Have you heard of Esopus? Not the creek; it’s the Hudson Valley town that’s nestled between Kingston, Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, has the most water frontage of any town in the state, is inherently Instagrammable, and is the historic home of people like John Burroughs and Sojourner Truth.
If you love the Hudson Valley or the Catskills and want to start a business here, great! Our town has an easy and transparent process for getting started.
We recently interviewed seven of our local business owners on why they love Esopus.
Business Owners: Lena Dun-Jones & Jo Dun-Jones (interviewed)
Location: 361 Union Center Road, Ulster Park NY
What they do: “We make Renaissance-inspired fancy costuming. We sell mainly at Renaissance Festivals and some fairy festivals. We’re more of a manufacturing business than retail… we do all of the cutting in-house, and then have several local seamstresses that we work with, and then we finish the work with grommeting, beading or lacing.”
How they ended up in Esopus: “This is our 42nd year of business. We started in California at some of the first renaissance faires there in 1976 or 1977. We’ve been operating in Ulster Park since 1980.
My mother, Lena had spent some time in NYC in the 70s, and she knew she wanted a big piece of property, and she was just operating out of our house in Ulster Park the 80s. In the early 90s, this apple cooler where we now operate out of came on the market. It has a fest hall with 200 seats, theater lighting and fireplaces. There’s a showroom with all of our merchandise in it, and our sale room which has things that come back from shows. And we manufacture in the basement.”
When to visit: “People come from all over the country for our open houses; we have one in the spring, summer and fall. People can come by appointment if they need to shop, but we don’t encourage it.”
When they’re not working: “I love Scenic Hudson. I do a lot of hiking at Sheaupeneak and Black Creek and all of those areas. The Apple Bin has always been a favorite too. I’m also a big fan of the Port Ewen Library and Wood n’ Wheel.”
Business Owners: Dawn Hoyte (interviewed), Nfamara Badjie
Location: 115 Union Center Road, Ulster Park, NY
What they do: “My husband is an assistant maintenance supervisor at Woodstock Day School; I am a counselor at Ulster Correctional Facility in Naponoch. We have full-time gigs, but every year, we do small-scale rice farming on our farm.
The rice is cultivated by Nfamara along with his cousin Moustapha Diedhou of New Paltz, with help from our sons. Nfamara and Moustapha are master rice farmers and master drummers from the Jola tribe of the Senegambia region of West Africa.
This year we have imported equipment from Japan, like a rice mill, a hulling machine, and a machine to polish the brown rice into white rice.”
How they ended up in Esopus: “We were living in Saugerties; I had lived in Rosendale too, and I met Nfamara at a dance class in New Paltz. We were looking for places with land to farm close to New Paltz and Kingston, and we found this house here on Union Center Road, that appeared to have wonderful land in the backyard.
It’s kind of wonderful here; there’s a little mountain ridge, there are houses on the road, great views. Two houses over, people have buffalo.
The taxes are much lower than Saugerties, and there’s proximity to everything else. I never knew where Ulster Park was despite living in Ulster County for years, and I didn’t realize what a great little place it is and how pretty it is.”
How they’ve integrated with the community: “We have had a lot of help and love from the Bruderhof community that lives down the road. They’ve been very supportive in helping us plow, and they come and help and participate. We like the relationship… my husband is a devout Muslim, and they’ve come for his tabaski, the celebration of the end of Ramadan. We’re just finding really common ground in respect for each other and nature, and love and gratitude and commonalities, which is really cool to see.
That’s how I feel about Esopus. We just have really nice neighbors; friendly and helpful. There’s a real sense of community here.”
When to visit: “People are always welcome to come visit the farm. We have a number of events a year that we just opened to the community. We also have a few harvest parties every year. We sell all of the rice through word of mouth; some restaurants have inquired, but we don’t produce enough to sell large quantities yet.”
When they’re not working: “I want to go hiking in Esopus, but we have no time. We work, we come home, we go right to the field, we stay until it’s dark. We come inside and cook dinner with our family, and we go to sleep.
