YOU GET A DIFFERENT VIEW of Hudson when you push a stroller with a sleeping baby in it down Warren Street. Under these circumstances the focus is not so much on a destination as it is on maintaining a pace that prolongs the nap. You get a feel for the stores you pass but you dare not linger. Fussiness lurks at every pause.
This kind of unscientific stroller survey leaves the impression that whole blocks of the city’s main artery have become breathtakingly trendy. The place practically shouts to the passer-by: Come to the country without having to worry about actually experiencing it! Hey, where’s the nearest subway?
For those who are now or ever have been a New York City person, you’ll find the closest thing we have to a subway stop lies at the bottom of South Front Street. We call it the Amtrak station. The county Tourism Department recently trumpeted the latest figures on train traffic, with Hudson once again ranking third among all stations in the state in terms of passengers. Local officials have good reason to be happy about the news because the Amtrak data mean that over 196,000 people passed through the historic station in the last year. Even better, the station has seen an increase of nearly 5% during the year. No wonder Warren Street feels almost crowded here and there on a Saturday afternoon.
Local residents occasionally complain about the cost of train service to and from the city. They probably never took a cab to a New York City airport. If you live in the city and plan to travel to Hudson this weekend, the least expensive round-trip ticket is $53. That assumes you can find an empty seat to book. As of Tuesday night, there was only one of the inexpensive seats left. By the time you read this it’s hard to imagine riders finding any seat at all, let alone a discounted one. Does limited seating enforce a quota on tourists headed here?
The excitement about more visitors is inevitably coupled with a “them and us” moodiness that hangs over periods of change like the one Hudson is experiencing now. Are newcomers driving this new tourist influx or just taking advantage of the hard work and vision of those who saw promise here before the latest wave? Both. And anyway, why does it matter?
Not that long ago Warren Street had few prospects and lots of empty storefronts. If anyone knows of a traditional downtown in this country where stores prosper by selling practical goods and services at reasonable prices, please let us know. It probably caters to non-human life-forms.
Beyond the stroller route, Hudson has a life apart from the sheen of upscale commerce. Think about the culturally hip and accomplished organizations, the working families trying to get by and the folks who aren’t making it by any standard and whose plight is evident in the numbers. Despite the high rents and inflated real estate, the city has a median household income 40% below the figure for the whole county. Hudson is no bungalow colony for the 1%. Not yet, anyway. There’s plenty of work to do.
Another recently released statistic may say more about what’s happening here than Amtrak of income data. The state Department of Labor reported that in September the county unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%. We haven’t seen a rate that low since 2007, before the Great Recession. The state rate was 4.8% in September and Columbia was one of only three counties in the state where unemployment was below 4%. No wonder it’s hard to find help these days.
Imagine that… we have more work than we can handle. It isn’t the old manufacturing economy, the big plants with strong unions, good wages and retirement plans are long gone. Moan about the new economy if it makes you feel better, but it’s all we’ve got these days.
Railroad towns, river towns, they all see boom and bust. Hudson is on an upswing right now driven by forces beyond the control of anyone here. It will head the other direction at some point. What makes that certainty less scary is the resilience that Hudson, Chatham, Valatie, Kinderhook and all the communities of the county have demonstrated over the last three centuries.
The trend setters that trend setters follow will move on to even hipper places soon enough. But you can bet that the smartest ones will buck the trend and stay put right here.