Some things in Chatham make no sense

Home | Op-Ed | Some things in Chatham make no sense

Aug 5, 2011

The irony embodied in the sign could not have been more nearly perfect (The Weekender learned in grade school that “perfect” was the superlative and in Sunday School that is was reserved for God) telling shoppers in the village of Chatham that the adorable little perfume and essential oils shop “Chatham Makes Scents” was closing with some of its best selling items still available nearby at “The Grainery” natural stuff emporium. The announcement that this store was closing, as always, provoked “too bads,” but also spotlighted the incoherent and commercially unrealistic offerings that have occupied a sizable share of Main Street and contiguous commercial blocks within the village over the last quarter century. This, while our beautiful village lacks stores selling things that virtually everybody wants and many people need.

Main Street, Chatham has featured, and is still home to, many stores that sell nice and fascinating stuff that most Chathamites desire with the frequency of a near pass by the comets Kohoutek and Hale Bopp. No current establishment will be mentioned, but noteworthy vendors of blessed memory were one devoted exclusively to objects from a certain region of Northern Italy, one offering a large selection of mandolin picks and Jews’ harps, an eyeglass store specializing in frames priced at $500 to $1,000, but no optometric services, and a dizzying array of bad restaurants. Some were of the “natural foods” type, with menu items looking and tasting like sawdust. My own favorites were the $10 hot dog joint with the lifespan (and expectancy) of a May Fly and a “deli” that registered shock and awe when I requested mustard on my ham and cheese sandwich.

While these Chatham emporia were opening and closing with a rapidity that exceeded the infamous turnover on Columbus Avenue, the nearest commercial street to The Weekender’s other residence in New York City, no Main Street entrepreneur opened a butcher shop, a fish monger, any place to purchase a roll of toilet paper, a head of lettuce or a bottle of aspirin at any time of the day or a container of milk or loaf of bread after dark. No barber emerged to replace Joe for haircuts or golf balls — a winning combination that if not unique, was exceedingly rare and successful.

For more than a decade, the village and indeed, all the Chathams, have lacked a dry cleaner. Last year, when I brought my suits in for cleaning at the Main Street store that had previously offered the service on an outpatient basis, I was told to bring my dry cleaning to Valatie, as the Chatham store had “no room” to continue offering the accommodation. I assume it had not occurred to the store that some of its customers only patronized it because it had wisely and helpfully offered dry cleaning or that this was an “essential” service in the village or that this particular offering was one of the basics that comprise a coherent small-town commercial district.

Chatham’s semi-coherent commercial offerings include many treasures which keep families like mine coming back and spending the bulk of our shopping dollars in the village rather than in nearby malls or the not insubstantial shopping available in Mannahatta, the island of many hills and stores. Chatham has things which most small American towns and villages no longer have. Mendocino, California, one of the most beautiful towns on the planet, no longer has a cinema, let alone one as wonderful as The Crandell. Chatham is blessed with a great independent bookseller, an amazing restaurant and a coffee shop/café, which functions as a mecca for the literati, for political discussion and for cyclists. Chatham’s jewelry store offers impeccable taste and style at affordable prices. Its shoe store has selection and service second to none and its women’s fashion store offers chic and cool attire perfectly suited to the lifestyle of this region. Chatham features a pastry shop whose owner/chef used to bake for one of the world’s finest French restaurants.

These jewels and others show that there are savvy and skilled merchants in this village who are rewarded for their skill by loyal patrons. It’s time for the logic of these successful business propositions to infect the plans of the long line of store owners who stream in and out of the village and get them to fill the gaping holes that have existed in the village for decades.



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