The faces of a changing Hudson: residents reflect on city’s shifts

Newcomers and longtime residents consider the latest pandemic-fueled wave of migration. Written and photographed for Times Union Hudson Valley, January 19, 2022. 

By Jessica Chappe and Annie Reynolds 

The Hudson area has historically been a destination for second homeowners and weekend getaways from New York City. But during the pandemic, urbanites moved north to settle in Hudson at an unprecedented rate, with a 204 percent spike in the number of people who changed their address from New York City to Columbia County — from 412 in 2019 to 1,254 in 2020. 

The transition to remote work has altered the local fabric of Hudson and towns across the region. New residents are enjoying more space for work and family, the fresh air and rolling hills of Columbia County. Long-term residents are facing a changing downtown and the city’s largest population growth in decades. All are dealing with rising housing costs.

In interviews with over a dozen people in this city of 6,000, new and seasoned residents shared their personal experiences of a changing Hudson.

Dennis McEvoy, owner of Rogerson’s Hardware

Dennis McEvoy, President of Rogerson’s Hardware, the oldest store on Warren Street.

Dennis McEvoy, a born-and-raised Hudson resident, is the fourth-generation owner of Rogerson’s Hardware on Warren Street and has been a practicing attorney in Hudson for 35 years.

The store originally opened in 1832 and was bought by McEvoy’s family in the 1870s. “We’re the new owners. My family has only been here since the 1870s. We took down the ‘under new management’ sign a couple of weeks ago.”

Over his lifetime, McEvoy has watched Warren Street transform. In the 1960s and 70s, he says, “We closed at noon on Saturdays during the summer months, and by one o’clock, you could shoot guns up our street and you wouldn’t hit anybody. It was just absolutely dead.”

Now, Warren Street attracts visitors year round. “You never know where people are from. A couple summers ago, I don’t think a week went by where we didn’t have visitors from Australia.”

McEvoy remarked that Warren Street used to be a place where people bought things they needed, but it’s become a place where people buy things they want. “Do I wish that there was more traditional retail down here? Yes,” he says. “But am I complaining? No, because there’s traffic and the folks that come here are very gracious, overwhelmingly. They appreciate good service. And they spend money.”

Dustin Duncan, epidemiology professor at Columbia University

Dustin Duncan, professor at Columbia University, moved to his Hudson home as a full-time resident in March 2020.

“I think I was meant to be here,” says Dustin Duncan, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, Duncan left his primary residence in Harlem to travel upstate to his second home in Hudson, which he purchased in 2019, thinking he would stay there temporarily in lockdown. “Unbeknownst to me, that became a full-time move,” says Duncan, who has made Hudson his primary residence since then, with an occasional commute to the Columbia campus in New York City.

“I didn’t anticipate leaving New York City. Never. When I moved here, I just felt like it was the place I wanted to be.”

When he visited Hudson for the first time in 2018, he says, “I remember people being exceedingly friendly, which I didn’t feel in other towns. I remember my mom asking me, ‘How do you feel up there?’ And what she was trying to say was, ‘As a Black person, how do you feel?’ I was like: I feel fineEveryone was waving at me and being really friendly.”

Barnfox, a coworking space on Warren Street, has become one of Duncan’s primary sources of community.

When deciding between Hudson and other towns in the region, Duncan factored in his Caribbean heritage and noticed that Hudson is one of the only towns where he’s seen a Jamaican store in the town center. “I go to Paulette [at West Indies Natural Food and Grocery]. Another reason that I feel exceedingly comfortable in Hudson is this resource.”

Carla Perez-Gallardo, owner of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis

Carla Perez-Gallardo, co-founder and owner of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, has lived in Hudson for 10 years.

When Carla Perez-Gallardo founded Lil’ Deb’s Oasis with Hannah Black in 2016, they named their project in honor of Debbie Fierro, the previous owner of the building and former eatery for 26 years, then called Debbie’s Little Restaurant.

“We wanted to honor the history that had come before us, and not just come in, erase it, and put a new stamp on it, even though what we’re doing is so different,” says Perez-Gallardo.

Perez-Gallardo, now the restaurant’s sole owner, moved to Hudson in 2010 after growing up in Queens and attending Bard College. As a first-generation U.S. citizen with Ecuadorian and Argentinian roots, Perez-Gallardo also wanted the menu to reflect her culinary origins and for the restaurant to resonate with Hudson residents. Tropical comfort food is served in an eclectic interior filled with art from the community.

Perez-Gallardo attributes the restaurant's philosophy to Debbie, who hosted Lil’ Deb’s earlier pop-ups before it was a restaurant: “Debbie was flipping pancakes and having people pour their own coffee. There was this super intimate interplay between who was a customer and who was a community member.”

Since COVID, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis has added 69 cents to every menu item — “because 69 represents reciprocity and the act of giving and receiving,” she says playfully — with the proceeds donated to various community projects at the end of the month, such as Kite’s Nest, Hudson Area Library and the Parole Preparation Project. By the end of 2021 they raised over $30,000 within 7 months of reopening. The restaurant also added a “Community Tab” credit system, where any customer can add $10 increments to their bill to help others with less money lower their tab. Those who want to use the tab can put in a request for it when they place an order.

