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10 Things To Love About Litchfield, Conn.

By Joseph Montebello

The bucolic town of Litchfield, Conn. brings to life one’s image of the perfect New England town. In actuality the town encompasses the boroughs of Litchfield, Bantam, Milton and Northfield, all with their own unique offerings. Litchfield is the largest village and offers an array of activities and places to eat, shop and stimulate the senses.

1. The Green The strip of businesses on West Street (and in Cobble Court) worth checking out includes fashionable boutiques for men and women, R. Derwin Clothiers, Workshop; accessories shops Oliphant and Blueprint Ct; Lawrence Jeffrey Estate Jewelers and Jeffrey Tillou Antiques. It also offers restaurants at every price point: West Street Grill, Ollie’s, DiFranco’s, The Village and @The Corner. In the summer months concerts are offered on the Green, inviting everyone to spread their blankets, eat and enjoy a variety of free music.

2. Midcentury Marvels Thanks to Rufus Stillman, a local manufacturer who revered modernist Marcel Breuer, Litchfield boasts Breuer Houses of varying sizes. All have been painstakingly restored and are immaculate in detail. In addition, Breuer designed two Litchfield public schools as well as the Bantam town hall — all worth a visit. The town also has houses built by Breuer contemporaries John M. Johansen and Eliot Noyes. Have a look at the Oliver Wolcott Library as well where Eliot Noyes masterfully designed a modern addition onto an 18th-century historic house.

3. Movie Mania The Bantam Cinema began life as The Rivoli in 1927 and is said to be Connecticut’s oldest continuously operated movie house. In 1990 it was renamed, and over the years, through various owners, the cinema has survived and now has two screens. In 2013, the Cinema completely modernized the projection and sound systems, replacing 35mm film projectors with a state-of-the-art digital system. Still reminiscent of the iconic art cinemas in New York City, it continues to show first-run movies and selected HBO documentaries.

4. Communing with Nature White Memorial Conservation Center and the Livingston Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy are but two of the popular nature resources Litchfield has to offer. LRWC houses one of the largest and most diverse collections of waterfowl in North America and maintains a flock of more than 80 species totaling 500-plus birds. LRWC is open during the spring through fall, providing visitors the chance to learn about waterfowl, wetlands and the efforts to conserve them. The White Memorial Foundation has 40 miles of trails that cover various habitats. They are open to the public and free of charge for various recreations including hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The White Memorial Boardwalk is a 1.9-mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wildflowers and is a favorite spot for pet owners to walk their dogs or for anyone who enjoys hiking, walking, nature trips or birding.

5. Litchfield History Museum & Reeve House & Law School Located just off The Green, these two buildings house the history of Litchfield. The museum presents the evolution of a small New England town through exhibitions of clothing, household objects and paintings from the earliest European settlement to present time. Across the street is the original building in which Tapping Reeve, an American lawyer and law educator, established a legal practice in 1744 and started the first law school in America.

6. Epicurean Delights Foodies will delight in discovering the Dutch Epicure Shop and sampling the array of treats including imported cheeses and products not found anywhere else. The homemade cakes, pastries and prepared foods are irresistible. The Litchfield Candy Company has something to please everyone’s sweet tooth, including chocolate-dipped cherries, chocolate-covered pretzels and every other chocolate item you can imagine. Brightly colored confections abound, and the shop offers gift baskets. Peaches ‘n’ Cream has been serving up the most extraordinary ice cream at its small shop for more than 35 years. It’s made on the premises from natural ingredients and stuffed into yummy handmade waffle cones. 

7. Everything Arethusa Even if you don’t drink milk, you’ll want to visit Arethusa Farm and see the prize-winning cows that supply some of the most delicious milk in this part of the country, and witness the fastidious and impeccable environs in which they live. From there, stop at Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam and sample their delicious ice creams, yogurt and cheeses. For a quick snack or breakfast, walk across to Arethusa a Mano and treat yourself to homemade salads, and freshly made breads and bagels. End your day by having dinner at the epitome of fine dining, Arethusa al Tavolo, with offers both impeccable food and service.

8. Artisans Abound Guy Wolff and his son Ben are both renowned potters, with their own artistry and style. Both are favorites of Martha Stewart and their studios are chock full of things to admire and to purchase. No matter what you want in the way of tiles, it can be found at Bantam Tileworks. Designers Travis Messinger and Darin Ronning create amazing tiles for every use from shower walls to backsplashes and floors. They also make beautiful vases, cups and other decorative pieces.

9. In Bloom For over 60 years White Flower Farm has been offering a wide range of ornamental plant varieties. Explore the many rows of horticulture treasures and garden accessories. A well-educated staff is there to answer questions and make suggestions.

