Country Style + Community Conscience = Hammertown at 25
In the very beginning 25 years ago, there were mostly crafts and gift items. “And lots of dried flowers!” recalls Hammertown Barn owner and founder Joan Osofsky, grinning and wincing at the memory of mid-1980s country style. “We had quilting and stenciling workshops, too.” When she opened a shop in the barn next to her house on Route 199 a mile east of downtown Pine Plains, she was looking for a way to help support her family that was consistent with their new rural life. She and her now-ex-husband were both 40 years old, and they had tired of living in suburban New Jersey. “We were seeking a life change,” explains Joan, whose husband yearned to work with his brothers at the family’s Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Ancramdale.
A former school teacher, Joan is a self-taught merchandiser and stylist with the soul of a community organizer. “There was no grand vision or plan 25 years ago,” she says. Her son, Gregg (photo right with his mom) was in sixth grade, and her daughter, Dana, was in eighth grade, and she knew the family could not live on their share of profits from Ronnybrook (which had not yet started selling milk in glass bottles at the New York City Greenmarkets.) “I spent $10,000 to fix up the barn—there were still horse stalls in one half—and $5,000 on inventory,” she recalls. “I also ran a bed and breakfast in our house to get our cash flowing.”
Soon, Joan partnered with a neighbor from Ancramdale, Katherine Martucci, to buy and sell antiques. “Those were the days when I could drive an hour and find enough things to fill a truck,” she says. (After a few years, Joan bought out Martucci.) “Now, good antiques are so hard to come by.” Joan started going to England and France, bringing back linens, dishes and accessories that would look right in the old Colonials and farmhouses that more and more city people were buying and renovating as weekend houses. “At the heart of what I do is the love of country life,” says the one-time farmer’s wife as her dogs with their dirty paws jump on her lap and lick her face.
In fact, her pets led her into the upholstered furniture business in 1998. “I had a five-year-old sofa, and the arm was fraying because that is where my dog rested his head,” she says. “I went to Pottery Barn and other stores and could not find appropriately sized slipcovered sofas with good style.” She discovered that the North Carolina-based Mitchell Gold Company made affordable slip-covered furniture that she thought was perfect not only for her home but for her customers’ homes, too. “You had to place a minimum order of $25,000,” she recalls. “I nearly choked when I wrote that check.”
It was a turning point for Hammertown, which was now on a path to becoming a comprehensive lifestyle store. With big pieces of furniture to sell, she opened a second shop on Warren Street in Hudson in 1999, but she only had a one-year lease and her landlord would not renew it. “Dick Hermans was opening his second Oblong Books in Rhinebeck and he told me the space next door was available, and that’s how we got to Rhinebeck,” she says. “We opened a month after 9/11.” The next summer, she expanded in the other direction by opening a branch in Great Barrington. “All my stores are in such special communities,” she says.
Joan can be found most days behind the register at the Pine Plains flagship, which keeps her intimately aware of her clients’ needs and desires. “My goal has always been for locals and people just visiting for the weekend to feel comfortable and inspired,” she says. “I am drawn to things that are beautiful, usable, affordable, soulful. You can always find a $10 gift here, and I think we are the easiest place in the world to buy a baby present.” With its chockablock arrangements of ottomans, rugs, pillows, coffee table books, toys, jewelry, candles, glasses, cookware and gadgets, Hammertown is a dry goods store with a modern rural flair. When did she realize that Hammertown had come to represent the Hudson Valley/Berkshires aesthetic? She pauses. “I’m just beginning to feel that now,” she says.
Her son, Gregg, a tech-savvy activist and Stanford graduate who has lived in Brooklyn but is always drawn back to Pine Plains, has come home to work with his mother to keep Hammertown vital and relevant. “I believe we can grow but without having to open more stores,” says Gregg who paid attention to Hammertown’s books even as a teenager. (His sister, Dana, left with their mother, also works at Hammertown.) Joan is clearly comforted and inspired by her children. “Gregg is the one who said we had to build an online community on the Internet,” she says. “He’s the one who said we could only do e-commerce if we created a niche, curated experience because we cannot compete with the big retailers and catalogs.”
Both mother and son seem as concerned with quality of life as with the bottom line. “What I want to do here is not married to gross receipts,” says Gregg, who has recently renovated the downstairs of his childhood home next door to the Barn, knocking down walls to create a large open kitchen where Hammertown can host cooking classes, how-to workshops and salon-style events. “Hammertown is really about local living,” he says. “It’s important to bring in fresh blood. I want young people from the city to come explore living upstate.”
The Osofskys have become big supporters of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, and on October 2, they will be hosting their 5th annual benefit and silent auction for the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program for Columbia and northeast Dutchess counties, which provides funds to individuals and families who are in great difficulty and need an emergency financial boost in a particular area of their lives to help stabilize their immediate situation. “Last year we raised $27,000,” says Joan. It will be the second time they’ve pitched a tent in four weeks, because this weekend is Hammertown’s annual Labor Day tent sale.
3201 Route 199, Pine Plains; 518.398 7075
Tent Sale in Pine Plains Only
September 4: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
September 5: 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Tent Sale Early Bird Buying on Saturday, September 4 (8 - 9 a.m.) with $40 tax-deductible contribution to the Pine Plains Fire Department
Montgomery Row; 845.876.1450
Hammertown Great Barrington
325 Stockbridge Road; 413.528.7766