Uptown Kingston is evolving. North Front Street just got four new businesses, all with owners from Brooklyn.
“Uptown Kingston obviously isn’t Brooklyn North, and I laugh when I see real-estate ads for places in ‘Brooklyn Kingston’,” said Sari Botton, a writer and editor of an anthology of essays about loving New York City and leaving it. “But I see the appeal for people who have lived in the city.”
Botton and her husband Brian Macaluso just rented out their Rosendale house to move into an Uptown Kingston loft right near Brian’s shop, Tech Smiths, the only Apple-authorized service provider in the Hudson Valley. “We missed that city thing of being able to walk to many things, and to step out of the apartment and wander, not knowing where you’re going to land,” said Botton, who runs Anvil Gallery at the front of Tech Smiths.
Botton points to Kingston’s appeal to “city expats” and the businesses that cater to them. “The weekender-expat crossover seems important because it creates an environment that supports businesses that are a bit more upscale and chic,” said Botton. “If locals can’t support those businesses seven days a week, there are weekenders who will make up for that from Friday through Sunday or Monday. Also, people who wind up moving here can still see their city friends who weekend and vacation here. That makes for a strong connection to the city.”
Brooklyn, which has a population of over 2.6 million crammed into an area less than one-seventeenth the size of Ulster County, has been attracting new businesses and residents at a faster pace than the other New York City boroughs in the past decade. In that decade, the number of businesses has grown by 21 percent, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, faster than the rest of the city. Brooklyn job growth of almost 20 percent has been nearly double that of the rest of New York City. But Brooklyn rents have been increasing, too, and gentrification of some neighborhoods has become a fact of life. Some residents are looking for a better alternative.
Like Botton, Tess and Chris Kelly are Brooklyn migrants. They’ve just opened Séraphine Bakery, next door on North Front Street to Tech Smiths. Tess Kelly has had a slew of careers in different worlds, including one as a fashion model in New York City and another working at the Senate House site two blocks away from her bakery. The sudden death of one of her best friends prompted Kelly to change her life and career strategy.
Tess said she grew up baking with her grandmother, and has no formal pastry or culinary training. She said she just loves to bake, and particularly appreciates French baking. She offers high-end French pastries made in small batches with finer ingredients. The bakery will be open six days, with plans to stay open at least one weekend evening to net the post-dinner crowd.
Séraphine offers a comfortable space with a distinctly minimal and clean aesthetic. There is a sofa, Wi-Fi, bistro tables and chairs. It serves Stumptown Coffee, a Portland-based, fair-trade, home-roasted coffee so elite that the company requires several interviews with café owners before agreeing to sell them the product. An exposed brick wall features Chris Kelly’s photographs mounted under a restored decorative tin ceiling.
“I think it’s nice to have choices, to go to Outdated if you are feeling casual, and if you are feeling elegant you can come here and have a nice tart,” said Tess Kelly. “That’s what the city is like. Different restaurant experiences to suit different moods. Your mood changes all the time.”
Tess and Chris were going to open a place in Brooklyn, she said, but their weekend home in Kingston drew her in. “And I love being here in Uptown Kingston. I want to be a part of the solution. It is so beautiful up here. I am from the city. I am spoiled. I wanted to make something that will grow and become something like Brooklyn, with the shops and food kind of experience.” Tarts, pastries, French macarons, mini-cupcakes, baby pies with seasonal ingredients and French teas will make for a European uptown experience.
The Kellys are friends with several other area business entrepreneurs, hailing from Brooklyn, including Doug Wygal, who just bought Wright Gallery Records at 50 North Front Street. Vinyl-lovers, have no fear. Wygal said he will continue the tradition of selling vintage albums as well.
Rosendale’s Market Market owners Jen Constantine and Tripp Thompson recently bought the building at 31 North Front Street, the one with Uncle Willy’s Bar and a portrait of the legendary Willy Guldy in the front window. The couple bought the building as an investment, with hopes of renovating the top floors for apartments. Constantine considers the investment a sound one. A large cluster of sound local businesses provide a neighborhood business core, she said, and ready access to the bus and Thruway can provide an urban audience.
“[Living rural or suburban] and I run out of milk, I have to get in my car and go buy it,” she said. “But in a city you can just walk it. That keeps an area with a little savoir faire.” Constantine said walkability and bike-ability are both important, appealing to a like-minded community.
Though Constantine did her stint in Brooklyn, she feels that labeling Uptown Kingston, or any area and businesses, as being “Brooklyn-y” is not necessarily a desirable attribute. “I don’t think it has as many positive connotations as it used to,” she said. “It almost restricts businesses from having their own identity.”
The folks from BackStage Productions and the O-Positive arts festival live and work Uptown. They have put a lot of hard work into the community, she added, and have extra appreciation for the artistic community. “From outside looking in, all the uptown businesses look like a tight-knit community.”
The Parent-Teacher Store was long an anchor in the North Front corridor. The owner of Duo restaurant on John Street, Neils Nielsen, bought the building with partner George Lewandowski of Brooklyn. The renovated 4,500-square-foot space will be a full-service restaurant and catering hall. Frogmore Tavern is scheduled to open in mid-July. It will be open almost every day from 11 a.m. to midnight. Lewandowski described the cuisine as “American Comfort Food.” The front end will seat up to 80 people.