I like the Global Palate restaurant. It was a good experience, and we gave them some rice. We have also participated in Esopus Youth Basketball, and soccer. We love using the park on the river for birthday parties.”
Business owner: Gary Stone
Location: 103 Burroughs Drive, West Park, NY
What they do: “Red Maple Vineyard is a vineyard and farm that is rented by clients for weddings. The weddings are really what generate the income for the property to survive and move forward until farm operations are in full swing. The goal is to use the on-site farm to generate and grow items and goods that can be used by our catering company. So if someone is getting married here, the goal is to grow the salad items, side items, vegetable dishes, and all sorts of things for the farm to table station.”
How they ended up in Esopus:
“We have a small catering business and pastry shop down in Rye (Westchester) called Corner Stone Caterers. We’ve been there for 25 years.
We’ve been doing weddings for about 20 years, and we realized that having control of the venue makes things significantly easier when you’re catering. We started scouting around, and found what used to be called West Park Winery. It’s a little bit of a hike to get people up here from New York City, but it was absolutely gorgeous. It took us a while to come up with the finances, but we pulled it off. We’re now in our sixth year.
Our farm is supporting our shop in Rye with eggs. There are also lots of favors; we bottle maple syrup from the farm for the bride and groom. We’re close to producing honey, and this year, we’ll have our first wine. We have four or five different kinds of hot sauces and jams.
100% of the proceeds of the rental income and produce go directly into the farm. We’re booked for a year in advance, so we’re planning on adding future vineyards, and things like apple cider, increasing the maple syruping. This also might be the year we start a farm stand to feature some of the local products.”
How they’ve integrated with the community: “We built a house on the farm and live here full-time. One local collaboration is that our neighbor Patrick owns Great Life Brewing in Kingston. He’s brewing a special batch of beer for the farm that uses maple sap, so we’ll see how that works out. (Note: It worked out spectacularly!)
On the farm, we work with Cornell Cooperative Extension a lot to lean on their expertise. We don’t use herbicides and pesticides and are striving toward organic. It’s incredibly labor intensive, it’s a real learning curve, but my daughter Shaleen and her team have done an amazing job.
We’ve trained and hired all local staff to work the events. Weddings bring in a lot of peripheral business, and we also have recommended local vendors like florists, bands, djs, transportation, etc.”
When they’re not working: “When we do get out and about, it’s generally to go and eat. We’ve been to the mansions and all that in Hyde Park and Rhinebeck, we travel around a little bit, but I still feel out of the loop in terms of all that’s offered in Esopus. We do walk up to John Burroughs up the road quite a bit.”
When to visit: “We only operate six months out of the year; May through October is our season.”
What’s next: “We average 250-500 people on weekends. There’s so much peripheral business that Esopus and this side of the bridge could be picking up if there were hotels here. Lodging would be absolutely critical.
There’s also Star Vodka going in opposite from us. That is going to potentially bring in a lot of people as well. I feel like things are happening. The whole farming community is really interesting here; the breweries, the distilleries. There’s a real underswell happening.”
Business Owners: The Sorbello Family, Bud Sorbello (interviewed)
Location: 365 Route 9W, Ulster Park, NY
What they do: “We give families more things to do in the region. We’ve owned Wood n’ Wheel for 43 years. We started in 1974, and the it was an immediate hit as a roller rink. We added laser tag in the mid-90s, and then bumper cars, and an arcade in the 200s. We added paintball in 2008, and in 2011, we added an outdoor rock wall and bungee trampolines.
How they ended up in Esopus: “My dad actually started it. He had worked in construction, and he was looking to start his own business. It was a big, modern undertaking for back then, and he risked it all really, he had financed everything under the sun to do this. It was daunting for him, I know that. The challenges of getting the approvals and raising the funds was a huge undertaking. But it was an immediate hit, and the crowds were huge.”
