by Emma Parry
“Coming soon to Downtown LA and Kingston, NY…”
If seeing these two cities heralded in the same breath feels unfamiliar, we’d better get used to it. With film studios and production facilities proliferating, and ever more celebrity residents, we might be en route to becoming Hollywood on the Hudson.
Among the innovative businesses colonizing the upstate area is Smorgasburg, the ultimate movable feast of a flea market, coming to Kingston (and LA) this June, and operating every Saturday through October. The market will feature hot and prepared foods, craft beer, curated artisanal offerings, and vintage and design items from 70-plus flea vendors.
As Smorgasburg co-founder Jonathan Butler put it in a recent conversation, “It’s a very interesting time to get involved in the Hudson Valley Renaissance that’s underway.”
Smorgasburg is the diffusion line of Brooklyn Flea, the massive weekend market that has been offering good food, one-off shopping, and family fun to millions of city residents and visitors since its beginning in 2008 (a timely arrival for a business profiting from thrift).
|The Hutton Brickyard in Kingston, NY.|
That culinary Baron, Mario Batali, has called Brooklyn Flea, “The single greatest thing I’ve ever seen gastronomically in New York City.” The New York Times called the event “The Woodstock of Food.” Not a minute too soon then, the Hudson Valley, with its deep history of agriculture and increasingly distinctive foodie scene, is getting in on that action.
Butler and his co-founder Eric Demby are also responsible for the phenomenally popular Berg’n, Crown Heights’ contemporary take on the beer hall (backed by Goldman Sachs); a Pop Up Beer Garden in NY’s Seaport District and Central Park Summer Stage concessions.
Upstate Smorgasburg is actively taking applications for the June launch. Local offerings will initially be bolstered by some of Brooklyn Flea’s favorite staple stallholders, but the Flea team are keen to showcase the area’s finest crafts, design work, and culinary offerings. They hope to inspire local chefs and vendors to create concepts specifically for launch. Butler is counting on the market’s pop-up opportunities to foster innovation. “That way,” he says, “it’s a more interesting economic development story. If Smorgasburg’s the only place you can get something, it’s more of a draw.”
With up to 10,000 visitors anticipated, Smorgasburg offers a day’s traffic not many websites and no restaurant can replicate and could be a boon for the incredible concentration of talent in the Hudson Valley.
It would be great if all our many communities—settled and weekender—could converge to sustain a market on this scale (it didn’t work in Washington…). There’s a spirit of inoffensive prosperity about a high-end flea and an easy affinity between the Smorgasburg aesthetic and this area. Mix-and-match grazing to a soundtrack of good live music at a European-style covered market is infinitely less dispiriting than snacking mid-mall in an epoxy-floored food court with a canned playlist.
Smorgasburg is the antidote to one-click shopping and Seamless eating—with guaranteed social interaction and the additional gratification of feeling that your valley is where it’s AT.
The location itself is a beautiful ruin on an accessible stretch of the Hudson River. Hutton Brick Yard’s glory days spanned over a century (1865 to 1980) and its kilns produced brick for massive projects, apparently including the original Yankee Stadium. After a brief interval as the site of a restaurant in the 90s, the place has been going to fairly spectacular rack and ruin. So spectacular, you know that some will be sorry to see it get gussied up. To those long standing fans, the site owner, Karl Slovin, offers some comfort, “Our goal is to carefully bring the Hudson Brickyard back to life with proven tastemakers who love the history and urban archaeology of the site as much as we do.”
Butler recognizes that the Hutton brickyard is an “iconic and historically important site” and assures me “there will be no ripping it down and rebuilding.” He points to Karl Slovin’s record, who he says, “makes his bread and butter in LA buying old 1920s and 30s multi-family apartment complexes which are a little down on their luck and restoring those. He loves taking places that have good bones and giving them life.”
Having acquired Hutton Brick Yard in foreclosure, Slovin spent a year talking to various people about activating and programming the site. He spoke to hotel people and festival people before he sought out Butler and Demby, valuing their experience as “place makers and market makers.” Butler says, “Philosophically, we and Slovin are in the same place about how to approach an old property like this. We didn’t want to go in there with multi-million plans for grandiosity. We wanted to go with a light touch and provide some economic stimulus to the area and take it from there organically. It can take some time, and not always be obvious, for a place to reveal what it wants to be. The people and the administration need to get to know us and trust us.”
Butler called Kingston’s new Mayor Steve Noble “fantastic,” praising his strong vision and “amazing ability to eliminate bureaucracy from our path.”
|Smorgasburg in Brooklyn.|
In both the case of downtown LA and Kingston, the Brooklyn Flea were approached by the developer about bringing the Flea to that location. “If a landlord understands what you can do for them—the value in making a place cooler—they are ready to make a pretty good deal,” Butler says. And though the Flea team aren’t technically owners of the Brick Yard, the arrangement is beyond that of a traditional landlord/tenant relationship. “The hope is that we are going to be involved with the project for a very long time. If it is successful beyond a market then we will share in that.”
Butler is particularly happy to be bringing his business upstate, having had a long family history going back into the 1800s in the area. (He laughingly admits that he’s “still smarting having had quite a lovely ancestral home in Tivoli leave the family in the 1980s.”) Given all location considerations, he believes Kingston is right. He points to the fact it’s not a town but a city, with a rich industrial history, perfectly situated in the middle of everything in the Hudson Valley, with road and rail links to NYC and Albany. He speaks, too, of the appeal of being involved in a city that—unlike Rhinebeck, “which knows what it is”—is evolving rapidly. “It’s fun to be at the table with the change in the city that’s underway.”
The company are busy with renovations—not least making the place safe—in time for opening. The plan is to have work on two buildings completed by June, with additional vendors operating under tents.
Although the team plan to have shuttle buses running to the brickyard from the Rondout, it’s nice to think that Smorgasburg might be part of driving another revival—in Hudson River traffic and commercial waterfront development. As Butler says, “To have that access to the water is unusual.” Sadly it’s not currently possible to moor at the brick yards. The shore line needs to be repaired. “Anything that involves the water is certainly a bureaucratic process and a very expensive one. But in the event of success…Certainly the city administration would like to see docks down there.”
Here’s to visitors one day being able to go to the Smorgasburg by boat from Catskill, Hudson, Saugerties, Rhinecliff, Tivoli—why not even a sleeper from NYC? Meanwhile, drive by and linger to fulfill gastronomic fantasies and make exciting finds.
Upstate Smorgasburg. Smorgasburg.com. Hutton Brick Yard, Kingston, 100 North Street, Kingston, NY. June 4-October, every Saturday, rain or shine, 11am-8pm.