You are driving west on Route 17A when it happens. You've already officially entered the Town of Warwick, having driven through the picturesque village of Greenwood Lake, but suddenly you reach the summit of Mt. Peter where Kain Road intersects 17A and enter a different world.
Bellvale Creamery proudly beckons at the intersection, the lone ice cream shop seemingly ill placed atop the summit. Just steps from the Appalachian Trail, this simple shop manages to thrive on the solitude of this mountaintop. Walk just a few feet from the shop and look west and you are treated to a breathtaking view too perfect to be real. Spread out below you for miles in every direction is the beauty of the village of Warwick.
A Community in Bloom
While every community brags about being the very best community in which to live, Warwick has evidence to back up the claim. In 2010, Warwick was named Best Community in the international competition Communities in Bloom. In doing so, Warwick became only the second American village ever to win the award. "We were competing with villages and towns all over the world, and we got first place." Beams John Christison, proprietor of Yesterdays—an English/Irish restaurant and pub on Main Street, "A lot of that came from volunteers sprucing up the entire town and villages."
That large numbers of Warwick citizens would volunteer to help out is not unusual. In fact, civic participation is a hallmark of this bedroom community. A couple of blocks up from Yesterdays is a framed, hand-drawn Main Street business directory. "'Shop local, buy local' is huge here," says Nicole Repose, co-owner of Etched in Time Engraving. "The merchants on Main Street know their customers. When I first opened this business I didn't accept credit cards. Somebody would come in and say 'Oh, you don't accept credit cards,' and I'd tell them to just come back and pay for it later. People thought I was crazy. But I never had one person not come back and pay me."
Daniel Mack is the president of Community 2000, a forward-thinking organization that began in 1993 based on the idea of creating a entity that envisions a positive future for Warwick rather than one created to complain about current problems. A resident for 25 years, Mack, a furniture maker and architectural consultant, believes one of the reasons Warwick has been able to resist the march of development that has overtaken up so much of the Hudson Valley is its geographical isolation. "It's relatively difficult to get to. We're not near any major highway," he says. "Warwick is kind of a little blip in time. It's given us a chance to watch what's happening in Rockland County, in Bergen County, and make some preemptive moves about zoning, land use, and preservation of farm land."
A Small Town Feel
Walking down Main Street or one of its side streets, you are struck by how Norman Rockwell would be hard pressed to find a better example of Americana. One of the reasons is the abundance of independently owned shops lining the streets. There is no Walmart, no Staples, no Best Buy. And that's entirely by design. Residents, intent on keeping these big-box stores out of Warwick, swamp public hearings to make their voices heard.
Warwick is a town where people settle and stay. Christison, whose Yesterdays has been a Warwick staple since 1984, is now serving his third generation of patrons. There are people who've lived all their lives in the Village and know every back road, every person who lives here. Repose says, "Warwick's one of those communities where the kids grow up... then they come back here to raise their families."
Families are important in Warwick. Its school district is one of the highest rated in Orange County, and the community goes out of its way to provide children with an enriching, positive place to grow up. "I think that everybody, as parents and as community leaders, is striving so that no teenager ever says there's nothing to do." Says Eileen Patterson, Chair of Warwick in Bloom—the organization that spearheaded the effort to win the Communities in Bloom competition.
"It is the closest you can get to New York City with a fabulous school system and a rural feel." Says Heide Moeller, real estate agent and proprietor of Collage, a community art gallery on Railroad Avenue in downtown Warwick.
- Adam Fernandez
- Nicole Repose, co-owner of Etched in Time in Warwick.
- Nick Zungoli
- The Candle Shop, one of a number of shops in the artisan’s hamlet of Sugar Loaf.
An Artist's Paradise
Collage, which opened this past October, showcases local artists to the community. "We have lots and lots of artists in Warwick. Really an astounding amount of talented people," Says Lisa Cullen, founder of Every Artist Together (EAT), a Warwick-based nonprofit that brings artists together to erase hunger in their communities.
Every summer, the Warwick Summer Arts Festival draws crowds from all over the Tri-State Area for a unique 10-day celebration of art in all its forms. Heading into its 12th year, the festival holds concerts and showcases all over the town, not only introducing guests to the artists highlighted or performing at the festival, but introducing them to a wide variety of destinations within Warwick itself. Past venues have included the Railroad Green on the corner of Main Street, town parks, the waterfront park in Greenwood Lake, even area farms and orchards. The whole town gets involved. "One year we had these mannequins that someone had donated." Says Elizabeth Reese, Director of the Warwick Summer Arts Festival. "Maybe 50 mannequins that we passed out to artists, and each artist decorated them. They were all over town, a lot of them in storefronts."