10. Small Batchers The Baker Brothers started Litchfield Distillery with a commitment to distill the finest spirits in small batches, making use of the best ingredients offered by local farmers. From the initial bourbon offerings, they now offer several vodkas as well as other spirits. Take a tour of their pristine facilities and sample some for yourself.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/10/18 at 10:56 AM • Permalink

Handbags For Habitat Auction: Caring Is Always In Fashion

By Amy Krzanik

Two of the guiding principles of Habitat for Humanity International, which was founded on a farm outside Americus, Georgia in 1976, are community and partnership. Habitat for Humanity of Columbia County (HFHCC) are tapping into both as they gear up for the group’s first fundraising auction. On Thursday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., the organization will partner with Meissner’s Auction House in New Lebanon, New York for a handbag auction to benefit HFHCC’s WomenBuild New Lebanon program.

The program, in which the leadership and volunteer work is done by women, will begin rehabbing an existing structure on County Route 13 at the end of January. A construction skills course will be held this Friday, Jan. 12 for those who wish to be trained as crew leaders. Since the project is a rehab and not a new build, weather is not an issue as the site will be enclosed. If you’re interested, the project is still looking for crew leaders and other volunteers.

As for the purses, Sara McWilliams, HFHCC board member and one of three co-chairs of WomenBuild New Lebanon, says the fundraiser follows another of Habitat for Humanity’s principles — sustainability. You’ve witnessed this principle first hand if you’ve visited one of HFH’s ReStore shops, where you can find everything from gently used furniture and appliances to surplus building materials and paint. McWilliams, who participated in the first WomenBuild New Lebanon project in 2008 (this month’s will be the group’s second project), says handbag donations have come from all over the country, having been solicited by the group’s large steering committee of primarily of New Lebanon women.

“We have carefully curated, primarily name brand bags,” says McWilliams, “as well as a few quite beautiful bags that were made in Italy. Brands include Kate Spade, Coach, Valentino, Prada, Bottega and Dooney & Bourke, and we have a great assortment of primarily vintage evening bags. The selection includes a mix of style and price, but we think every bag is one someone would want.”

In the Habitat spirit, auctioneer Dolores Meissner is donating her space, her auctioneering skills and the services of her staff for the special event. Admission is $10 admission, and for that you’ll be able to enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres, a receive a $5 coupon that can be used toward the purchase of a bag.

McWilliams says there also will be a table of $15 handbags, a sort of grab-and-go in case you’d like to support the event, but are pressed for time and can’t stay for the auction. You can purchase tickets in advance online or by calling the Columbia County Habitat office at (518) 828-0892. Tickets will also be available at the door. 

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/09/18 at 03:49 PM • Permalink

Snack And Snuggle At Morgan’s Cat Cafe In Red Hook

By Amy Krzanik

By now, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a cat café, but did you know that we have our very own right in the RI region?

The cat café concept was popularized in Japan in the mid-to-late 2000s, where, due to space constraints, many landlords do not allow renters to own pets. Tokyo is now home to 58 such cafes, where visitors can “rent” time with an animal while enjoying a sip or snack. The past few years have seen the idea adopted by cities throughout the world, including the U.S., where they are especially popular in California and New York.

Morgan’s Cat Café on Market Street in Red Hook is the Hudson Valley’s first cat café and the only vegetarian/vegan one in New York State. The reason for omitting meat from the menu, says director Bobbi Jo Forte is that it “seemed weird to be saving one species and serving another.”

Forte, who has a long history of rescuing and fostering animals, opened Morgan’s right next door to Living Eden, a shop she’s co-owned with Bonnie Schweppe for the past five years. Inside Living Eden, you can find products from local artists, along with items that are fair trade, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, recycled and upcycled. And, before the café opened in July 2016, you could find adoptable kittens there, too.

Forte and her daughter, Morgan, ran a cat rescue out of their home, but wanted a more formal way to offer adoptions. The plan came together due to a series of overlapping events. Forte was diagnosed with a brain tumor and became ill very quickly, and so wanted a legacy project. After she’d successfully gone through radiation, a good friend of hers passed away from cancer. Two days before she died, she told Forte she wished to honor Morgan, and left them a sum of money so that the mother and daughter could create something together. “She said, ‘Morgan is your sidekick and she’s your strength’ and that’s really true,” says Forte. “When people come into the cafe and ask for the boss, I say ‘She’s 11 years old and 4-feet 9-inches and she’s right here.’”

The café offers a menu of Asian-inspired snacks; guacamole, hummus, salads, wraps and “burgers” ranging from $4–$9; coffee, tea and smoothies from $2–$5; and cat-shaped cookies and cupcakes. You can snack while you watch the 11 cats and kittens frolic inside the glass-enclosed area. (The restaurant and play area are separated, because even cat-lovers don’t want hair in their food). A $1 fee gets you entry into the play area to meet the kitties (wash your hands and remove your shoes first). All 11 cats — the café’s limit — have been vetted and are adoptable.

Morgan’s occupies a clean, sunlit space; the snacks are yummy; and they sell humorous gift items that any cat lady would love. But there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. “It’s a wonderful place for the community to interact with the animals,” says Forte, “but it’s an unbelievable amount of work.” Tasks you don’t see include the physical hands-on rescue work, conducting adoption screenings, and, as anyone with pets knows, an enormous amount of cleaning. Several times a year, it also includes bottle-feeding a litter of kittens around the clock.

