing in an effort to analyze health factors.
"Early zoning also was something that started controversy back
in the early 1970s when our first actual zoning regulations were written,"
she noted, recalling that she took some part in the unofficial contributions
to the process. "We had probably our largest number of active
members, I think as many as 11 or 13 at one point, because in the
70s, nationwide, there was heightened interest in things environmental.
But membership dwindled in
In fact, as referrals of items under SEQUA review or less than major
subdivision concerns, opted to the purview of the committee by the
town board or planning board, slacked off and more regulations were
written, the committee quietly ceased activities and faded away. Hand
in hand with that, to judge by the climate of last week's Earth Day
observations, has been a general decline in interest in the environment
nationally, along with a withering, in the last quarter century, of
the underlying selfless concept of giving back to the community for
services taken for granted.
"The committee's been inactive for the last 7 or 8 years,"
Altshuler said. "Nothing's been referred to us; we've had no
meetings. I, as an individual, the last remaining member of the official
committee but more as a private citizen, attended meetings and added
my 2 cents from the environmental viewpoint when I felt moved to do
so. As far as the future of environmental oversight or advisory capacities
go, unless there's sufficient interest to reconstitute the committee,
I think private citizens are going to be key- people who go to town
meetings and follow, from month to month, what goes on. Without a
hot button issue, it's a matter of watching people at work managing
the town affairs to the best of their ability- which to me, in and
of itself, is interesting."
Even Altshuler's reason for leaving Olive was partially environmental.
She cited the "parcelization of tracks of woodland and otherwise
fairly large open spaces being sold off in larger parcels to second
home owners and even primary home owners coming here primarily from
the City... I'm just feeling that this is not the community I moved
into. I love where I live. I've got 14 acres of woods. I know every
twig back here and I've got good neighbors
but it isn't just about woods and wildlife- which is a big thing for
me. As I see more and more driveways going into unbuilt woodlands;
a different kind of people moving in, it's becoming much more suburban
in feeling. A lot of them are very nice people, it's just that their
expectations are of a different view of lifestyle. It's rural where
I'm going- the way this area was 30 years ago or more- and I'll miss
the town. I've got a lot of emotional capital in this place, as you
can imagine, after all these years."
With no committee to offer advisory opinions on environmental impact,
absence of Altshuler's report at meetings leaves a hollow spot in
the environment of the meeting hall. Ann Altshuler advised before
her departure that those interested in keeping alive the voice of
environmental concern in Olive could approach the town board about
reviving the participation of private citizens in the town's attempts
to cope with oncoming environmental dilemmas. Meanwhile, the theme
of an absence of such voices echoed not just in Olive but across the
nation on Earth Day.
WHO CARES FOR THE EARTH?
With the current trend to reverse environmental gains of past decades,
"demise" of the movement has been attributed to plushly
sponsored industry think tanks, bought and paid-for politicians and
the infiltration and partial co-option of the grassroots environmental
movement by phoney "astroturf" organizations beholden to
corporate interests (as described in Stauber and Rampton's landmark
1995 book on the power of PR, Toxic Sludge Is Good for You: Lies,
Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry.) Alarming defeats of
environmental initiatives in recent years has given some credibility
to the claim.
Last fall, an article by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus called
"The Death of Environmentalism" rocked the ecological community
by observing; "Environmentalists are in a culture war whether
we like it or not. It's a war over our core values as Americans and
over our vision of the future, and it won't be won by appealing to
the rational consideration of our collective self-interest."
Urging the movement to adopt corporate perspectives and methods, the
authors riled many of their target groups, drawing spirited response-
most notedly, perhaps, from the Sierra Club's Carl Pope.
Pope and others argue that what the article calls a failed movement
still raises passions in the general public and billions in donations.
It might be countered that too little of this money is dedicated to
the environment and the Sierra Club itself, which spends $59,473 a
month to lease its California office, has already embraced corporate
values and tactics a mite too heartily. What is most needed, it could
be said, is a rededication to local environmental concerns at a grassroots
level. And that, in sum, is the bottomline of Altshuler's message.