Perez-Gallardo has noticed the impact of the population influx on Lil’ Deb’s staff. Because of rising housing costs, she says, “This is the first year my entire staff doesn’t live in Hudson. Mostly everyone has lived within 10 or 15 minutes. [Staff] are commuting 40 minutes or more to get here now.”

Austin Urban, real estate agent

Austin Urban, a real estate agent from Poughkeepsie, bought his first home in Hudson in March 2020.

Austin Urban, a real estate agent originally from Poughkeepsie, bought a home in Hudson and moved in when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States. He saw opportunity in the emerging market for the crowd coming from New York City who could work from home.

“You don’t have to have a finance job on Wall Street and work on Wall Street,” he says. “You can sit in your three-bedroom farmhouse in Chatham while you fix it up and make it really cute and work from there.”

Urban sees the difficulty in pleasing all residents, new and old, in Hudson. “A lot of people think that the heavy amounts of tourism are bad for housing, and are pushing locals out of Hudson, which in some cases, they probably are. But I don’t think you’re ever going to get a scenario in a small economy like [Hudson], where it benefits 100 percent of the people.”

He grew up spending family vacations in nearby Copake Lake; now it’s the region’s culture that he appreciates. “I love showing this place off,” says Urban. “Now, there’s so much going on: new businesses, new restaurants, orchards, clothing companies. You really can’t get bored here.”

As housing continues to be a hot topic in Hudson, Urban sees the city’s growth as a positive. “I think that all boats rise — if businesses are opening, employment’s going up and people are coming to the area,” he says, “I do think it’s mostly for the better.”

Jacqueline Salvatore, undersheriff for Columbia County

Jacqueline Salvatore, undersheriff of Columbia County and lifelong Hudson resident, at her home office.

Jacqueline Salvatore has been a Hudson resident her entire life, working as a New York State Trooper for 20 years before retiring in 2016. In January she was sworn in as the first female and woman of color undersheriff for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Salvatore recalls shopping on Warren Street in her childhood, when “everybody’s family seemed to have good jobs and were employed,” she says. “It went from that to the Urban Renewal Project. Then you started to see a few antique stores and different people moving into the area and buying up the properties.”

She says she loves some of the new businesses on Warren Street, “but it’s difficult for a lot of local people to be able to [afford to] go to some of the restaurants and eat.”

Though the reasons people come to Hudson are clear, the impact on the community is less straightforward. “This is a gorgeous county, and I think it’s evident by the number of people who have moved here,” Salvatore says. “But just don’t try to change it into something that you escaped from. Leave the Hamptons in the Hamptons. Leave Columbia County, Columbia County.”

Salvatore urges newcomers to consider the perspective of Hudson’s long-term residents. Some Hudson locals are unable to afford the cost of living when transplants, many with urban-based salaries, drive those living costs higher.

“If you own multiple properties, consider making somebody a super of one of those properties so that their family can live and have a decent place. If you own a business, take somebody in on an internship and offer them a job with a living wage so that they can [afford to] stay here. Invest in this community that you love so the people that you want to help can still live here and be a part of it.”

In addition to supporting Don Krapf and the men and women of Columbia County Sheriff’s office, Salvatore’s plans as undersheriff include hiring people in policing and corrections who reflect the communities they represent, and supporting prison programming to reduce recidivism in Hudson.

Jason Denton, owner of Feast & Floret

Jason, Jennifer, Jack and Finn Denton moved to Hudson from NYC in March 2020. Jason opened Feast & Floret in June 2020.

In March 2020, Jason, Jennifer, Jack, and Finn Denton migrated to the Hudson Valley from New York City to quarantine for two weeks with some friends. They never left, becoming Hudson renters by June 2020.

“We always planned on living up here when the boys got out of college,” says Jason. “But obviously things moved a little quicker than we anticipated.”

Jason has worked in the restaurant business in New York City for decades, and ran a series of acclaimed Italian restaurants, the last of which closed in 2019. Feast & Floret opened in the space formerly occupied by Fish & Game, a high-end restaurant in Hudson run by Zakary Pelaccio.

Their eldest son Jack is a sophomore at McGill University living in Montreal; Finn, their younger son, has returned to New York City to finish high school after a year at Hawthorne Valley High School, just outside of Hudson. Jennifer works remotely for a digital media company in the city, and commutes back and forth with Finn.

Feast & Floret has a staff of 16. “We have a lot of local people who have lived here for years who work here,” Jason says. (Undersheriff Jacqueline Salvatore’s daughter is one of the restaurant’s servers.) “Having a lot of people that work here who are from the area — it helps because there’s a direct connection to their families, and their families’ families.”

When Jason isn’t at the restaurant, he says, “I work on field journals and study mushrooms. I’m in the woods pretty much every morning, clearing my head, getting involved with the forest and what it has to offer.”

He says he’s found community from the guests and staff at Feast & Floret. “I couldn’t be more appreciative for all the support from everybody around here. It kind of solidified what I always thought about this area.”