With help from volunteers, partner organizations and an advisory board, Morgan’s so far has placed around 100 cats into forever homes. “It’s a rollercoaster,” says Forte. “Some days there are waves and waves of people, and sometimes not as many so the cats just sleep all day.” I’m sure they don’t mind.

Morgan’s Cat Cafe
35 West Market St., Red Hook, NY
Wed–Sat 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday
(845) 250-2272 or (845) 475-2619

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/21/17 at 03:36 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Pine Plains

By Jamie Larson

Pine Plains seems to emerge out of nowhere. You’re driving through the woods between Dutchess County, N.Y. and Connecticut, and all of a sudden this handsome crossroads community pops up. Though small, Pine Plains has a surprising amount of reasons to visit, from the history to the food to the family farms. While the town may seem out of the way, it’s actually on the way to a lot of places, and a fabulous destination all on its own.

1. Hammertown
What can we say about Hammertown and its incomparable owner, Joan Osofsky, that we haven’t already waxed passionately about? The furnishings and housewares that fill Hammertown’s original location in Pine Plains have, in many ways, come to define the home decor aesthetic of the RI region: rustic yet styled, relaxed yet impeccably designed. Osofsky has literally written the book on this brand of style in Love Where You Live, and posts can’t-miss blogs and recipes on the store’s website. And as for those recipes, Osofsky has a new book, fittingly titled Love Where You Eat. Hammertown is more than a store, it’s a way of life.
3201 Rt. 199, (518) 398-7075

2. The Hudson Company
Refurbished reclaimed wood from dilapidated barns and other old or worn structures has become incredibly sought-after material in the interior design industry. It’s a real diamond in the rough and nobody’s better at sanding a beautiful floorboard out of a gnarled old beam than Pine Plains’ own Hudson Company. They’ve quickly become one of the industry’s biggest players in only a few years. Their success is due to the leadership of owner Jamie Hammel and a precise, efficient and quality-first facility outside of town. We recently wrote about how the company has been growing its profile exponentially, doing work for the Whitney, the High Line and countless other well-known institutions, restaurants and shops in NYC. But they’re also applying their supreme talents to homes around our region. Their mill and showroom is open weekdays and they pride themselves on being accommodating. If you cant find exactly what you’re looking for in stock, they’ll go out and find it — in the woods, a mushroom farm or an old barn – and mill it for you.
2290 NY-199, (845) 848-3040

3. Stissing House
In 1782, just after the end of the Revolution, Captain Cornelius Elmendorph founded a new settlement 15 miles from Washington’s camp as a connecting stop between Connecticut and the Hudson River. The Stissing House was the center of life in the new settlement, hosting gatherings of all kinds including many political meetings. Washington himself came through the notable Inn as did Roosevelt and the Marquis de Lafayette. Today, a beautiful restaurant helmed by husband and wife Patricia and Michel Jean calls the Stissing House home. Its traditional French-inspired dishes fit the historic destination with a peerless pastoral elegance. The amount of history and culinary talent that stews so effortlessly at Stissing House makes it not only the jewel of Pine Plains but one of the top places to visit in all the RI region.
7801 S. Main St., (518)-398-8800

4. Dutch’s Spirits at Harvest Homestead Farms
The fact that the Dutch’s Spirits distillery is located on top of a Prohibition-era bootlegging site is reason enough to head down the dirt road just outside of town to the secluded farm. The company’s namesake and spiritual patriarch, Dutch Schultz, made his stiff moonshine in a large underground concrete bunker. The new owners, which include one of Dutch’s descendants, have built a beautiful facility on top of that bunker to carry on the tradition in the light. The large modern barn is a farmstand and a tasting room, carrying the largest selection we’ve ever seen of New York-produced spirits in a single location. They also offer tours of the historic sites on the property and hold a number of events, especially this time of year. 
98 Ryan Rd., (518)-398-1022

5. Pine Plains Platter
The Platter is the best kind of small community café. They have the staples you expect but at a really high level. The menu is diverse and there are inventive specials that keep folks coming back. The café is owned by Irene and Jack Banning who also run the nearby Black Sheep Hill Farm. The couple hired Pine Plains native Amy Benack-Baden as manager and head chef, and she’s turned the quaint storefront into a delicious, family-friendly destination.
2987 Church St., (518) 398-0500

6. Chaseholm Farm
You may recognize the name Chaseholm from the farm list at the bottom of the menus at many of the best restaurants in the region. The dairy, cheeses and meats being produced by the farm’s grass-fed organic herd are all top quality and have become a staple in locally sourced dining. The multi-generational farm is now run by the brother and sister team of Rory and Sarah Chase. The siblings have kept the farm relevant by embracing modern holistic farming practices and by, above all else, working hard and making some really excellent stuff.
115 Chase Rd., (518) 339-2071

