The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory Is a Community Hub

Community, coffee, and an open kitchen in the heart of Dutchess County.

The exterior of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Photo courtesy of Hudson River Housing

The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory focuses on helping entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running—and making the community stronger.

For much of its nearly 150-year history, the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory has been a place where great things are made. Built in 1874, the three-story brick building at 8 North Cherry Street was home to leather and barrel factories before the Queen Undermuslin Company took up shop there in 1904.

It was a thriving business—Queen Undermuslin produced 60,000 undergarments per year until its closure in the 1920s—and a community-minded one as well. The employees were all women, and the owners built a garden and tennis courts for them to use.

By the 1980s, the building was vacant. Luckily, it had been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982—or it might have been torn down in a fit of urban renewal.

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Fast-forward to the present. The 22,000-square-foot Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (PUF) is now a thriving mixed-use space with a focus on food, art, and housing. It’s still making great things—and helping countless small businesses, artists, and the Poughkeepsie community in the process.

Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory
The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory exterior. Photo courtesy of Hudson River Housing

An Ambitious Facelift

Hudson River Housing (HRH), a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless and providing services to the community, decided to buy the vacant building as part of its Middle Main initiative. The goal was to bring commerce back to the five-block radius of Main Street while empowering residents and businesses in the neighborhood. PUF would be Middle Main’s hub.

Starting in 2015, the nearly $7 million renovation was underway as volunteers cleaned out the inside of the building and workmen put in windows, a new roof, and vents, and excavated a basement. “It was a really neat display of the community wanting to be part of this,” says Mary Linge, vice president of real estate development and home ownership for HRH, who oversaw the project.

The renovation took two years, and the team managed to preserve many of the old beams and brick walls and some of the original details. During construction, HRH began planning what PUF would look like. They received input from various groups, including residents, as to what they’d like to see at the factory. “Food, art, and housing were three elements that kept rising to the top,” says Linge.

So, the first floor became a shared kitchen space for cooking, meal prep, and storage along with a café. The second floor was dedicated to artists’ studios, including a printmaking studio. On the top three floors there are a total of 15 studio- and one-bedroom apartments, many of which were offered at below market rates.

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The larger idea was to get start-ups into the mixed-use space that would give back to the community in some way—for instance, by hiring residents or fulfilling a need for fresh food in an area that is still a food desert. At the same time, HRH would help these folks build their businesses.

Here’s how that has worked out in the past five years since PUF opened its doors in 2017.

The Open Kitchen

“We’ve had over a hundred businesses in the past five years that have come in and out of this space,” says Deb Belding, the manager of job training and small business support for HRH.

The Open Kitchen
Colleen Orlando, co-owner of Little Loaf Bakeshop. By Jenevans

Some of these read like a who’s who of food destinations in the Hudson Valley: Hudson & Packard, the Detroit-style pizza restaurant; Laughing Gut Kombucha; Reconnect Foods in Poughkeepsie’s Eastdale Village; Calcutta Kitchen in Kingston; and Flores Tapas Bar in Wappingers Falls. There are also wholesalers, including Berry Bissap, a West African spiced-hibiscus tea sold at Adams and about 350 other national venues, and Artigiani del Gelato, an artisanal gelato company.

The beauty of the open kitchen at PUF, says Linge, is that “it provides an opportunity for people to test out [their business concept] at a low cost, low overhead, and low risk.” There’s a fee to use the kitchen, but it’s affordable, even for fledgling businesses.

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HRH food
Mushroom béchamel Danishes from Little Loaf. By Jenevans

Pre-Covid, there were also free workshops on how to write a business plan and how to create a budget that were taught by HRH staff and outside experts. “We’ll get back to doing those classes for these folks because you can be a good cook, but it doesn’t make you a good businessperson. We want to make sure we’re providing that support,” notes Linge.

“We help people realize their dreams,” adds Belding. That was the experience of Adam and Nancy Benziger, owners of Laughing Gut Kombucha. They came to PUF in July 2018 and stayed for nearly two-and-a-half years. They were able to brew and store their kombucha, first in the kitchen and then in the larger storage area of the basement. “We could add more and larger brewing equipment. They even accommodated us by installing extra electrical outlets,” recalls Nancy. Laughing Gut Kombucha was on tap at the café for people to try out, as well as in the grab-and-go cooler. Their time at PUF “was a great spring-board for testing the waters,” she adds.

“The open kitchen at PUF provides an opportunity for people to test out their concept at a low cost, low overhead, and low risk.”

One way these food entrepreneurs gain exposure is through pop-ups at the café. Currently, Little Loaf Bakeshop sells its breakfast and lunch pastries on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Owners Rian Finnegan and Colleen Orlando began product testing in January 2022 and opened the pop-up this past November. It was a mutually beneficial move. “PUF wanted to bring life and energy on a consistent basis back into the café, and [we knew] this would be an incredible launch pad for us,” says Finnegan, who describes the process as “café ownership training wheels.”

HRH cooking
Food prep at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Courtesy of Hudson River Housing

Another way for start-ups to get food products out into the wider world is through the Taste of PUF boxes, monthly boxes you can order on Instagram that include a selection of beverages and foods, from savory empanadas to macaroons, for $65. There are also First Fridays every month where vendors can sell their food.

People can also hold events and parties in the café for $50 an hour (or the neighborhood discounted rate of $40 an hour, if you live in the 12601 zip code). “It’s a beautiful space,” says Belding, who wanted to make it affordable and accessible for people to celebrate weddings, showers, and even memorials. And folks can bring in their own food. (But no alcohol.)

The Artists’ Space

Food isn’t the only way PUF gives back to Poughkeepsie. “Printmaking by nature is a community-minded art form,” says Anita Kiewra, the studio manager for PUF’s printmaking studio, who also oversees the artists’ studios. That commitment to Poughkeepsie is on full display at PUF. They host HRH’s upcycle job training program, where people who’ve been unhoused can learn printing skills, and work on a variety of commercial jobs. (There’s a parallel culinary job training program going on in the PUF open kitchen.) There is also Teen Shirt, an after-school program designed to teach Poughkeepsie 14- to 18-year-olds the basics of starting and running their own printmaking businesses.

Inside the studio there’s an etching press, a light table, a letter press, and a 3D printer, along with worktables. There’s also a UV darkroom and a t-shirt printer. “This kind of equipment is not usually available to people,” notes Kiewra. At PUF, those who want to use the equipment can rent the studio for $5/hour or become a member for $30 a year.

Private lessons, workshops, and classes in book binding, Japanese paper marbling, and framing are also available. Plus, there’s the Poughkeepsie Open Studios weekend in June, started by Jeffrey Aman, who rents one of the artists’ studios on the second floor. Open Studios is a city-wide showcase for local artists and hosts multiple pop-up galleries, including one at PUF.

What’s in store in the future? Kiewra would like to offer more art classes, taught by area artists who specialize in various media. The challenge is getting the word out, says Kiewra, who encourages interested readers to follow PUF (@pkunderwearfactory on Instagram) to find out about upcoming classes, events, food vendors, and more.

Related: Explore Troy From the Historic and Luxurious Collar Factory Lofts

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