Ishaan Smith, owner of Aikonyc Cutz

Ishaan Smith (Canary Cheez), a third-generation Hudson resident, at his barber shop on Columbia Street in Hudson.

Ishaan Smith, known locally as Canary Cheez, is a licensed barber and musician who grew up on Allen Street and is a third-generation Hudson resident. His grandmother came to Hudson from New Jersey in the 1950s.

When the pandemic hit, Smith had to close a shop he co-owned in Albany after three and a half years.  “I knew I had to continue to pay to feed my family,” he says. “So I had to cut hair out of my car.”

In December 2021 Smith opened a new barber shop, Aikonyc Cutz — Aikonyc blends the first letters of his three kids’ and their mother's first names — on Columbia Street.

He sees the effects of rising costs on his community. “They don’t know where their next meal is gonna come from because the paycheck that they got yesterday gotta go straight to the rent that just got increased by $240 by this new guy that just bought their building.”

He continues: “If you want to talk about the ‘new’ Hudson with the ‘new’ Warren Street, I can’t name a person [I know] in Hudson that’s walked in those stores and spent money in there. We’re not draping our house in antique stuff, because we can’t even pay the rent ... I’m speaking for the people that I know. It doesn’t add up.”

A solution, Smith suggests, is more communication — and opportunities for work — between business owners and longtime residents of Hudson.

To support his community, Smith has offered his storefront as a place for kids and teens in Hudson to do homework, watch movies, and play video games. He also runs an annual back-to-school haircut event. “I’ve given these kids in my community free haircuts to go back to school, not looking for a dollar for it. I just want to be the connector who helps people. That’s free.”

Brittany Clarke, student, and Alexei Topounov, photographer

Brittany Clarke, Alexei Topounov, and their dog outside their home in Philmont, where they moved from Brooklyn in July 2020.

Brittany Clarke and Alexei Topounovoriginally from Toronto, moved to Philmont, eight miles east of Hudson, in July 2020 from their Brooklyn apartment. “We had always thought about moving upstate and being some place where there’s more nature — but we could just never pull the trigger on it,” says Topounov. Clarke adds, “And we always wanted a dog, but never could get one.”

“When the pandemic hit, it was like … let’s think about this one more time,” says Topounov.

Clarke and Topounov opted for a rental just outside of Hudson after recognizing the competitive market in the area during the first few months of the pandemic. “At that time, a lot of places were being snatched up, so we applied for this one farmhouse that had like 70 applications within the first day. It was very competitive,” says Topounov.

Clarke, who is pursuing a degree in human sciences to become a licensed counselor, traded the perks of city living for more space. “I didn’t realize until we moved up [to Philmont] how impactful living in a dense area was on my own mental health,” she says, “Coming up here, it was like a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively, for me. And we got a dog.”

Topounov, a photographer, has found inspiration and collaboration among the landscape and the creative community in the Hudson area. “I didn’t realize how many artistic people have moved here. This area offers a new kind of perspective on things. There’s a nice balance between concrete and grass,” he says.

Clarke and Topounov spend time outside of work canoeing and hiking with their German Shepherd, Uma Vom Kugelblitz.

Along with access to nature, Clarke and Topounov say another perk of living in this area is getting to know their neighbors. “Living in the city for as long as we did, we were just used to having our guard up. But now, I have someone from up the street coming by later to borrow our food processor. We know everybody,” Clark says.

When asked about the dynamics between long-term and new residents, Topounov says, “I feel like most people are happy about new people coming into the area. For example, this house was in really bad shape. A lot of people would talk about how terrible it looked and how happy they are that someone not only renovated it, but that someone’s living in it now and enjoying the space.”

Claudia Bruce and Linda Mussmann, founders of Time and Space Limited

Claudia Bruce (left) and Linda Mussmann, owners of Time and Space Limited, have been Hudson residents for 30 years.

In 1991, Claudia Bruce and Linda Mussmann moved to Hudson to create a home for their avant garde theater project, Time and Space Limited (TSL). It’s now a nonprofit community space, which includes a performance venue, movie theater, a gallery, and antique and used book shop.

Mussmann and Bruce have watched the cost of living in Hudson rise in general, and particularly over the course of the pandemic. “Claudia and I would have never been able to open TSL today in Hudson,” said Mussmann. “It’s unaffordable. There is no room for those kinds of dreams. So I think for younger people with less money and less opportunity, the doors are closing.”

When Mussmann and Bruce found the space in 1993, they were able to take out a mortgage at the local Hudson River Bank for $150,000.

The scope of TSL expanded in the beginning to meet the needs and artistic interests of the Hudson community. “We provided music and art programs, there were cooking classes, theater, and a circus … there was an endless stream of things.” That spirit of community served them during the pandemic as they began distributing 6,000 meals from their theater’s certified kitchen to Hudson’s homeless population, the elderly, and other neighbors and families in need.

TSL slowly began to reopen in April 2021. “We are thinking about the future here and what’s next … still thinking,” says Mussmann.

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