7. Lia’s Mountain View Restaurant
The Mirto family came to New York from Sicily in the ‘60s and, after moving upstate to Pine Plains, opened a classic Italian family restaurant with a menu as big as its breathtaking view of Stissing Mountain. It’s a true family affair as Lia, her siblings and their children all take part in running the restaurant. Brother Nick, sister Maria and Lia all have different duties in the kitchen. Along with the innumerable flavorful dishes the two sisters each make a cheesecake, so you can get a slice of each and let them know whose is better. In this healthy family competition, we win.
7685 NY-82, (518) 398-7311

8. Stissing Mountain
Pine Plains’ mountain isn’t just for admiring from afar. If you’re interested in a not-too-long yet intense hike there’s a great trail off Lake Road. The effort is well worth it, as the trail has a payoff in the form of a 90-foot firetower. Thirty feet taller than your average tower, it’s quite the ascent, especially if it’s swaying on a windy day. As you can imagine, there’s a spectacular 360-view from the top that goes on for miles. If you’ve got the gumption, climbing Stissing is worth the exertion.
Trail head located at 7 Lake Rd.

9. Pine Plains Memorial Hall
In many ways, this historic theater is the heart of Pine Plains. The Memorial Hall sits in the center of town, and for generations entertained its citizens, first with plays and later with films. Then for decades it sat dormant and crumbling. But it has now become a symbol of the town’s rebirth, and an energized grass roots effort to restore the facility is well underway. This summer they celebrated a huge fundraising milestone with a ground-breaking and community day that seemed to include every resident. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the energy behind the restoration of the Hall seems unstoppable.
2946 Church St., (518) 738-3409

10. The Inn at Pine Plains
With eight uniquely appointed rooms, the Inn at Pine Plains is the place to stay when exploring Dutchess County. Elegant, clean and accommodating, the Inn even has a signature breakfast sandwich as part of its locally sourced continental breakfast. The Inn is a continuation of Pine Plains’ history, a way-stop for travelers who soon find themselves entranced by the town.
3036 Church St., (518) 771-3117

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/25/17 at 08:10 AM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Washington Depot, CT

By Christine Adams Beckett

As its name suggests, The Depot was once a major hub of the Shepaug Valley Railroad when the area was bustling in Industrial Age commerce, but has now evolved into a community of sophisticated permanent and weekend residents whose mark is well observed in the town’s eateries, shops and cultural institutions. Long a favorite amongst New Yorkers yearning for more bucolic countryside with an air of chic sophistication, Washington Depot provides it all: beautiful farms, cottages, country estates with their accompanying breathtaking views and all the diversions to satisfy the most cosmopolitan tastes, as well as the simple joys that come with the changing, seasonal landscape.

1.  The Hickory Stick Bookshop is a mainstay in town, and has been for over 70 years. Regular readings by local authors dot the calendar, and once boasted William Styron and Arthur Miller on its docket. For my family, it is a destination on a rainy day, when a hike in Steep Rock is not ideal, when we can browse the handsomely displayed stacks and talk books with the staff, which collectively has 100 years of experience, according to the store’s website.

2. And speaking of Steep Rock Association, there are three trails in Washington, one of which, Hidden Valley, is within walking distance to the Depot. The Trust was established by renowned architect Ehrick Rossiter in 1889, when he discovered plans to clearcut trees in an adjacent property while breaking ground for his own country home. The Association now boasts more than 2700 acres of hiking trails with sweeping views and dramatic features, like the “clamshell,” an old quartz quarry and the retired rail bed of the Shepaug line, including its tunnel which might inspire you to come up with your own life metaphor.

3. The architecture of the Depot’s businesses and cultural institutions, not to mention the private homes that spread out farther and farther as you move out of the town center, is inspiring. From the Greek Revival Gunn Memorial Library and Bryant Memorial Hall, to the quaint stretch of storefronts spilling petunias from their window boxes, to the stately summer homes of the turn-of-the-last century, renovated mills and rolling farms, the area’s structures reflect the intangible: this is a community of people who appreciate art, literature, natural beauty and history. 

Note: For an insider’s glimpse of Ehrick Rossiter’s legacy, which remains in the area’s stately homes, there’s a book devoted to the man’s work: Rossiter: Country Houses of Washington, Connecticut.

4. The Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens are a testament to local business people and citizens’ thoughtful repurposing of vacant buildings. Once a gas station that long sat abandoned, The Park and Gardens is now a stylish center for residents to enjoy cultural programming, a weekly farmers’ market (run by a local whose family can trace their lineage back hundreds of years), movie nights and community gatherings. Most appealing: what was once an eyesore is now a green space open to all, providing a “welcome to the Depot” for neighbors and visitors, and an enticing swath of land that my children love. Area artist Mark Mennin’s sculpted bench, which flanks the lawn, is a conversation starter as well: a long carved piece of marble that he somehow made look plush (and is)!

