Beacon NY is a place about an hour and a half north of Manhattan. Situated on the East side of the Hudson River, it’s a small town that’s existed since the earliest days of of the 18th Century. For much of its history, it was a manufacturing and farming center for the state, until an economic downturn in the 1970’s caused most of the businesses to shut down and almost 80% of their factories to sit vacant. .[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beacon,_New_York, 07/05/2016]
The revival of the city came in the way most revivals do, through the arts. The Dia:Beacon Museum, occupying a three hundred thousand square foot Nabisco factory opened in 2003. Since then, it has acted as an epicenter for the town, drawing in crowds from all over the state, and bringing a resurgence of culture to a once dying city. [http://www.diaart.org, 07/05/2016]
My girlfriend and I are on a day trip up the Hudson Valley searching for small-town vintage gems and local food. After taking a wrong turn through a desolate town called Newburg, we made our way across the river to the Beacon flea market for a slush puppy and some old school “picking”.
At first look the city is endearing, with an old world authenticity that stems from an eclectic collection of stores and restaurants. With end to end vintage shops, spice markets, galleries, and trendy clothing stores, main street seems like a small town Williamsburg Brooklyn, 100 miles north of New York City.
But, as the hours tick on, and we make our way from store to store, something about the initial allure starts to dull. Everything is clean, and crisp, and slightly rustic, but subtle details feel a bit commercial, becoming more apparent as the day continues. The shop keeps just aren’t that interested in helping or talking about their inspiration, and as I look at the clothing labels on the racks, I see more and more tags that say things like “American inspired designs (made in China)”. Sifting through the “craft” jewelry, we discover some overpriced and relabeled Forever 21 jewelry and I start to question that bona fide spirit that seemed so defined just a few hours earlier.
But at the very end of the strip, where the rusty railroad tracks curve around a sharp bend in the road, and the antique shops turn into antique houses, sits a small beacon of hope. The very last boutique, a store called Young and Able brings back that genuine feeling and changes everything about the dynamic of the trip.
The shop owner, Rosa Ng, only rents half the storefront, and commutes daily from Brooklyn to Beacon. From the door you can feel the artistic vibe pouring onto the sidewalk., and as we walk inside, we’re greeted warmly like we’ve entered someone’s home for the first time. And in reality, we sort of have. Because Young & Able takes its inspiration from helping emerging designers and craftsmen not only sell their goods, but share their passion. Its a curated pop up that aims to “tell the story behind how and why a product is made, [and] invites you to discover the creative process through designer interviews, studio visits, and behind-the-scenes videos.”
Across the room are two jewelry makers that have set up a temporary showcase next to the register. The artists, Jack + G, are sitting at a table with their rings spread out and a dog laying quietly on the ground underneath.
Something about their display feels like deja vu, and all of a sudden it’s pretty clear that we’ve met before. Making small talk about their jewelry, Gretchen (G) starts talking about her Brooklyn studio workshop where her and Jack make their earrings, necklaces, and rings; when all of a sudden I remember.
American Field did a pop up in Brooklyn last summer, and I must have spent half an hour talking to them about their delicate chainmail designs and detailed silversmithing. Same as last year, their work caught my eye, because they clearly love what they’re doing, and they’ve put their hearts and souls into every piece on the table. When I ask what they’re doing in Beacon, they explain that a friend invited them up for the weekend to spend the fourth of July and relax over a few drinks.
We talk for a few moments, as the shop owner listens to our conversation with warm curiosity. She’s wearing a pair of mismatched earrings and I overhear my girlfriend explain how the jewelry “spoke to her from across the room”. I buy her a pair and we leave the store, talking about “next times” and “plans to return”.
As we leave and walk down the road, a million little coincidences from the day seem to fall into place. Looking back on it now, it still seems like everything was a bit serendipitous, gratifying not only the trip, but this whole Evolved Threads project that’s now two years in the making.
Seeing Jack and Gretchen set-up that day, in the one shop on main street with a little heart and soul is a perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to do: seeking out a little innovation and passion in a sea of sameness. Leaving the shop, I can remember saying a toast to the little beacon of Beacon, realizing that all tracks that day led us there, and that this little gem is the first of many to come.