These Hudson Valley Guidebooks Are a Hit During the COVID-19 Crisis

New Paltz is one of the many towns where you can find the author’s books.
Photo by Ian Poley

Woodstock-based publisher Joanne Michaels experiences an unexpectedly busy season after early concerns about her business during the pandemic.

I think back now to Friday the 13th of March 2020; that was the day the reality of the lockdown struck. I called Color Page in Kingston, the printer of what was to be the 11th edition of my book, The Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains: Only the Best Places. “Hold the presses on those 2,000 books!” I exclaimed. “I’m not sure I’ll have a business come June.”

The weeks passed slowly. I tried to make good use of the time at home by organizing every closet and attacking boxes of family photographs. Every day I walked five miles on a nearby rail trail and tuned in to see the governor on TV reeling off the horrifying facts of life: how many new coronavirus cases; and tragically, the number of deaths the previous day.

By the end of June and the onset of welcome summer weather, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The numbers were going in the right direction. New Yorkers had followed the scientists’ advice: The virus looked like it was on the downswing.

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Over the July 4th weekend I called every restaurant in my guidebook, from Westchester and Rockland Counties to the cities of Albany and Saratoga Springs, to make sure they were still open. Surprisingly, almost every dining spot seemed to have adjusted to the new normal instituting online orders, take-out, and increased patio dining. So, I made the necessary changes in the final proofs and called the printer. I was grateful they could complete the run of this “pandemic edition” in 10 days.

Soon I was traveling masked throughout the Hudson Valley and Catskills visiting my accounts: Many museum stores and historic sites, including Olana, Lyndhurst and the Vanderbilt Mansion, were closed for the foreseeable future. I found myself opening new accounts at pharmacy gift shops, delis, and farm markets. These bustling businesses couldn’t get enough books. 

The guides were selling briskly to city dwellers, many of whom had taken up residence in their country homes. They were seeking outdoor activities — places to go with their families. My two new editions (the other one is Let’s Take the Kids!) provide hundreds of ideas for day trips including hikes, bike trails, parks, and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

And so, I went from fretting over whether I should file for unemployment to having the busiest summer I’ve had in 30 years. And now I need a break. I’m flying to San Francisco in November to see my grandchildren. I’m staying at The Chateau Tivoli, a cozy Victorian hotel in the middle of the city, where I hope to escape to another era. I was drawn to this place as its name is the same as one of my favorite Hudson Valley villages!

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Joanne Michaels, a publisher and journalist based in Woodstock, is the author of 10 books, including Hudson River Journey, Hudson River Towns, Hudson River Valley Farms, Famous Woodstock Cooks, Adirondack High, and The Joy of Divorce. She is president of JMB, a regional book distribution company. Her two guidebooks are sold at bookstores and gift shops throughout the region.

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