5. The Washington Arts Association is another long-honored cultural institution in town, offering exhibits by emerging and established artists and classes for all mediums of visual art. You can pop in anytime and see something that will inspire you, but a favorite of mine is the annual student exhibition, where my family and I can stand agape before evidence of a neighbor’s talent. At Christmastime there also is a fabulous gift fair, a relic of which still decorates my 18-year-old son’s bookcase: a hand-carved wooden toy truck cum rough-hewn piece of folk art.

6. The eateries. Whether you crave local organic fare in a casual setting that feels like glamping (Hidden Valley Eatery), long-established gourmet surrounded by kitchenware for sale that make anyone want to viens à table (The Pantry), or upscale pub fare which seems to attract the arts crowd on Tuesday nights (The GW Tavern), the Depot is your place. Marty’s Café is open seven days a week for a sandwich and a great cup of coffee if the quiet of the surrounds leaves you craving for quick social contact. If dining in is your thing, come to Judy Black Park (see #4) on Saturday morning to buy your own locally grown produce for all that you need to entertain your guests.

7. The Gunn Memorial Library is another established cultural institution in the Depot that offers all of what you’d expect: book discussions, story hours for children, a local history research room, any title you’d like to borrow. But its annual fundraising events have become ones to plan for, including the Library Luminaries event, where local talent is celebrated and toasted at small dinner parties throughout the town, preceded by a cocktail in the gorgeous stone Greek Revival building. In the fall, it’s the Design and Antiques Show, which offers booths from local dealers and all the treasures they have to offer. The venue for this event is the Washington Primary School, which turns its gymnasium into a chic exhibition hall on Columbus Day weekend — the unofficial start of leaf-peeping season — when the brilliance of the foliage will leave you in awe.

8. The Gunn Historic Museum will put the Depot into a clearer perspective for you. Yes, as is suggested by the name, the General did sleep here (and the tavern that hosted him down the road still stands as a private home), but the Depot’s history holdings are far more interesting than the expected Revolutionary New England olde pewter mug. At one time, Washington was mostly a farming community, but the power of the Shepaug later turned the industry turbine of the age: mills, ironworks, factories and quarries. After the advent of different forms of commerce, the town — with its proximity to New York City, its distinct architecture, natural beauty and unique community — reinvented itself.  See it all for yourself in the newly installed Washington History Room at the Gunn, located in a bequeathed Colonial home that was renovated this year. 

Photo: Jim Ross

9. The annual traditions. Christmas fairs and fall antique shows aside, there are more campy aspects to the Depot, like the annual Memorial Day celebration which will leave you looking for Normal Rockwell and his easel, and which you’d expect from a town that hosted and is named for the Man Himself. Think memorial wreaths tossed into the Shepaug in memory of our fallen naval veterans, readings of “In Flanders’ Fields” by a local veteran, and parades led by antique fire trucks and lined by treat-wielding children with flushed faces. 

10. Grace Mayflower Inn & Spa. For those with the most discriminating tastes, the elegant Grace Mayflower is situated on 58 picturesque acres and surrounded by an additional 3,000 acres of nature preserve just outside the Depot.

Photo: Serge Detalle

A member of the Relais & Châteaux association of the world’s most enticing hotels, the Grace Mayflower also offers a luxurious and world-renowned spa with all the expected services, as well as a few unexpected ones like meditation, sound therapy and Blue Heron Insight, helping guests “realize their strengths and motivation” thereby strengthening one’s interpersonal relationships. For locals, it’s a special venue for cocktail hour in the tap room or dinner in the elegant dining room.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/02/17 at 10:36 AM • Permalink

Paws Up If You Want To Dance At Jacob’s Pillow

By Lisa Green

Despite the fact that I took ballet, tap and jazz dance lessons from age toddler (solo performance at age two, thank you very much) through post-college years, I’d be too self conscious now to take one of Jacob’s Pillow’s community dance classes. But with my four-legged sidekick as my dance partner, I’d be more inclined to take part.

So I was intrigued to hear that, in celebration of National Dog Day on Saturday, Aug. 26, Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass. — which always welcomes canines on its campus — is inviting dogs (along with their people) to the dance. Partnering with the Berkshire Humane Society (BHS), Jacob’s Pillow says it continues to “expand the parameters of who gets to dance.” Why not Buddy, Daisy or Champ?

Hosting the dance-with-your-dog activity is Elizabeth Johnson, the Pillow’s Dance Exchange Artist, whose job is to engage individuals and communities in dance making and creative practices. She’s also an experienced dog dancer and will lead participants and their leashed canines through a series of simple and fun movements: making patterns, practicing gestures, and showing off tricks. After a 45-minute practice session, the performers will demonstrate what they’ve learned. No experience is needed; just be a good pet parent and make sure your dog is comfortable with loud noises and being around other dogs (and they must be leashed at all times).

Canine choreography is just one aspect of the event; a host of vendors (including local pet stores, Tractor Supply Company, Annie Selke Co., Big Y and Price Chopper) will be on site, and prizes will be raffled off. While the event is free, Jacob’s Pillow encourages visitors to make a donation to the BHS or bring items off the Humane Society’s donation wish list.

