INSTEAD OF BLACK Friday or Small Business Saturday, I have a new day-name for you in the run up to Christmas: Garage Sale Sunday. Or maybe, because this shopping experience is only available in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art, the title should be: Garage Sale Sunday At The Tony Art Institution MoMA – an event that’s made me think we could rename any number of shopping days in this post-Thanksgiving week: Twee Craft Tuesday; Moral Mondays (when you purchase a goat as a gift) and so on.
Entries in Rob Pruitt (3)
Fleischmanns is a village up here, named for the yeast and margerine family who got the village name changed after they donated the land for the village park. The same village park that was wiped out in last summer's floods. To say Fleischmanns is challenged is a bit of an understatement. It's one of those places that's a diamond in the rough, where often people talk about a revival. "If just this would happen..." "If just that...." There was a moment when the artist Rob Pruitt got a house there and his gallery Gavin Brown's Enterprise bussed art worldy folk up for weekend tours. Then Rob sold it, deciding to be closer to the city.
The village (formerly Griffin's Corners) was once a happening resort town. Fancy dancy where people would dress up for strolls outside. Not just the Fleischmanns were there but the Steinways (original owners of Pruitt's former home). What I love about it though is its roughness (so to speak). Local historian Bill Birns talks about the amazing diversity there, that he can hear Yiddish and Spanish. And, this is what I love about Fleischmanns -- urban, heterogenous – with awesome Mexican food. Check out the tamales on Saturdays at Mi Lupita. Oh, and at the grocery store you can get indian curries if you call ahead.
Mark Birman who I profiled for the Catskill Mountain News is working on the village's revival and wants to keep it the place that it is. He's grown up spending all of his summers here and now like his dad, lives here fulltime.
Mark Birman stands in a storefront across from the post office and grocery on Main Street in Fleischmanns. The walls have been stripped to the studs and insulation, and exposed I-beams cross the ceiling overhead. The floor is raw wood, and the room itself is raw, chilly this late April afternoon. Birman waves broadly, painting a picture of what he envisions for the space: a restaurant, a bakery café, a gallery, a destination.
“We have this special thing here,” he says, “and I want a restaurant to come in that is fully dedicated to that what’s seasonal and local and to promoting the area.” The way he talks about his vision makes you want to see it too. Upstairs are bright apartments with refinished wood floors and the smell of new carpets in the hallways. All four apartments are now currently for rent.
Birman might be the local tennis pro, but he has bigger interests than simply serves and backhands. He owns property in Manhattan, and his ventures here, two buildings in Fleischmanns, are somewhere between Field of Dreams and a small-town Trump. Like Trump, the buildings are named for him. The first, where we stand now, is the “Birman Building,” and he laughs wondering how he’ll get Birman into the name of the second, which he just bought. “The woman at the bank,” he chuckles, “was suggesting, ‘The Other Birman Building.’”
Standing outside on the gravel where a neighboring building once stood, he talks of landscaping and picnic tables. You can nearly see the folks here in summer. He calls the purchases “a good investment” – and he’s not simply talking about what he paid. The cost might have been low but he’s invested a great deal in the property for everything from stripping it back to the raw elements to reconfiguring the apartments upstairs.
Sees strong value
“The value will hold,” he says emphatically. “It’s certainly not getting any worse in Fleischmanns, and more than that, I live here. I go to the post office every day, drive by it every day. This is my village, and I want this town to be as vibrant as it can be. The elements are in place, but far from my personal feelings, the value was good and the timing was good. I’m not just on a mission to save Fleischmanns.
Today Birman wears a white dress shirt and baseball cap emblazoned “Tennis Everyone,” the name of his coaching business. His leather shoes are of the sort that is soft and luxuriant and probably Italian. His voice sounds like that of an unreconstructed New Yorker’s, few of whom exist anymore, and it’s rare to hear that heavy an accent up in the Catskills these days. He grew up in the city, the son of Polish immigrants who both survived the concentration camps, and spent much of his childhood here. He took his first steps at the old Patria Hotel, and by the early ’70s his parents had built the house where Birman lives now in Halcott Center. He has a long and abiding love of the area, describing it as “ home” even if he did not literally grow up here. When rethinking his career in the law, he decided to move back.