How they’ve integrated with the community: “My parents actually live nearby, their property adjoins this property. It’s been a challenging business environment. When IBM left in the mid-90s, people with disposable money kind of dwindled, so we’ve gone out of our way to support local folks. We’re trying to bring in people from Dutchess, parts of Orange county, Greene county.
The town is very welcoming, and at the planning board, they do everything the right way, and they’re very willing to listen to ideas and move the process forward.”
When they’re not working: “I live in Poughkeepsie, but I know our workers will order takeout from Marios and La Roma all the time.
There are a lot of high-end amenities right here; there’s the Walkway that’s bringing people in, the parks on the Hudson River, the recreational trails.”
What’s next: “We’re going to the town planning board for a zipline and ropes course, and a small family-sized water attraction.”
Artist: Jenny Lee Fowler
What they do: “I make original art commissions for private and commercial clients around the world– from personal portraits to visual content for national brand advertising and magazines. I focus on traditional and contemporary cut paper techniques.
I started working professionally as an artist in 2006 or 2007. I am self-trained, and I’ve always made art.
There’s a nice regional art community here. I’ve been able to tap into that in some nice ways. A lot of my work is over the Internet. I was didn’t have to be in a busy place, but I still have opportunities to teach, to do commissions and I can still be in the middle of everything. Where I am informs my work; the plants here, the animals here, the experiences, and I’m able to have those natural experiences with my children and my family.”
How they ended up in Esopus: “I grew up in Oregon, and moved to the Hudson Valley to attend Bard in the late 90s. I lived on that side of the river for a number of years. In 2003, when we had a one year old, we were looking for a place that was an easy commute to both Poughkeepsie and Bard, where I was working at the time. We found this little spot, we were really excited to get three acres here. We had a lot of homesteading dreams, we had goats and chickens for a while. The kids had space to spread out and have lots of outdoor adventures.
A big piece of it that it’s economical here. We were able to get a house here for an amount of money that we could really afford. We really loved the landscape. We had been to some of the Scenic Hudson parks in this area (Jenny’s husband Andy works for Scenic Hudson). We lived in Saugerties for about a year and a half before moving here to Esopus. We really love both sides of the river, but it felt like we could get what we wanted here.
When they’re not working: “We do a lot of hiking, sometimes we go for paddles in the Rondout. We’ll get in at Sleightsburg, or the top of the Rondout below the bridge and paddle down. We would go to Freer Park a lot to play frisbee and fly kites.
The kids love to get ice cream at Rainbow. They call it the Frozebow. We get takeout at New China sometimes. The Apple Bin has been one of the kids’ favorites for a long time… they love going there to get egg sandwiches and treats.
We swim a lot at Kingston Point, which is also close, about 5 minutes from our house. My daughter likes to fish there.”
What’s next: “I actually do pitch it to my friends; there’s a sense of economy and being close to nature. You can get more for your money here than in many neighboring communities. You’re close to services and cultural activities, like the library. You have access to lots of beautiful places, which isn’t true in every community.”
Business Owners: Lisa (interviewed) and Gary Zwerdling
Location: 295 Broadway, Port Ewen, NY
What they do: “I know diners. I worked in several diners growing up. It seemed like for this area, it was a good opportunity. There weren’t too many other options. I wouldn’t buy a diner in Kingston, there were too many. This diner had been successful for 14 years. We bought the diner about four years ago, and we moved to Port Ewen in October to be closer.”
How they ended up in Esopus: “The story is very spiritual. The Lord told me to buy the diner. We didn’t look at any other businesses.
I was born in Charleston, South Carolina. My father was in the military and was from the Kingston area, so we moved around a lot getting stationed here in there. When I was in high school, we moved to this area and that’s how I ended up here. My husband is retired from the Sheriff’s department after 38 years, and worked out of the Esopus sub-station. My son played Little League in this area. So I know a lot of the community and the people.