Whether you have a pawtner or not, this is a day to revel in the delights of dance, dogs and Jacob’s Pillow, and to recognize the fantastic work the Berkshire Humane Society does.

Jacob’s Pillow Dog Dance
Saturday, Aug. 26.
Class begins at 11 a.m.
RSVP here.
(413) 243-9919, Ext. 165

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/21/17 at 10:14 AM • Permalink

Historic Hudson Has 10 Million Reasons To Celebrate

By Jamie Larson

Historic Hudson already would’ve had a lot to celebrate at their upcoming Drinks on the Waterfront party at the Dunn Warehouse Site on Friday, Sept. 1, as the Hudson, New York organization brings attention to one of the city’s most visible abandoned historic structures right in the center of the Riverfront Park. But then, on Aug. 1, New York State awarded Hudson a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant to help economic development at the waterfront and the surrounding neighborhood.

“It really gives us something to celebrate,” said Alan Neumann, president of Historic Hudson, “especially for the future of the Bridge District. Which is everything below Second Street.”

The waterfront event was initially planned to fundraise for the busy organization and create more interest in the preservation of Dunn’s, which had already received a $500,000 structural stabilization grant in January.

While the former warehouse may not be the most refined historic structure in Hudson, it is one of the only remnants (along with the Basilica) of Hudson’s industrial past and its location makes it ideal for connecting new development at the waterfront to the city’s iconic historic character. According to a survey done by the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 (credit to Gossips of Rivertown for sourcing the document), the building was constructed in 1850, as the Hudson and Boston Railroad Shop.

Once used to accommodate large machinery, Dunn’s big bay doors and large open interior may soon be developed into a food hub and restaurant that can both provide affordable food to the neighborhood — currently a food desert — and an eatery for anyone visiting the park. Every project currently outlined in the proposal is just that, a proposal, and will need to go through a public approval process, but there is little doubt Dunn’s will be a big part of future development. Other proposed projects include expansion of Basilica Hudson, support for existing light industry, assistance for an incoming hotel, business incubators, improved pedestrian access to the waterfront and much more.

“Let’s imagine a beautiful and productive future for this city-owned site,” Neumann said. “We need people to come down to the waterfront and have a glass of wine and imagine the future. We need to have a historic anchor.”

The benefit is $35 and includes food from Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions, and wine from Hudson Wine Merchants featuring vintages from the Blue Danube Wine Company. All are central European wines that Neumann says will really surprise people. There will also be a silent auction of historic photographs of the city.

“It’s of primary importance that Historic Hudson keeps its voice strong to preserve what’s quirky and historically important,” Neumann said. “It’s what makes Hudson distinctive and we need to address that as development moves forward. This matters.”

Some Fresh Intelligence About The Grant

Reactions to the grant around town were extremely positive by and large — but Hudson has a long history of justified skepticism about development projects, and the grant application was quickly dissected. While this civic ferocity can sometimes stymie officials, it is one of the key reasons Hudson has been able to maintain so much of the historic character that makes the city a draw. Hudson Development Corporation Executive Director Sheena Salvino, who led the creation of the grant proposal, stressed that no project has been approved and $300,000 of the grant is set aside to hire a planner to shepherd the projects forward the right way. 

“The overarching goal for the narrative we submitted to get the grant was to build a bridge between past and present,” Salvino said. “We stressed the role of historic buildings and how historic sites and things like landscaping promote economic development. Our proposal was to show that we were going to accelerate job growth at every level and create an ecosystem for that growth within the district. In our application we went across the entire spectrum of what’s going on down there.”

One aspect of that spectrum is troubling to residents familiar with the 20-plus years of community opposition to plans for expanding the cement business at Hudson’s deep water port. From blocking the creation of a massive factory by St Lawrence Cement decades ago, to the current opposition to the proposed creation of a haul road by the dock’s current owner A. Colarusso & Son, the community has made its opposition to expansion of operations pretty clear. So, these residents were disheartened to find in the proposal a sentence claiming, “...City officials and neighboring business owners support the expansion of Colarusso.”

The sentence is a bruise in an otherwise shiny apple. Salvino was quick to admit that the statement was a misrepresentation of public opinion and a mistake for which she takes responsibility.

“We did not work with Colarusso. Everyone knows there is a community issue around this. From our perspective, Colarusso has a 100-year history in the city and they are an example of the type of industry currently operating at the waterfront. They invested seven million dollars in the purchase of the port and we needed to show the state examples of extensive investment. It was recommended to us by the Empire State Development office that it is a part of the waterfront so it should be included, whether it ends up in the final plan or not.

“Was that sentence the best way to put it? No, it wasn’t,” Salvino continued. “The grant writers didn’t have the background on the history of the dispute and I didn’t catch it in the editing process, and I’m sorry about that. My job is about moving things forward.”

Other skepticism of the proposal comes from the waterfront district’s large minority and low-income population. There is concern that economic development in their neighborhood means the further gentrification of a city already deeply segregated along racial and economic lines. Residents hope the final plan will address the needs of the entire community. Salvino says job creation for all is the core of the project’s mission.

