- Christine Ashburn
- Wayne Hancock performing at Towne Crier Café in Beacon.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A town thrives in the early part of the 20th century as a center of industry and/or transportation. But times change. Factories head overseas. Railroads and barges fall out of fashion. Highways are built that bypass downtown. Businesses close. Towns crumble. Cue the tumbleweeds and crime.
Then, times change again. Young creative types flee increasingly expensive urban centers to start raising families in quieter, more affordable environs. Walkable communities and Queen Anne-style buildings are drooled over instead of condescendingly chuckled at. Galleries spring up. Homes are restored. Sushi arrives.
It's a familiar story, the boom-then-bust-then-boom-again cycle that has defined so many Hudson Valley river towns over the past 100 years. The city of Beacon has the advantage of being farther along in this story than most. Back in 2002, there was just a handful of galleries and artisans laboring here. But they banded together to form the Beacon Arts Community Association and began hosting special events on the second Saturday of every month, hoping to attract attention. Soon, the Dia Art Foundation was coming to town, looking at the abandoned Nabsico factory by the river, and thinking that a few of those Richard Serra sculptures they had lying around would look kind of nice there. Cue the inspirational montage.
Thirteen years later, Beacon serves as model of urban renewal and its once-boarded-up downtown wants for little. There are plenty of places to hear live music (the Towne Crier, Quinn's, Dogwood), plenty of places to stay (the Roundhouse as well as a bevy of long-established bed and breakfasts), and plenty of places that sell craft beer (pretty much every business on Main Street, with the possible exception of the methadone clinic). There's an independent butcher cutting up fresh local meats, a hand-crafted soda syrup shop with loose-leaf teas and spices, and not one, but two record shops. Even the infamous storefront at 328 Main, which has spent the past 10 years completely empty save for a mysterious sign in its window proclaiming "Chinese restaurant coming soon!," is about to become the expanded home of the Beacon Bagel. They're not the only business expanding: The gourmet store Beacon Pantry, the craft beer store and restaurant The Hop, and the handmade soap company Beacon Bath and Bubble have all recently moved into bigger spaces to keep up with demand.
The vibes have even crossed south over Breakneck Ridge into the hamlets that make up Phillipstown in Putnam County. In Cold Spring, main street stores Old Souls, Cold Spring Apothecary, and Cold Spring General Store sport a refreshingly forward-thinking sense of aesthetics and style, while the Garrison Art Center held a public printmaking workshop last year that utilized a giant steamroller.
Beacon is booming, which suggests the question: How does Beacon make sure that the boom doesn't go bust again? Rents are rising on Main Street and locals are beginning to openly grumble about possibly being "priced out of Beacon," a phrase that would have been laughed at a decade ago.
One of the many virtues of Beacon's most famous resident, the late folk icon Pete Seeger, was the way he provided a guiding spirit, effortlessly bringing old Beacon and new Beacon together. The city government has followed his lead, turning down chain stores and a proposal from the MTA for a massive transit-oriented development project by the river that would have swelled the city's tax rolls at the expense of its character and spirit.
There will no doubt be other development projects proposed by outsiders and more grumblings about how things were better back in the old days, even if the old days in question were three years ago. But in order to navigate this perilous period in the city's history, old Beacon and new Beacon alike will have to work together to make sure that the last 15 years of work does not come undone. The price of a golden age is eternal vigilance. And we all have to be Pete now.