A Guide to New Paltz: Where Arts and Education Rule

By   |  Photos by David McIntyre  |     |  Community Spotlight

“The one true constant in New Paltz is change,” says Richie Steffens. “That, and a vibrant downtown—we’ve never really had Main Street go dark. Even when they built the malls uptown, the small businesses that closed as a result were almost immediately replaced by other small businesses. People’s lives change, fashions change, tastes change—not every small business makes it, but there’s always someone coming right behind them with a new great idea and fresh enthusiasm. There are always people standing in line for a spot in New Paltz.”

Steffens ought to know. He grew up in New Paltz, moving here with his family in 1962. Besides being a schoolteacher and musician, he opened his own independent real estate brokerage in 1975 and served on the village planning board in the 2010s. “There is a lot of world-class talent—musicians in particular—but in any number of fields, who’ve settled here but you wouldn’t know it because they’re not celebrities—they’re working artists and entrepreneurs, and part of the reason they come here is for the anonymity. People don’t bother them.”

This desirability is one of the factors that’s led to the current housing shortage. “We have very dense zoning. We have an awful lot of areas that are protected open space, which draws people but doesn’t create housing,” says Steffens. “And then we have people that fight when we talk about things like building up instead of out. As a planning board member, I was a big proponent of building up instead of out. Make the village very dense, with taller buildings, and keep the outside areas very natural.”

Town planners, with some grant funding in hand from the DEC, are partnering with Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment to infuse zoning codes with protection of open space and estuary watersheds and refining a proposed law that would make it easier for homeowners to create accessory dwelling units. An affordability requirement was scrapped to maximize the overall number of units that will be created, but rentals must be long-term and the town intends to advocate for affordability provisions to be written into state tax codes.

“We need zoning as progressive as we are, and we don’t have that yet,” says Steffens. “In the 1970s there was a lot done to prevent the college students taking over. There was a fear that every porch would end up with a big couch full of pot smokers on it.”

Most of the porch couches have vanished into the mists of time and gentrification. “People hardly believe me when I tell them I walked up the street and heard Joe Cocker play for free, or that Floyd Patterson used to pass the collection plate at my church,” says Steffens. “And the college, in becoming a university, has had to turn some of its energy toward practical career training—the arts only flourish when people are fed. But we’re still very much the land where arts and education rule, and I think we always will be.”

The New Paltz Scene

“New Paltz was noticeably hurt by Covid,” says Seth Branitz, owner of the Karma Road Organic Cafe. “Thankfully, 2023 has seen a return to great walking traffic, with a large number of first timers, and old familiar visitors returning. Our business hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic sales numbers, but we’re happy with the trend.”

Hasbrouck Park, located across from SUNY New Paltz, features a children’s play structure as well as a ballfield. Photo by David McIntyre

Those returning and new visitors have plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry, from the Indo-French fare at Runa and the historic gastropub ambiance at Garvan’s to an abundance of burgers, pizza, and tacos, not to mention loads of Italian (try A Tavola), Mediterranean, and Asian options. There’s a 12-seat micro bar (Jar’d Wine Pub), a piano bar (the Lemon Squeeze), and a newly opened cat cafe. There’s also old standards like Bacchus Restaurant and Billiards and the Main Street Bistro, which still has a line out the door for breakfast on weekends. Water Street Market has an array of retail that covers everything from the mundane (you can get socks, hardware and light bulbs uptown) to the fanciful, of which there are too many examples to list: esoteric Wiccan and crystal shops, a stellar drum shop (CBHO), and a spot (Grazery) where you can browse houseplants and fine cheeses, just because the owners love plants and cheese. It’s easy to see why, as Steffens says, if a business burns down, someone has a plan to open on the spot “before the ashes are cool.”

“I hope this is a larger market trend and not just New Paltz—there’s a meaningful spirit of encouragement and mutual support among local businesses,” says Branitz. “This cross-pollination works on every level, and this town still enchants me every day. I love wandering from midtown down to Water Street, hitting the side streets to shop at great art stores and book and record shops, grabbing something amazing from Lagusta’s vegan chocolate shop. I love hiking or biking on the rail trail, which is flat and mostly shady, or on the River-to-Ridge Trail, which is not, but you can ride up to the Mohonk Preserve or Lake Minnewaska.”

New Paltz Real Estate Market

“Because of the lack of inventory, which happens to be at the lowest point I have seen in a very long while, it appears that the market is just not what it has been in the past few years,” says Barbara Korabel, broker/owner at Four Seasons Realty Group. “The numbers show less overall sales, but the prices are at a very high point and do not seem to be decreasing. You may have a few that have lowered their price, but the reason is that they were initially overpriced. Right now, the lowest single family fully available is $429,000 and there is a total of 11 properties for sale. Thirty-nine homes have sold so far this year, and there are 29 pending.”

So if you’re seeking a piece of the Paltz, prepare to be patient. The median listing price at the time of this writing was $599,000. A three-bedroom ranch on an acre lot on the east end of town was listed for $449,000; a “sweet stone cottage” with three bedrooms, on an 11-acre mini-compound on rural Springtown Road, was listed for $715,000.

Join the Conversation

Comments are closed.