It's not every community that can count on so much volunteerism and pride; the residents of Warwick all seem to understand that they have something special. "There's something about Warwick that's unique," says Christison. "And the residents work hard to keep it that way."
A Hamlet of Artisans
Travel north from Warwick along the King's Highway (Route 13) for 11 miles and you arrive at an equally distinctive destination—Sugar Loaf. This hamlet has been an arts-and-crafts destination for over 250 years. "It originated as a stop along King's Highway where you'd stop and get your wagon wheel fixed or get your horseshoes or your groceries," says Paul Ellis, artistic director of Sugar Loaf's Lycian Centre for the Performing Arts and president of the Sugar Loaf Community Foundation. "So there were always people making things [in Sugar Loaf] because it was the only place between 'here and there'—wherever here and there was at the time."
Walter Kannon and Jarvis Boone revived that legacy when they became the founding fathers of the Sugar Loaf artists movement in the late 1960s. "They really revived the artisan community," says Kevin Kern, owner of Romer's Alley—a unique passage right off the King's Highway that is home to a number of shops. "They were really the two people that started recruiting and bringing artisans to Sugar Loaf."
In the 1970s, Sugar Loaf grew into the arts-and-crafts capital of the Tri-State Area, just as the handmade crafts craze was sweeping the country. "It was really, truly, a unique experience when you came here and you met people who were making what they were selling," says Nick Zungoli, award-winning photographer (he was named 2010 Artist of the Year by the Orange County Arts Council) and owner of Exposures Gallery, "Sugar Loaf became very cutting edge during those years."
The movement may have crested since then, but Sugar Loaf has remained true to the initial vision of Kannon and Boone. "The thing that really makes Sugar Loaf unique is that when you come into Sugar Loaf many of the business [owners] not only live and work out of the house that you walk into, but a lot of them still make most everything in the shop," says Zungoli.
Walking down Kings Highway through the center of Sugar Loaf is unlike walking through any other town. The street is lined with shops offering handmade jewelry, custom clothing, one-of-a-kind art, pottery, even handmade soap. But the difference is that these shops are also the artisans' homes, and the people you're buying from are also generally the people who made what is being sold. "When people come to my store, they come for me, to talk to me," says Kiki Rosner, co-owner with her husband,Yaron, of Rosner Soap. "There's a conversation—an exchange that is part of being social beings."
It's that small-town, easy-going atmosphere that helps make Sugar Loaf so appealing. "It's a place where people can just hang out and roam around." Says Kern. "We have a saying, 'Make Time to Loaf.' People tend to make time to loaf because they like to talk to people on the street; they like to talk to the artisans. They can do that here."
- Adam Fernandez
- John Christison pours a pint of Guiness at his pub Yesterdays in Warwick.
- Adam Fernandez
- Beth Kalet of Warwick samples some of the handmade soaps available at Rosner Soaps in Sugar Loaf.
People come for the shops, but more and more, they also come for the events. "There's always something going on." Says Kern. "There's either a concert going on, or an outdoor event, or some performer or some artist showing." The Sugar Loaf Fall Festival, in its 40th year, brought over 16,000 people to Sugar Loaf over Columbus Day weekend. This past holiday season, Sugar Loaf closed off Kings Highway (its main street) and had horse-drawn carriages, caroling, and a visit from Santa. "If you look at the village [during the winter], it looks like it belongs under a Christmas tree," says Ellis.
Worth the Effort
Warwick and Sugar Loaf, connected by the King's Highway, are also connected by the way they remain unspoiled by the modern trappings of suburbia. While the rest of Orange County welcomes national chains and growing sprawl along Interstate 87 and its other major corridors, these two destinations have held on to their heritage, and retain control over the character of their communities—an achievement that has managed to go relatively unnoticed by the rest of the county. "So many people have moved up into our area in the last 20 years and they just don't even know [Sugar Loaf] exists." Says Kern. "They just get into their car and go right to Woodbury Commons. They don't look around the corner to see what's there."
Bellvale Creamery www.bellvalefarms.com
Collage Gallery (845) 986-9000
Etched in Time Engraving (845) 986-7557
Every Artist Together www.lisacullenart.com
Exposures Gallery www.theexposuresgallery.com
Lycian Centre for the Performing Arts www.lyciancentre.com
Rosner Soap www.rosnersoap.com
Rustic Furnishings www.danielmack.com
Village of Sugar Loaf www.sugarloafnewyork.com
Village of Warwick www.villageofwarwick.org
Warwick in Bloom www.warwickinfo.net/wib
Warwick Summer Arts Festival www.warwickarts.org