If Ann Altshuler was still in Olive, we could imagine her advising
Supervisor Leifeld, who was just elected to the board of directors
of the Catskill Watershed Corporation, and the town board that consideration
of issues like the sewage plant proposal truly requires a close and
careful examination from more than one perspective. The proposed plant
promises to become very much the kind of issue she refers to as a
"hot button"- with solutions to a variety of problems open
Perhaps the answers to questions like where to put the sludge are
right under our nose. Since the county and neighboring towns are taking
a cut of Olive's reservoir tax base, some wags are bound to ask if
maybe they'll want a share of the sludge, too. But, at the moment,
voices in defense of the environment are notably absent.
A public informational hearing on the Boiceville sewage plant is slated
for May 19th.
Velilla and Sanin came to New York City from Colombia
in 1962. They set up an antique shop a few blocks from their apartment,
on 3rd Avenue at 31st Street. Before long they were able to expand,
operating two shops at the same time -- one in Westhampton Beach and
one in Soho.
The story is familiar: eager for an occasional escape from the city,
they accepted an invitation from a friend to visit the Catskills,
and found the beauty irresistible. They began to take regular weekend
trips, and in 1985, bought the Phoenicia cabin where they still live
In the beginning, they could have been called "weekenders,"
except that they were here on Monday and Tuesday, after spending the
weekend at their store in the Hamptons. The rest of the week was spent
in the city, although our region was starting to have a strong hold
on them. "We began really falling in love with the area,"
Ivan says, "so it was getting harder and harder to go back to
the city." Gustavo laughs, "We would call our employees
at our Soho store and make excuses why we had to stay up here an extra
day or two."
The most convenient excuse was usually related to business; by this
time they were selling antiques from a booth in Winchell's Corners,
and later from their store at Phoenicia Plaza. Finally, in 1992, when
their Soho landlord raised their rent to $15,000 a month, they decided
their days in the city were finished; it was time to move up north
But the Catskill winters hadn't yet taken their toll.
It was 1995 that they found the perfect corner location, at Wall and
North Front Streets in uptown Kingston, and eagerly moved their antiques
business there. Sales have been good in the years since, with their
hottest items now in the fine art category -- the paintings and drawings
of Mylo Quam, a prolific and stylistically daring artist who lived
in Shokan from 1965 until his death in 1996. In addition, their collection
of Murano Glass from Italy and a wide range of Art Deco objects are
always good sellers.
The trademark of the Velsani collection would appear to be its eclecticism
-- a rich array of periods and styles in a crowded display that artfully
mingles baroque religious iconography and classic statuary with sleek
modernist accents, Pre-Columbian artifacts with American Country,
African art with Art Deco, and everywhere a touch of romantic decadence.
There is clearly a passion for beautiful objects here.
Both Ivan and Gustavo spend every day in the shop, and they cooperate
in selecting merchandise as well. After more than 40 years together,
their tastes are virtually identical. This complex range of items
is collected from estate sales, from shops in the U.S. and abroad,
and through exchanges with other dealers. Most of their customers
are from New York City, second homeowners in our area, and are typically
word-of-mouth referrals or walk-ins drawn by the unusual window displays.
"We have a great landlord," says Ivan, "and the community
here is wonderful -- both in Kingston and Phoenicia." Gustavo
adds, "Our closest friends are our neighbors in Phoenicia."
In fact, several of their neighbors were friends from the city who
came upstate to visit them and "never left."
Despite all this, there came a time a few winters back when the dangerous,
icy roads on the long drive to Kingston, the labor of snow removal,
the short, dark days that seem to go on forever -- everything that
a Catskill winter brings -- had led Ivan and Gustavo to believe they
must return to Colombia, or perhaps move to Miami. They did their
best to be happy with that decision; they felt they didn't have a
choice. They even went so far as to put their beloved cabin on the
market. But then a real offer came in. "Suddenly we got frightened,"
Ivan says. They couldn't sell. They knew they didn't really want to
leave -- they had to find a way to stay.
The solution turned out to be rather simple: they rented a small apartment
in uptown Kingston, where they spend much of the winter, and during
January and February, they visit family in Miami. "I don't know
why we didn't think of it before," chuckles Gustavo. So far,
this solution seems to be working; Ivan and Gustavo are permanent
fixtures in our community, and that's one more thing we can celebrate