In total, the grant is a major win for Hudson and officials have a rare opportunity to accelerate growth in a city already well on the upswing. Good thing there’s a party coming up where you can raise a glass to what’s historic — and what’s to come — at the waterfront.

Drinks on the Waterfront
Friday, Sept. 1, 4-7 p.m.
The Dunn Warehouse Yard at the corner of Broad St. & Water St., Hudson, NY
Tickets: $35 online, $40 at the door

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/14/17 at 08:38 AM • Permalink

Great Barrington Gears Up For Another Berkshire BikeNFly

By Lisa Green

From just about any vantage point, Berkshires views are pretty gorgeous. On Saturday, Aug. 19, the Berkshire BikeNFly presents an opportunity to marvel at the mountains, forests, farmland and rivers from two perspectives: via bicycle or from the air, aloft in a plane, helicopter or hot air balloon.

What began as a fly-in at the Great Barrington airport to raise funds for the Great Barrington Rotary Club has grown to involve a day of bicycle riding, and a celebration of aviation and community spirit. This year’s event will begin with a ride of your choice — 20, 35 or 52 miles — that pedals off at 9 a.m., beginning and ending at the airport. The preregistration fee (by Aug. 18) is $40 and the first 100 riders to register receive a BikeNFly t-shirt.

It’s a popular ride; the bike event has grown each year says John Benedict, a co-chair (along with Richard Stanley and Mark DeCelle) of the 6th annual Great Barrington, Mass. event that’s become a destination for cyclists and those passionate about planes. The first year, about 80 cyclists showed up, and last year there were nearly 200. It draws people from all over and, with three different routes, Benedict insists anybody can do it (although, this being the Berkshires, you can’t get away from hills). Each course is well marked and color coded. The Boy Scouts are tasked with giving out food and water.

As riders make their way back, the airport comes to life with plane, helicopter and hot air balloon (tethered) rides, paragliding and remote-controlled plane demonstrations, plenty of food and craft vendors, and live music performances. Jeff Lenosky, a mountain biker known as the “Trail Boss” who holds the world record for bunny hopping (the cycling skill, not the dance) will perform two shows in which he exhibits his prowess.

Proceeds from the BikeNFly benefit a wide range of worthy Rotary charities, including elderly services, the Railroad Street Youth Project, the International Youth Exchange and scholarships.

And although it’s a local event on behalf of a local organization, about half of the participants, bicyclists and pilots alike, come from outside Berkshire County.

“We have one person who flies in with a fold-up bicycle in his plane,” says Benedict. “He’s a true bike-and-fly guy.”

Berkshire BikeNFly
Saturday, Aug. 19, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Great Barrington Airport, 71 Egremont Plain Rd., Great Barrington, MA
Ride begins at 9 a.m. Pre-register online.
Registration fee is $40 in advance; $50 day of event.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/06/17 at 08:29 PM • Permalink

In General: 10 Country Stores in the Rural Intelligence Region

By Nichole Dupont

If there is one thing the RI region takes pride in…great pride, actually…it’s the plethora of truly charming general stores that dot the back roads and villages of historic, sometimes sleepy towns. In these gems, visitors can find wonderful baked goods and fresh food, unique (even odd) gifts, specialty groceries and loyal locals. These stores are community touchstones that are as timeless as the towns they inhabit. 

Monterey General Store This creaky-floored historic building in the tiny town center of Monterey, Mass. has changed hands a few times, but its charm (and coffee) has not suffered in the transition. Now under the stewardship of Scott Edward Cole, the store/café — right on the Konkapot River — offers pantry staples, baked goods, delicious breakfast plates and sandwiches, and unexpected items like a full array of shaving products for men, intoxicating scented candles and curated wines. All within the walls of a mercantile building that dates back to 1780.

Becket General Store & Café
Right in the heart of the Berkshires’ remotest rabbit hole, this Main Street store is round-the-clock food heaven, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef Heather Anello and Kerry Willig cook up home fries, rodeo burgers and enchiladas all day to appreciative customers who no longer have to brave a 40-minute sojourn to get a pizza or a bottle of wine.

Hillsdale General Store 
This big, airy space is home to just about everything, except a full kitchen. (But don’t worry, if you’re hungry, just walk around back to Cross Roads Food Shop for some serious and simple, farm-y fare.) The Hillsdale General Store is a mercantile museum, complete with sparkly barware and other house items, hefty aprons and gloves for serious builders and gardeners, vintage-style games for children and antique collectibles behind a glass case. Upstairs, an emporium of furniture, art and stationery draws shoppers into an old-timey world ruled by fine linen and total nostalgia.

Old Chatham Country Store and Café 
A village landmark in the Hudson Valley, this charming “OC” destination is an art gallery, grocery store, and breakfast, lunch and take-out (on the weekends) hotspot. On Friday evenings, it transforms into a romantic bistro serving a simple menu. OC offers a great atmosphere, not to mention specialty cheeses and pints of Jeni’s ice cream.

