New Energy in Hillsdale
We drove into Hillsdale on a sunny February morning, looking for a couple of cooking spoons. Our destination was HGS Home Chef which specializes in kitchenware and cooking classes, an upscale center for those who enjoy fine cuisine and want to produce it with quality products.
I had driven through Hillsdale any number of times in past years, never finding much reason to stop, but on this morning I became acquainted with a vibrant community that has been undergoing a renaissance carefully planned and put into action by town leaders over the past decade.
“Every day I get people in here who drive through all the time and never notice (the businesses),” said Matthew White, owner of both HGS Home Chef and the General Store located across the street. “People get ‘road blind’ when they are driving down the street and don’t look around them.”
What they are missing is a cluster of upmarket businesses, restaurants and a spa, all catering to a growing cadre of second-home owners. And, as the momentum builds, more businesses are being added to the roster.
White said the resurgence in Hillsdale was not just been organic growth, although a number of factors have helped. He likes to refer to the town center as “the hub,” noting that it is equidistant from Boston and New York, Great Barrington MA and Hudson NY, transected by routes 22 and 23. Obtaining National Historic District recognition added both cachet to the town’s image and access to state and federal tax benefits that allowed preservation of its historic buildings, some dating back to the 18th century.
White has served on the Hillsdale Hamlet Commission which focused on making the hamlet more walkable, attracting new businesses and enhancing private properties. To this end, the Project for Public Spaces, Inc. was brought in to create a Design and Development Plan, and, in 2008, a new sewer in the center solved serious environmental problems that limited new development.
“There’s a lot happening here and more is coming,” White said. He reported that his kitchenware and cooking classes outlet had just offered its 205th cooking class in three years, this one a private class for a proposed Chinese dinner. The building has two spacious commercial kitchens adjacent to dining rooms where patrons can enjoy the fruits of their labor when class is over.
“Some of our classes have been taught by James Beard Award winners,” White observed. When all the necessary skills have been demonstrated, the would-be chefs can find anything they need—from cookbooks to the latest equipment—in the kitchenware shop.
For a look at upcoming classes please click on the link below.
White’s other building, across Route 23, is the General Store. Separated into four business spaces, it offers an old-time country emporium that has been recommended by Martha Stewart Living, Elle Decor, Food & Wine, and Traditional Home.
Also located in the same building is LABspace, a contemporary art gallery that just opened Be Mine, an exhibit of works about love, intimacy and relationships, and the Crossroads Food Shop.
“David Wurth is the chef” White said. “He was the original chef at Local 111 in Philmont. It’s farm-to-table and his food is phenomenal.”
Indeed, an amble across the road in hopes of lunch revealed that virtually everyone in Columbia County was standing in line in hopes of getting a table. Foiled in our ambition by a 40-minute wait, we turned our attention to the Hillsdale Diner, another local hotspot, and were able to secure one of the last tables available for a hearty lunch with some interesting twists.
Food and drink seem to be much on the minds of Hillsdale residents and their visitors. White said the venerable Mt. Washington House, “a fixture since 1880,” offers casual dining, while the Roe Jan Brewing Company, to be located in yet another historic building, is being developed by Steven and Kathy Bluestone. “They are restoring this amazing building,” White said. “They don’t have an opening date yet, but they will have both a micro-brewery and a restaurant.”
He also extolls the virtues—and the selection—of the Hillsdale Fine Wine & Spirits. “It’s really a wonderful wine shop,” he said.
Seasonal provender can be found during the growing season at the Hillsdale-Copake Farmers Market, which White proclaims as the “premier farmers market” in the region. “I think it has surpassed even Great Barrington’s,” he said.
His own store will provide an opportunity to buy fresh, organic produce this summer when Little Fox Farm of Copake sets up a CSA (community supported agriculture through which investors purchase shares in a season’s crops) on the porch. And on August 24th, Roejan Park will be the site of Grillsdale, a big food event offering small bites from area chefs and local beers.
Food is not the only attraction in Hillsdale. White points to the building adjacent to HGS Home Chef, where Tiny Hearts Farm Flowers makes its home. “They are flower farmers and raise all their own plants,” he reported. “They have workshops, sell through a CSA and do the flowers for all kinds of events.”
He says the business is the perfect match for the new wedding venue at Taconic Ridge Farm. “They have a wonderful historic barn and a house you can rent,” he said. “It’s a great place for a wedding and a perfect fit for the best florist in the county.”
On the other side of HSG Chef is Casana Designs, where designer Carrie Chen designs and sells her elegant cashmere products.
Not far away, Mirror Mirror, located in the recently renovate Althouse-Higgins house, is a consignment and resale shop offering pre-owned and new women’s clothing, shoes and accessories. And next door, Passaflora offers both gift items and, in its ice cream shop, Scoop, a chance to cool off on a hot day.
With body sated with food, clothing and baubles, the soul can be soothed by a visit to Adagio Spa, where owner-operator Shannon Osborn offers services ranging from waxing and pedicures to massage therapy in what Osborn terms “a private and tranquil setting.”