ELLENVILLE – Voiced and seconded at a recent Town of Wawarsing Board meeting, the idea that what we see affects everything we think about something or someone — is indubitably true.
See a man on the street in ragged clothes, worn out shoes, and you may steer clear, right?
See the same person dressed neatly, whether its jeans and work shoes or suit and tie, and you will pass on by without a second thought.
The same thing applies to our towns and villages. Entering the Village of Ellenville from the north on Route 209, the first thing you see is the empty, long-shuttered bowling alley covered in plywood. On the other side of the road is a billboard with tattered fringe along the bottom and holes poking through. Now, neither of these eyesores are actually in the village itself, they sit right on the line, but they act as the depressing gateway to Ellenville.
Once past them, and into the village itself, normal businesses line the road. Marv’s auto repair hums day and night, the Dunkin Donuts is always busy, across the road a store displays used mowers and blowers depending on the season, the car wash, the competing dollar stores in their own plaza, hair dressing salons, the beer outlet, the mini mall, McDonalds, the Rite Aid… this may not be exactly beautiful, but it is lively.
Negatives come with the long dead Pizza Hut and boarded-up houses. The Channel Master/Schrade factory is almost gone now, revealing a vast (expensive) swathe of concrete that awaits a new purpose.
Unfortunately, the bowling alley and tattered billboard have made the first impression, and the sheer prominence of the Pizza Hut reinforces it. "Perception is reality," said town board member Roger Buchwalter at a recent town board meeting, and he is correct. In Ellenville’s downtown, where 209 and 52 intersect, the Stewarts Shop is about to move and expand, which is encouraging. Along Canal Street, most storefronts are now occupied, though one or two still need sprucing up. But the new life in town can be let down by buildings left empty and uncared for, with peeling brown newspaper in the windows, or plywood.
Perception is something that all our towns work on. Some planning boards have justly-deserved reputations for intense guardianship of the entranceways to their towns. The Marbletown Planning Board has a fierce reputation that way. The applicants who sought to create a shopping precinct dominated by a tall Clocktower, on the now cleared and empty space just south of the established shops centered on Emmanuel’s Market and Rite Aid (now Walgreens), found that to be the case — to their cost — as they struggled between the board’s red lines on what zoning allows, and what they dreamed of. In the end they gave up on the clocktower and accepted considerably smaller buildings for their plan, which would all conform to a rural look, fitting in with Stone Ridge’s country village appearance. Thus, property values are maintained.
In Rochester, there has been an ongoing effort via the Hamlet of Accord Revitalization Project, to upgrade the look of the main street in Accord and refresh those houses, and seek occupants for empty storefronts. A meeting on April 18 at the Kerhonkson Fire House will be focused on the 209 corridor through Kerhonkson, with an eye to sharing ideas from businessfolk on revitalization with grant funding proposals in mind.
And back in the 1980s, the Hamlet of Pine Bush had a similar problem. Empty storefronts proliferated, as the first wave of Middletown malls killed off small retail all around them. At that time R.J. Smith and John Tarolli worked with a stage design artist to plan a renaissance. Property owners spruced up their buildings, the town got behind it, and in time the place revived and today most of the stores are occupied.
Ellenville has always been the biggest small place in this area, and the empty bowling alley is but one side of issues related to de-industrialization. Roger Buchwalter, the newest member of the Wawarsing Town Board was not afraid to nail it. "It’s time to enforce the building code. It’s time that village judges told absentee landlords to follow the code and clean their properties up." In the end, if the rules and regulations concerning building codes are not followed, then the appearance of the entire town or village is going to suffer. And at that point, leniency toward one owner turns into punishment for all the others who are doing the right thing and obeying the code. Fines for violations are the instrument at that end of things, but some paint, some inexpensive mural art, replacing tattered newspaper and haphazard plywood would help, too.
As Ellenville turns around, which we believe it will, finding its feet in a new way, in the new economy, attention to the gateways is going to be ever more important. No reason not to get started on that now.