The cost of living is more affordable here than in New Paltz. Our taxes are cut in half here. We downsized quite a bit, so that’s a factor, but our taxes are lower, everything just seems to be a little lower here. That kind of drew us to this area as well. We had looked at a couple of different areas, including West Hurley, and it just seemed like this was more affordable for us.”
How they’ve integrated with the community: “Port Ewen is a nice, close-knit town. It’s all family. We know just about everybody’s name that comes in. We have a lot of repeat customers. We have people that come in twice a day, 7 days a week.
We’ve met a lot of new people, a lot of new friends. We have a great staff from the time we opened. The loyalty of the staff is amazing. We have grown the business a tremendous amount since the previous owners had it. This year has been our best year yet so that was pretty amazing. People look forward to coming in on the weekends, I’ll make homemade apple crisp to go along with the special.”
When they’re not working: “We love the Apple Festival. We love the tugboat committee that they have. We really like the museum, we like walking around the town with our dog. We just moved here in October, so we haven’t had a summer yet here. What I like is the convenience, we’re close to a lot of things; we’re close to Kingston and Poughkeepsie for shopping, so on and so forth.”
What’s next: “I believe people are feeling optimistic. I think this is a great place to live. You don’t see a lot of crime, and that’s important. The crime rate is kind of low.”
Business Owner: Harry Van Vliet IV
Location: 339 Broadway, Ulster Park, NY
What they do: “This funeral home may be one of the oldest in the Kingston area. It was established in 1872 by Jim Gilpatric’s grandfather, John Murphy… it’s probably the longest continuously-run funeral home around. This funeral home was formerly a white house next to St. Mary’s Church in Kingston. A woman named Marie Murphy Gilpatric Cherney became the youngest licensed undertaker in NYS in 1925, and her son was James F. Gilpatric, who took over the funeral home from his grandfather James Murphy in the 1950s. Jim changed the name from the James Murphy Funeral Home to the Gilpatric-Murphy Funeral Home. In 2005, Jim decided to sell the funeral home building, and in 2009, I offered to buy the business from him.”
How they ended up in Esopus: “There are a lot of funeral homes in Kingston, so I decided I wanted to move into my hometown of Esopus. My great grandfather (Harry Van Vliet Sr.) settled here, and I can trace my roots back to the 1700s. I figured, what better place? I already owned a building with my wife on 9W, and we live across the street.
My previous career was as a deputy sheriff, I served Esopus and the surrounding communities for 30 years, and much of my career was spent patrolling the streets of Esopus. I knew just about everyone in town, and they knew me.”
How they’ve integrated with the community: “I keep all my business local the best I can. I used all local contractors; I myself spend a lot of time in the Esopus community. I believe in loyalty to the rest of the business community in town here. It’s really a tight community. I can name five businesses right on Broadway that have lost a loved one, who have called on me to serve their family, and I visit their businesses when I can.
This community has a really hometown feeling. Everybody knows each other and you know everyone. It’ll take me 10-15 minutes to leave the Post Office because everyone’s talking to each other. Everyone relies on each other.”
When they’re not working: “I live in Ulster Park; I previously lived in the area intersected by the Hudson River and Rondout Creek called Sleightsburgh, where I was raised. I love the waterways that surround our town, the Hudson and the Rondout. My funeral home has a nautical theme… it’s very important to me that our community funeral home sticks with a local Esopus community theme. We have tugboats on display, almost all of the photos in our funeral home are specific to Esopus.
One of my greatest joys is the Hudson River; we used to call the Sleightsburgh slip “the islands.” The other neighbors and I would go out to the islands, and we’d find snapping turtles, deer, turkeys, rabbits, all that stuff. It’s like the hidden gem down there. My funeral home is probably only a stone’s throw away from the Hudson. We constantly have geese along with deer.
What’s next: “We are very proud that we are unique as a funeral home in Esopus, owned, operated and staffed daily by a lifelong Esopus family, committed to serve families of our Esopus community and all the surrounding communities including Kingston, Ulster, Hurley, etc.”