THE INTUITIVE ECONOMY OF NARROWSBURG
By Sandy Soohoo
We forget sometimes that we are always communicating. Our layers of communication run the gamut from the seemingly superficial (how we dress) to the profound (what we do, say, or buy). Whether or not it’s through what we wear or what we build — the idea is to live with intention, to communicate effectively. In the community of Narrowsburg, NY, it seems that everyone is expressing themselves through their work in one way or another: There are so many artists building businesses that operate as extensions of their creative visions. Main Street is filled with shops, restaurants, and gallery spaces that each contribute to the overwhelming sense that collaborative, intentional living is the best way to be. A substantial population of makers has been thriving in this tiny hamlet on the Delaware for decades. They were drawn to the affordable spaces and the excellent location, and they stayed for the community that’s bloomed around them.
Master jeweler Pedro Boregaard has had his shop near the end of Main Street since 2011. If anyone knows anything about how our possessions can protect us and give us power, it is Boregaard. A lifelong jeweler who apprenticed with the finest jewelers in Germany, where he was born, and worked for Tiffany’s before branching out on his own with his award-winning designs, Boregaard understands that each of his pieces holds meaning and a kind of enchantment for its owners. When I enter the shop, two women are marveling at his creations while a sleepy German Shepherd mix raises her head from the floor to sniff my legs. Boregaard tells me about his whirlwind of a life (bopping around the London and New York City scenes during the ’70s and ’80s) and lets me hold some precious objects in my hands: The weight of them is not like other jewelry; the rings are heavy and delicate at the same time. “None of this was made by machines,” he says, pulling from a case the most elegant necklace: a modern, minimalist zig-zag of diamonds that could easily drape across any starlet’s neck at a premiere or a pool party. He’d sold this necklace decades ago and is making them again today. Successful art is an achievement of a kind of timelessness, and if you are lucky, you can wear Mr. Boregaard’s.
All up and down Main Street, I find myself dipping in and out of whole worlds. There is the fantastic bookstore One Grand Books, run by Aaron Hicklin, the former editor-in-chief of Out magazine and onetime editor of BlackBook. Not only can you peruse an excellent selection of literature selected by notable minds (including Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton, and Questlove), but you feel like you’re conversing with celebrities and writers at a dinner party. Next door is MayerWasner, designer Pamela Mayer’s fashionable boutique offering pieces made with excellent textiles in distinctive cuts. Up the street is another stylish shop, Sunny’s Pop, a collection of curated housewares selected by Sunny Ruffalo. The shop is bright and full of people ogling the loveliest pillows, throws, and ceramics arranged on wooden shelves and elegant ladders.
Juliette Hermant, of the antiques emporium Maison Bergogne, sees her storefront as a constant conversation with the outside world. It’s an enormous space, a former bus garage filled with vintage wares and antiques. There are artfully arranged deer-head busts, a vintage chaise longue in a crushed red velvet, mirrors in gilded frames, and antique paintings beneath some impressive chandeliers. “All the objects in my shop come in here with a story,” Ms. Hermant tells me. “Part of what I do is arrange all their voices.” Like so many of the other artists here, Hermant first came in search of space — and soon fell in love with the natural beauty of the area.
Artists are always looking for space in which to make their creations, to breathe and collaborate. To that end, the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance has helped fuel the region’s creative minds through grants and gallery space. It’s a resource that has proved indispensable for the community, and it has been encouraging growth and artistic endeavors for decades. In addition to supporting the various galleries and studios on Main Street, the DVAA helps back events like the Big Eddy Film Festival, Riverfest, and the Deep Water Literary Festival (staged every year by One Grand Books). The artists of Narrowsburg understand that no one really exists in a vacuum: Collaboration is required for survival; communication is required for collaboration.
Back at Maison Bergogne, Ms. Hermant takes a fresh honeycomb from her fridge, scrapes up a pool of it with a ceramic spoon, wax and all, and offers it to me. As it turns out, she keeps the beehives on her roof. The honey tastes like actual flowers trapped in amber. She is explaining the intuitive economy of bees. “Bees are incredibly complex, social creatures,” she tells me, describing their resilience and their intricate hierarchy, designed to preserve the well-being of the hive: They are never not working in concert with one another, with intention.
