I needed to take a break from fashion blogging – and blogging in general – for a few weeks as a result of watching the banality that comprised this year’s fashion shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. The shows left me bereft of novelty, uninspired and bored. This has never happened to me, since fashion is my greatest love and rarely ever ceases to inspire me. Perhaps fashion amid crumbling national politics, terrorist attacks and other global crises has some difficulty maintaining its luster. Also, I confess that I have been in an inescapable creative black hole. I wasn’t that concerned since most creative people experience a creative deficiency many times in their lives. So I decided to put my energy into my two areas of deep affection – food and community building.
Last year, my friends and I decided to start a food crawl in the Village of Haverstraw, a burgeoning culinary mecca, all but hidden on the west side of the Hudson River 35 miles north of NYC. We made our move to launch this bizarrely perfect idea on a lark last August, instigated inadvertently by a number of Facebook dullards, who wrote derogatory and generally racist comments about my Village in a community forum. There’s plenty of ignorance to go around in the New York suburbs, but these comments took the cake. Laced with anti-immigrant, anti-urban, anti-history, anti-art themes, these suburban dolts were hellbent on comparing Downtown Haverstraw to the South Bronx of the 1980s, which cannot be further from reality. These people seriously live in a warped version of Leave It to Beaver, where mom is an opioid addict, dad has a 20-something year old girl on the side that he met at his strip mall gym, and Johnny can’t seem to shake the notion that he belongs in a negligee, but hides it because the community “doesn’t approve.” Lots of issues in the area, but Downtown Haverstraw as “unsafe” is not one of them. In reality, the Downtown is a vibrant, historic mix of small businesses and GREAT restaurants. Racially diverse, integrated and walkable, Downtown Haverstraw is one of those emergent Hudson Valley river towns that NYC hipsters drool over, but even better because the hipsters don’t know the west side of the Hudson River exists. If there isn’t good mass transit (a direct train line) – they quip, “Isn’t that a New Jersey strip mall over there?” Nope, you bearded, flannel-clad bean pole.
My friend Jared Rodriguez (who writes HaverstrawLife.com) and I, fueled by anger and the need to prove dumb people wrong, decided to do something about this nonsense. We used the devil’s quill, Facebook, to gather volunteers to organize a legit Food Crawl within 5 weeks time. We had zero dollars in our budget, not enough time to raise funds for advertising, and not a pot to piss in (okay, maybe a small pot). But we knew through the instantaneous, wide-reaching power of social media(ness), a press release, and the generosity of a few local print publications that we were reaching a VERY large audience and spreading the word about our Crawl. The Food Crawl was a beacon of hope amid the melancholia that is suburban, generic vanilla North Rockland County — I MUST note that the Village of Haverstraw is a true, walkable, urban downtown surrounded by a landscape of public school taupe, vinyl sided high ranches that are as architecturally banal and suburban as you can imagine. But, there is also some really beautiful scenery mixed in there with parks, trails, bike paths and more.
Our game plan started with designing a flyer to promote the event, along with a guidelines sheet to hand out to restaurants that may want to participate. I added a web page to HaverstrawRiverArts.org, an amazing local arts and cultural organization that was on board with cross promoting the event. We also published a Crawl Map for the event. We approached 14 restaurants and decided not to charge them anything to join the event in its inaugural year. Instead, we wanted to prove to them that we could manage pulling this off and win their support to host future Crawls. I spent 5 weeks praying that it wouldn’t rain on Sunday, September 17th, 2015. Wouldn’t you know, we were blessed with a dry, sunny day with cerulean skies! The Crawl officially began at 2:00 pm with volunteers scattered throughout the Downtown, handing out food maps and suggesting to visitors where to eat based on their hankering for the diverse cuisines offered in Haverstraw, including but not limited to Ecuadoran, Dominican, French fusion, American casual, Mexican, Italian and a Puerto Rican Fusion food truck. We also handed out event bracelets to estimate how many people attended.
We had no idea what to expect, but we certainly didn’t anticipate having well over 400 people show up. SUCCESS! We did it! The result was a beaming sense of accomplishment and reassurance that a passionate group of people were able to bring to fruition positivity, and that it rose from the pit of Facebook negativity. Our goal was to bring people from the community, Rockland County, Westchester, and beyond to “Meet, Eat and Walk” throughout the Downtown only steps from the Hudson River’s widest point. Further, we wanted people to explore the downtown area, which is jam packed with historic houses and buildings, home to a young multicultural demographic, and fostering a burgeoning arts scene. Often, suburban folk grow “windshield Walmart goggles” where they are unable to slow down and appreciate architectural details, neighbors/real people, and the human-scale pace of a real, urban downtown. We truly achieved our goal.
Weeks later we received word that the restaurants had reaped major benefits from our Food Crawl. Visitors who had never eaten in some of the restaurants kept returning to try different items on the menu. What’s more, a few weeks after that our committee received word that the Legislature of Rockland County recognized our hard work by inviting us to receive a “Special Recognition Award,” which is given to residents of the County recognized for doing transformative volunteer work. As a result of the last year’s success, we decided to host another “Taste of Haverstraw Food Crawl” on Sunday, June 5, 2016. As luck should have it, a grant was available from the County for marketing purposes to promote such events outside the county. We applied and were granted $1,500 to target Brooklyn, Westchester and beyond. More people really should know Haverstraw exists.
Isn’t it amazing when something positive manifests from negativity? For this year’s Food Crawl, we managed to harness real positive energy and expand it by hiring musicians to play curbside throughout the downtown. Based on last year’s spectacular turnout, participating restaurants donated money to hire these musicians. We sparked a virtuous cycle.
If you live in the NYC metro region, I hope you will join us on June 5th. Discover the Village of Haverstraw, a hidden gem located only 35 miles north of NYC. Downtown can be reached by the Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry (from Ossining MetroNorth Rail Station via Grand Central) Monday-Friday and by bus (from the Port Authority Bus Terminal) and by train (via NJ Transit from Penn Station New York via the Secaucus Junction to Suffern or Nanuet) on weekends.
Even better, why not STAY THE WEEKEND IN HAVERSTRAW? Arrive on Sunday morning and stay at one of our award-winning bed and breakfasts. Then leave on Monday morning via ferry back into NYC or Westchester. A Monday morning ferry ride across the Hudson River will remove your beginning-of-the-week doldrums.