Down the street, his second building is at the eastern side of the village. A rambling structure, it’s been known variously over the years as the Evergreen and Emory Brook. Inside stands a grand piano and chairs and tables strewn about like the occupants left in a hurry. The place has a ghostly sense, like you can practically still hear someone at piano. The kitchen has all the professional equipment restaurants require, something Birman would know having attended The Culinary Institute. He says the place could be up and running in a couple of months.
He talks about his ideal tenant: someone like Alice Waters. She brought a revolution to Northern California where she changed how people ate and is credited with spurring the growth of farmers’ markets in and around San Francisco.
“I don’t see why it can’t work here,” he says and sees that the building could be a destination with rooms and dining. At a time when local food is particularly hip, with its own catchphrase, “locavore,” and people downstate are flocking to the Catskills to get married for that rural-farm vibe, his plans seem sensible. He wants, though, to find the right tenant to take it forward instead of running it himself. That could be a long shot, particularly when restaurants are notoriously risky ventures and Fleischmanns a long way from its former status as a tourist haven.
Up two dark staircases is a strange warren of single rooms Birman plans on turning into spacious suites. Looking out a bathroom window at the village parking lot, he say he wants to lease it back from the village, not for his or his tenant’s sole use, but to landscape it and make it look inviting.
He turns back and says, “People keep asking if I got a steal. I didn’t, the seller should be happy with the price paid, but it’s an investment, and with the Belleayre Resort and ORDA and stores like the Tinderbox, changes are afoot in Fleischmanns. And my time scale?” he asks rhetorically. “Long. I’m patient. I want the right tenant that’s right for the village. One property prospers, the next property prospers.”
(here's my post from Upstater on Sean Scherer's lovely farmhouse...)
I once looked at a place that was covered in the New York Times. Owned by the artist Rob Pruitt and covered not just once but twice in the paper (first in the Home section then panned in the Arts), the articles and provenance were both selling points and failings. The house was painted black, had fake headstones in the yard, fake silicone water drips down the walls, and at that very moment I was checking it out, a flooding basement. Here’s another covered in the Times, owned by artist and antiques dealer Sean Scherer, who last week, the very week his place went on the market, was moving Anderson Cooper into his new home. (Scherer is in charge of the interiors in Cooper’s former firehouse turned actual house).
Scherer has one of those reverse Catskills’ success tales: Moves to the sticks (full-time) opens a business, gets covered in the Times and then is hired by the likes of Cooper and opens a shop in the city and now is moving back down (where the shop is covered in the Times again). The story isn’t quite that simple and includes a breakup (hence the move and sale). The place in Treadwell is a sweet 19th Century farmhouse with a great addition (I personally have a huge love for those reclaimed wood floors in the studio and also the school lockers in the pantry used for the china). It comes with nearly 3500 square feet, four bedrooms, studio, two living rooms and a Dutch bed in the dining room (good for reclining after a heavy meal). And a wet bar. More gossip (including the goodies that come with the house) and stats on the jump.
He’s willing to sell it with his collection of 19th century prints, charts, shells, mercury glass and exotic stuffed animals (not the Paddington Bear sort but taxidermy). Though I imagine the more high-end artwork (Roxy Paine pieces etc) aren’t up for grabs here. The other thing the house includes? Ninety acres. Ninety loggable acres. Scherer and his former partner joined a forestry management program that includes tax breaks for good stewardship and the right to log every few years. So, next year when the timber can be harvested again, that alone is worth somewhere in the range of $50k. After the gallery here, check out the New York Timesshots which do the home far more justice.