The quiet Ulster County town of Phoenicia has all the makings of a true “hidden gem.”
Babbling brooks, lush forests, and, of course, the majestic Catskill Mountains surround the sleepy town. Like a younger sibling to Woodstock catching its stride, Phoenicia plays host to an arts and music community that grows richer every year. Down-home dining and upscale establishments alike give the area a distinct personality, and top-rate accommodations have made Phoenicia a popular weekend escape in the Hudson Valley.
Amid the sylvan serenity is a deep revitalization. A symbol for the entire Catskills renewal stands on Main Street, in the form of a historic pharmacy built in the 1950s. Marty and Georganna Millman owned and operated the business for forty years, until his passing in 2015. After caring renovation, it has been taken over by a tight-knit community of Hudson Valley artisans crafting beauty from revival.
“In a town like Phoenicia that doesn’t have a lot [of buildings], it looks terrible to have a huge vacant space on the corner,” Phoenicia Honey Co. owner Rebecca Shim notes. “I was really excited when it was purchased.”
Standing hollow for over a year, the building’s resurrection took quite a while. According to Shim, it was nearly three years of renovating for the new owner to build it out — in addition to the work Georganna Millman put into the restoration. The result took advantage of over 5,000 sq ft and remnants from the old Phoenicia Pharmacy to cultivate a genuine vintage atmosphere. Nine vendors call this space, an artsy village marketplace, their home.
“We have six different rooms, [and] the main room holds most of the antique dealers. Across the way is Margaret Owen’s art gallery, which serves as a community gallery space. Then there’s a stained glass artisan, hand-painted clothing, Persian and African-inspired goods…there’s a real crazy blend of different things here,” Shim says, describing her neighbors inside the reinvented structure. Shim’s Phoenicia Honey Co. inhabits the former kitchen-laboratory of the pharmacy, where she crafts local honey-based products. All she has to do is swing through the door to her permanent pop-up counter to move her goods from production to retail.
Owen, of Arts Upstairs, oversees fine arts happenings at the antique center. Though made up of many styles of vendors, Phoenicia Arts and Antiques is a cohesive collective. The decorative, ornate furniture for sale allows patrons to ponder the art on display in the gallery. Shops are arranged in such a way that nothing clashes, and everyone’s work sits in harmony.
“In such an eclectic mix of people, everyone supports each other. Ivan, one of the antique dealers, carpools to work with one of the other vendors,” Shim says. It’s a welcoming community as well — recently, Phoenicia Arts and Antiques developed a trunk show by-application concept through which Hudson Valley artists and vendors can rent a space for a shorter term. Three-day residencies at the front of the store brings much-needed exposure to newly-burgeoning businesses in the Hudson Valley.
This new home for Phoenicia Honey Co. has been especially great for Shim. Aside from the 10-minute commute, working alongside unique and interesting people brings joy to her work, and the unforgettable atmosphere is a perfect showcase for her products. Whether her shoppers are local tea junkies or want something utterly delicious for bougie breakfast toasts, cheese-and-charcuterie boards, or even baked desserts, Shim’s Phoenicia Honey Co. treats are too sweet to miss.
Chai spice, chocolate and bergamot, lavender, and earl grey round out some of the tasty tea-friendly varieties available at the Phoenicia Honey Co. booth. Shim developed one of her latest flavors, smoky habanero with sea salt, to give hot honey fans the perfect blend of sweet and spicy goodness.
When Shim first acquired the growing honey brand, she brought years of culinary expertise and ingenuity to the project. She graduated from the International Culinary Center — then called the French Culinary Institute — in Manhattan, and went to work for the “grand dame” of southern cooking, Edna Lewis.
“She was the most important boss I ever had, and she doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Her cooking is all about getting ingredients really fresh, and keeping it really simple. That’s what we strive to do here,” Shim says. Shim worked at Lewis’ Brooklyn spot Gage & Tollner, one of the oldest continuously-run restaurants in New York, before its closure over 10 years ago. She later ran a farm-to-table eatery in Fort Greene before moving up to the Hudson Valley to pursue a proximity to the farm-fresh ingredients about which she is so passionate.
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“I did some private cheffing and catering — which I still do on occasion — but I was very interested in horticulture, and in bees and pollinators. So I got some bees for my 16-acre property at Mount Tremper, and I wanted to develop it into some sort of a little farm,” Shim says.
The demand for Phoenicia Honey Co. products is so great that Shim utilizes multiple beekeepers to source her honey. Some of her sources come from multiple generations of beekeepers who have perfect the art and care of their hives.
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In addition to the plethora of delicious edible honey, Shim sells a budding line of skincare products utilizing natural beeswax. Anti-aging and antioxidant-rich, beeswax washes and scrubs are an upgrade for any shower.
“Beeswax is great! It’s non-comedogenic, so people aren’t sensitive to it. The only scents come from essential oils, so they’re totally natural and great moisturizers. We even have a body wash with honey in it,” Shim says.
As her business grows and evolves, it does so alongside a rich, supportive community of co-vendors. A stop inside Phoenicia Arts and Antiques is the perfect cap on any day trip to the Catskills.