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“It’s happening. Believe it, and it will happen,” says Heidi Haddad-Hill joyfully. Haddad-Hill’s HiHo Home Market, an eclectic décor and furnishings place as singular as its irrepressible owner, was one of the first of the new wave of hamlet shops. Haddad-Hill is newly installed as president of the Gardiner Association of Businesses (GAB), the town’s informal chamber of commerce, a grassroots local group that’s flourished in the past few years. In 2009, GAB had five Gardiner-based member businesses named Best of the Hudson Valley: the HiHo Home market, Patty Eakin’s Bruynswick Art Studio and Gallery, Ralph Erenzo’s Tuthilltown Spirits distillery, Skydive The Ranch (best outdoor adventure, owned by some of the earliest promoters of Gardiner’s growth spurt), and the Mountain Brauhaus restaurant.
“The Gardiner community really supports us,” says Haddad-Hill. “There’s a segment that comes out for everything we do. I think it’s because our businesses are conceived, designed, and priced with the local community in mind. We serve their needs. If we get tourists, that’s gravy. I can walk to work with my dog, or ride my bike. It’s paradise.”
“We just had a Holiday Stroll event, and 12 businesses participated,” says Main Street property owner Robin Hayes. “There were groups of people wandering all over town, bumping into each other, having little treats at each place. Everybody decorated so beautifully! We all collaborate—there are several groups that overlap, all promoting one another. We come together around common goals and take action—and we have a blast doing all of it. It’s such a great vibe.” The town that once suffered tumbleweed jokes has exactly one storefront in need of a tenant; the once-pedestrian grocery has been reborn as the Village Market and Bakery, with a quaint historic façade. The stalwart local restaurants have just recently been joined by Café Mio—local eats, served up by a Culinary Institute grad who earned his stripes at the famed Depuy Canal House under the “father of new American cuisine,” John Novi. “A few years ago, Gardiner just stepped it up a notch. It’s been a great decade.
Now the energy is starting to gather again—I can feel the next wave coming, and it’s exciting.”
“We’d do it all over again,” says lifetime resident Joe Katz of the long-ago decision to say no to Stewarts. Katz was elected town supervisor in 2007, successor to the Democratic regime under whose leadership the wave of change swept town government. He himself is determinedly nonpartisan—he campaigned as “Joe Katz for Gardiner,” and says he is looking forward to working with the two Republicans who gained board seats in 2009, ending years of what was effectively one-party rule. “More and more stuff is coming in to our industrial park—Amthor from Walden is bringing in 40 jobs, Gillette Creamery is bringing in 50 or 60 more. Kimlin Propane is expanding. SUNY New Paltz called, and they’re bringing a group of visiting Russian mayors to see Gardiner’s town hall and transfer station. Building permits went way up in the second half of 2009. We’re watching every dime of taxpayers’ money, believe me—but there are some big bucks coming into this town.”
One of many issues on the new board’s plate, to be discussed, studied, previewed, and reviewed by town and other related boards and by the loyal opposition, who rarely miss a meeting or a chance to sound off, is an application for a 22-acre solar farm. It would be the first such in New York State. It sounds like something the woe-is-me crowd would have scoffed about years back: “Whaddya think, we’re gonna start building solar farms or something?”
“What I love,” says Katz, “is that you literally never know what’s next. For a solar farm, there are no rules, so we’re being extremely careful as we proceed. One thing I can predict. There will be a bunch of people who live right near it, who won’t want it.”
“His job,” says a Gardiner entrepreneur, “is to listen to those people, hear their concerns, smile and say, ‘If this will be good for Gardiner, we’re going to let it happen.’ That’s how we built the library and how we bought the Rail Trail.”