Next door is the Moon River Inn, a laid-back, lovely four-room hotel run by Celeste Evans, complete with a patio view of the river and two fire pits to hang by at night. The rooms are spacious and bright, decorated with art and furnishings from local shops, with a bed like a cloud. Though it’s only been open for a year, it books up quickly on weekends in the summer, as it’s an ideal getaway for city folk and locals alike.
For sustenance, locals have many options, but none more notable than The Heron. More than a local watering hole, The Heron is a place for everyone in town to meet for excellent drinks and sustainable fare created by chef and co-owner Paul Nanni, who is supporting the community at large through relationships with local providers. The menu is regularly changing, but I ate the fried chicken, a salmon belly tartare, and a baby greens salad. Since I have a separate stomach for dessert, I also ate the pot de crème with black Hawaiian sea salt and slept soundly afterward.
For lunch or a more casual dinner option, Laundrette, a spacious restaurant on the water over on 5th Street, has delicious brick-oven pizzas and salads. For lunch we tried the special with broccoli rabe and sausage, as well as the pepperoni with black olives, both on crispy crusts with satisfying ratios of toppings and sauce. Inside the restaurant was warm, but a breeze came in off the water offering relief, and the bubbly house lemonade worked well to wash everything down.
The mood in town is organic: everything seems guided in some way by the natural world. There is River Gallery, which was at the forefront of the Narrowsburg revival, having been opened in 2005. Run by two fashion-world veterans, it offers both antiques and original wares made by local artists. Next door is Velvet Maple, named after the first wallpaper that owner and head designer Alessandra Maria ever installed in a client’s home. Her shop consists of vintage midcentury modern goods, as well as solid reproductions and clothing from eco-friendly brands and from friends of the owner herself. A stuffed fox, mid-trot, perches regally on a front shelf, ever the conversation starter for Alessandra, whose favorite thing is to meet and engage with new people.
It seems odd, but somehow not unexpected, that I find another fox at Madame Fortuna across the street. Owner Allison Ward’s goal at the boutique — another Main Street staple filled with excellent vintage clothing, like an impeccable Hermès scarf or a proper Levi’s denim jacket — has been to give new life to old things. “These pieces that should not be hidden in closets or destined for landfills — they get a whole new story,” she says as I eye the rings at her counter. Her fox guards the jewelry and sits curled up in a corner, at rest. “I wanted him to be comfortable,” she says, having found him perfectly preserved on the side of the road in the dead of winter. She gave him a new life, too.
When Narrowsburg Central Rural High School was shut down in 2001, much of the community grieved, as though the heartbeat of the town had stopped. It lost a hub where many of its residents developed their relationships day to day — dropping their kids off at school, communing over the experience of public education. Everyone was left to figure out how to build their local connections in a different way.
Nearly 20 years later, the school has become the Narrowsburg Union and is a new kind of foundation in the community. Thanks to Brendan and Cathy Weiden, the centrally located building has become a hub of makers, artists, artisans, and craftsmen who all need space to make their work. Brendan’s family has roots in the area going back a century or so, and both he and Cathy have extensive experience in the logistics of running properties — he is an engineer, and Cathy has worked in real estate taxes for decades — so together they were able to put all their knowledge into developing a space for people to work and connect. In addition to studio and office space, the Union also has a certified commercial kitchen that chefs from all over the region are able to use to create goods to sell. The Narrowsburg Farmer’s Market conveniently happens next door every Saturday in the summertime.
Thanks to the Weidens, the collective dream of Narrowsburg is coming to life in the shell of a building that had been shuttered for many years. It should be noted that I found all this out by wandering inside and stopping at a window surrounded by peace flags, where a man, Mark Randall, was selling the most delicious ice cream, B Line, made with local milk from Creamworks Dairy and sweetened with honey produced by his own hives down the road.
B Line Ice Cream embodies the kind of utopian ambition I felt all throughout Narrowsburg: inspired by the natural world and transformed into a thing you can hold in your hands — in this case, some sweet honey ice cream sandwiched between two homemade dark chocolate cookies, which I ate as I drove out of town. I felt humbled by one small town’s capacity for resilience and growth — by its intention to be a place where the arts thrive. According to Cathy Weiden, Narrowsburg is a town where the arts won.