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Winter Walk opens doors Saturday

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Venerable event gets boost from nearly 3 dozen new business on Warren St.

HUDSON–Winter Walk, Hudson’s own homegrown holiday street festival replete with music, art, dance, performance, shopping and mingling, returns this Saturday. The evening promises to be dry and just cold enough — the 20s to low 30s F, nothing  like the slushy mix last year, when some 12,000 visitors showed up in spite of the weather.

From 7th Street by the park down to Front Street facing the river, cars will be banished for the evening, and merchants, restaurateurs and gallery owners are prepping their windows, planning what delicacies to offer, clearing floor space for the onslaught of visitors and decking their doors and windows with greenery, lights and ornaments. Musicians and performers are rehearsing.

Winter Walk, now in its 14th year, was started by the Hudson Opera House. And while it means different things to different members of the community, it’s not a fund raiser for the multi-arts institution housed in the 1855 Classical Revival building that was once as City Hall.

“It’s not meant to make money. The purpose is to serve the community,” said Gary Shiro, director of Hudson Opera House (HOH).  Commercial sponsors and individual contributors, including the five-year grand sponsor, Taconic, make contributions to help defray the $40,000 cost of the event. According to Mr. Shiro, sponsor contributions cover close to one third of the cost of the event. And that figure does not include all the extra work and contributions provided by volunteers, many of them part of the city’s arts community.

The larger purpose of the event is to celebrate and call attention to local businesses and business owners, many of whom were urban pioneers who started out in what were derelict stores on blocks where shoppers were reluctant to tread not so long ago.

Taconic’s Sam Phelan concurs. “We are happy to support Winter Walk because it’s a great way to give better exposure to the businesses, and it’s a very nice community event,” he said this week.

Art dealer Peter Jung says the event helps reconnect people who remember living in Hudson years ago, when Warren Street was the place they shopped for essentials, with the new Warren Street. In addition to being an art dealer, Mr. Jung plays bass and will be performing Saturday with a fiddler in his gallery.

“It’s not about business, it’s about reaching out to the public,” said an antiques dealer. Although not much art is sold, sometimes it’s surprising what people do buy on a Saturday night in December.

Lou Blasingame and Don Friday, proprietors of AD Lib Antiques, sold a dining table and chairs one year. This week after they put the finishing touches on a window scene with mannequins in fantastic costumes they said they already have plans for next year’s window. They have a musician lined up to perform in the store and plan to set out chocolates. Last year they went through 30 pounds.

Some may remember the first Winter Walk when walkers were crowded onto the sidewalks, and cars and busses ruled the street. The following year the street was closed to traffic. Later organizers got the city to temporarily ban parked cars from the street to free up space and create more visibility.

Ellen Thurston, who remembers that it was once difficult to get people to cross below 5th Street, said the 300 and 400 blocks developed around the Opera House, which became an anchor to other businesses.

Warren Street now is in the enviable position of having no empty store fronts, and Ms. Thurston has counted 34 new businesses since last year.

“It’s an economic miracle,” Mr. Shiro said. “That speaks to a kind of vitality that Hudson has. Hudson is and remains a very unique place.  Its main street is intact. It wasn’t torn down during the 1970s. It has a nice scale, and the creativity of merchants has made it a very compelling place.”

“People are interested in investing here,” said Ms. Thurston. “It provides incubation for young businesses.”

And more and more people are coming from outside the area to partake of Winter Walk festivities. The Opera House is having its own benefit party after the event to help defray some of the costs. For a $50 donation, guests can eat a chili supper with corn bread, salad, beverage and dessert, enjoy entertainment and support what has become a homegrown holiday event. Local restaurants do a land office business on this night, so much so that  some have even complained about the crowds.

“You could dance all night if you wanted,” said Ms. Thurston. And that includes tango lessons at Club Helsinki, not on Warren Street, but close enough for jazz.

Right now the event’s leaders, Ms. Thurston and Mr. Shiro, are up to their necks in the logistics of costumes like the cumbersome walking opera house suit, and where to place different street acts. The reindeer will remain near Front Street in close proximity to an eggnog tasting and the closing fireworks celebration, a relatively new addition to the walk.

The list of offerings in music, food tastings opportunities, shopping, and performance looks larger and more varied than ever. The full program for the event is online at www.hudsonoperahouse.org/winterwalk.html. The map of shops, events and attractions appears on Page 14 of this edition of the newspaper.

Ms. Thurston, a booster for local events, distributes popular weekly emails entitled Ellen’s Picks. This week, not surprisingly, Winter Walk is her pic

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