ELLENVILLE—Nikki Fierro had a look of hope in her eye as she arranged handbags neatly on the shelf at her newly reopened store in the heart of Ellenville.
“Business has actually really improved since we reopened,” Fierro said. “It has been booming. We know what the area is looking for in clothing now—joggers, swimsuits, sweat pants and jeans. A little bit of everything is selling.”
Fierro isn’t the only one noticing how Ellenville is changing, a phenomenon that is seemingly growing in relation to the popularity of Shadowland Stages at 157 Canal St.
Jon Wojciechowski, the executive managing director, has only been on board since February, but he said even in four months, he has witnessed growth and excitement in the area.
“Having worked at other nonprofit professional theaters, it’s really unusual to see such an organization become the economic driver for a community, and in this case, the community is extremely supportive of the theater,” he said.
“Businesses sponsor our shows. They’re advertisers in our program, so they’re very good for us. They’re donors to us, but at the same time, we’re helping bring in a lot of people, who are rediscovering the shops and restaurants.”
Along Canal Street alone, several new eateries have popped up. In addition to the well-established Aroma Thyme Bistro, places like Gaby’s Café, Tony and Nick’s Italian Kitchen and Cattleman’s Grill have emerged as premier dining destinations in Ulster County.
Also notable in Ellenville these days is the overall appearance of the downtown area. Streets are looking cleaner, landscaping is more appealing and commerce appears to have picked up.
“Like a lot of the small upstate communities, we really took a hit in the 80s and 90s, and we found the base of our economy going down the tubes in terms of resorts and industry, and we also found our retail in the downtown area taking a hit when we got the competition from the malls in Middletown and Kingston,” said Ellenville Mayor Jeffrey Kaplan.
“What we’ve tried to do as a community is rebuild our downtown area. First of all, the municipality has spent a lot of time, effort and money on infrastructure, water, sewer, streets and the police department, and at the same time, we’ve had some help from some nonprofit groups.
“The main one, in particular, was the Shadowland in the middle of town. It was basically a run-down movie theater, and with the assistance of many volunteers, that theater has been turned around to be a live theater, and then we slowly started building a restaurant base to go along with the advent of the theater,” Kaplan said.
While he said he’s pleased to see that happening, the mayor is crossing his fingers for bigger things—namely the fruition of a youth sports hub at the former Nevele Grande hotel off U.S. Route 209.
When it’s all said and done by 2018, according to Treanor’s timetable, the complex will host a variety of youth sporting events like baseball, soccer, football and lacrosse and offer activities like an indoor water park as well as rock climbing and zip lining.
The idea for the complex came after Nevele Investors lost its bid for a $600 million casino to neighboring Monticello in Sullivan County.
“At the time, it was our best shot, and so we looked at it as, ‘There’s nothing else really on the horizon,’” Kaplan said.
“This new proposal for the Nevele, from a community point of view, is a hundred times more beneficial to the community. You’re going to have parents of the kids that are in these different tournaments looking for things to do, looking for places to eat, looking for places to stay, and we would anticipate, in addition to rebuilding the Nevele. that hotels would start to sprout up in the area and even more restaurants and activities.”
While municipal officials watch and wait, the ripple-effect growth in Ellenville quietly continues. Even places such as the historic Cohen’s Bakery are undergoing change in the hands of new visionaries like Genaro Garcia, who bought the bakery from Bill Tochterman in the winter.
Garcia, who also owns Gaby’s Café on Canal Street, has brought in pastry chefs from New York City and plans to expand the menu to include lunch and breakfast.
“People used to be skeptical because there were bad things going on in Ellenville,” he said. “But these days, it’s good to see families going out for dinner and going out for ice cream. It feels good. It feels like the town is actually alive and there are good things happening.”
Fierro said she’s happy to be riding the wave.
“I just moved here two years ago. When I did, it definitely was a lot more dead than what it is now,” she said. “There seems to be a lot more people moving into the area. There are two brand new restaurants, and there are more opening. No doubt, it’s changing.”
Fierro said she’s also noticing something else: The downtown businesses are supporting each other in a way she hasn’t seen before.
“A lot of businesses bought our balloons for Cinco de Mayo. That was nice. We’re actually helping each other out, so that’s important, too.”