There seems to be a newly charged kind of energy buzzing on the corner of Main Street in Poughkeepsie this summer. The (unlikely) source? A former underwear factory, just a block up on North Cherry. Not long ago it stood vacant, casting a shadow over the neighborhood, reminding its residents that production had long since come to a halt. But these days — after a great deal of sweat, planning, and a $6.6 million facelift — the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory is generating hope for this neighborhood in an all-new way.
The 22,000 sq ft, 1874 mill building was reimagined into a mixed-use community hub by Hudson River Housing (HRH), a local organization that works to eliminate homelessness and provide vital health and human services programs to the public, as the anchor project of “The Middle Main Initiative,” a wider collaborative effort focused on empowering residents, improving safety, and generating commerce in this five-block urban area. Elizabeth Druback-Celaya, Director of Organizational and Community Development at HRH, beams, “The completion of this project is a major piece of the puzzle in our continuum of efforts.”
The recently opened Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory includes an open kitchen, available to culinary entrepreneurs in need of a place to get cooking.
The renovation, which took about two years to complete, combines low-cost housing, art studios, social programs, and community-minded businesses. Stop in and you’ll find locals and resident artists mingling inside a stylish industrial space, drinking lattes and cappuccinos at the antique treadle-sewing tables in North River Roasters, an on-site coffeehouse.
Poughkeepsie native Feza Oktay is the force behind the business. With a background in nonprofits, he is no stranger to revitalization efforts, but after being inspired to roast coffee at home by his college-aged barista daughter, Chloe — who is still a “consultant and taste tester,” says Oktay — the concept clicked: He would fuel progress by the cup, brewing beans chosen with intention, and by ensuring that all aspects of the business were designed with neighborhood advancement in mind. Before moving in, NRR worked as a CSA-style distribution system of freshly roasted beans — the first of its kind in the area, still in operation. Now, Otkay employs HRH clients and other residents in need, with plans to convert the business into a worker-owned cooperative.
The folks you find here may be awaiting an employment workshop upstairs, a meeting with a business partner, or waiting for a pizza-making class in Poughkeepsie Open Kitchen, the building’s shared culinary lab, which is available to rent by the hour or by subscription. All the while, they are building relationships and a shared interest in the city’s revitalization.
All manner of area food business owners find themselves forging new connections at the lab, where the wall-to-wall stainless steel, stacked pizza ovens and abundant storage space have area chefs itching to chop. Some current clients include Casual Elegance Catering — which, in addition to catering, is offering on-site cooking classes — and the Hudson Valley’s own royal chocolatier, Queen Choco.
The best way to get involved is to stop in and see what’s going on for yourself. And for those seeking to access the building’s services, a hot cup of coffee is never a bad place to start.
8 N Cherry St, Poughkeepsie