Berkshire General Store 
Located on Pittsfield’s main drag, the Berkshire General Store, while still relatively new to the North Street scene, has already become a staple in the urban shuffle. This store has everything, including coveted daily soup and sandwich specials (including a famous clam chowder and a killer chili), ridiculous sweet treats, 99-cent coffee, T-shirts and memorabilia, toys and every other imaginable thing.

The Southfield Store 
You could almost miss this place if it weren’t for the fact that there are often cars lined up here for Sunday brunch. Specifically for the irresistible eggs Benedict, fluffy crème fraiche stuffed omelets and fantastic coffee. Not to mention a dedicated dinner crowd drawn to savory pork belly and grilled octopus. The Southfield Store is an extension of The Old Inn on the Green, and offers the same attention to food detail and memorable palate experience. The high-ceilinged store contains whole cases and shelves of homemade pastries and sweet things — thick cookies, lemon pound cake, croissants — and on any given Sunday, is inhabited by folks in their Sunday best, as well as sod-spackled farmers and outdoor folks ready for a Bloody Mary.

Salisbury General Store & Pharmacy 
This chock-full mercantile and full-service pharmacy has been in business since 1935. Plan on spending a good 45 minutes, at least, perusing the shelves of fragrant soaps and toiletries — including some favorites from France — and quirky retro-style linens and homeopathic remedies. This store in Connecticut’s quiet Northwest Corner is worth the long stop and, between party favors, artisan pottery and hilarious greeting cards, you will not leave empty-handed.

Blue Door Market & Café 
One word: Pie. Another word: Also pie. The Blue Door is a hidden gem in farm country (i.e. Sheffield, Mass.) that serves up great sandwiches, including a famous breakfast sandwich, and generous baked goods for the local work crowd as well as for folks just passing through. In addition to the hearty deli menu, the little-market-that-can also offers fresh produce, craft wine and beer, ice cream, the daily news from many outlets, and indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a quiet hangout, mostly because customers are too busy gawking and or eating to make much noise.

Charles H. Baldwin & Sons 
The overwhelming aroma of baking extracts like vanilla and almond saturate the air and the plank floors of this 125-year-old West Stockbridge, Mass. institution. In addition to the vast offerings of extracts, in amber apothecary bottles of all shapes and sizes, Baldwin’s carries snarky Blue Q gifts for every occasion, 10-cent candies, fine chocolate, flavored table syrups, retro toys and seasonal gifts. It’s an authentic trip down memory lane, and one worth taking.

Store at the Five Corners 
At the junction of Routes 7 and 43, right in the heart of Berkshire County’s “North Country,” sits this literal oasis of gourmand treats and truly beautiful gifts (not to mention specialty foods). The French influence is undeniable, with chambray-linen aprons, rustic cheeseboards, crusty breads served with butter and jam, and delicate macarons and meringues. A long farm table with two benches on either side encourages total strangers to sidle up next to one another and enjoy the smells of high-quality teas and coffee, handmade soaps, and one-of-a-kind cheeses.

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Posted by Nichole on 05/01/17 at 02:16 PM • Permalink

Act Now! Participation Workshops: Civics 101 In One Day Or Less

Back when civics classes were a regular part of the public school package, we learned not to take our democracy for granted, but there seemed little reason to take that notion to heart. Things are different now, and while we have been slapped awake and propelled into action, we find ourselves in need of coaching. What exactly are our rights, and how do we best make our voices heard?

Those who want a citizen’s refresher course can attend the Civic Participation Workshops at Berkshire Community College on Saturday, April 1. The Four Freedoms Coalition, in partnership with Berkshire Community College, is holding a day of free, non-partisan advocacy workshops, with a mission to boost the confidence of budding (and veteran) citizen activists.

The idea for the trainings came from Becky Meier, who works with adult learners in the English As A Second Language program at BCC’s South County campus. Inspired by other communities doing similar programs, she brought the idea to the Four Freedoms Coalition, an organization with which she was involved.

“Lots of people have become reenergized and politicized, on both ends of the political spectrum,” she says. “I kept hearing people say they were confused about what to do. They weren’t sure how to write letters, or they were hesitant about making phone calls. Some don’t know who their elected officials are. Something is holding people back. I realized we needed a basic civics course.”

Workshops will cover a range of topics: how to write a letter to the editor, call your legislator, use social media effectively, advocate on the local, state and national levels, and how to run for office (or help someone else to). Among the people running the workshops will be Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and local community activists Shirley Edgerton, Sherwood Guernsey and Megan Whilden. All are volunteering their time.

Meier stresses that this is a nonpartisan event. Everyone is welcome and can choose to stay for an hour or the day.

“Hopefully, this is just the beginning,” she says. “If it’s successful, we’ll see what people are interested in, and continue to do other workshops.”

For more information and to register, click here, or call Becky Meier at (518) 781-4866.

Civic Participation Workshops  
Saturday, April 1, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Berkshire Community College
1350 West St., Pittsfield, MA

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/19/17 at 12:41 PM • Permalink