From Factory Town to Fun Town: The Rebirth of Tarrytown
This once-sleepy rivertown prepares for the best (and worst) of boom times.
hudson harbor photo by heather sommer; phelps hospital photo courtesy of phelps hospital, taSH farmers’ market courtesy of tash farmer’s market
Photo by Stefan Radtke
Tarrytown’s business owners today face what may be its most exciting era since the Stanley Steam Car Company opened its assembly plant there in 1896. Today, that property on Tarrytown’s border, vacant for nearly a quarter-century after General Motors left it in 1996, is finally blossoming with thousands of new residences. What’s more, the Mario Cuomo Bridge is open at last, as well. Those two major developments promise to alter Tarrytown’s population (not to mention traffic patterns) and bring significant opportunities to its business community.
“We are on the verge of an exciting time,” says Glen Taylor, co-president of the Sleepy Hollow-Tarrytown Chamber of Commerce. “There is a new and exciting focus through the work of The Tarrytown Comprehensive Plan.”
The village of Tarrytown is modest, with about 11,500 residents and a plethora of small merchants in the walkable downtown and on Route 9/Broadway, which bisects the village north and south. There are office parks and hotels in the eastern part of town, along White Plains Road, and historic landmarks and parks along the waterfront south of I-287. The old industrial area between the railroad tracks and the river has been steadily converted to residential and recreational use, greatly enhancing the quality of life in the village. While Tarrytown used to be a blue-collar town, more than half the workforce now is in white-collar occupations.
“Tarrytown in the 1970s and ’80s was a tough place. Main Street was full of empty storefronts. Now, every time a business moves out, a more upscale one moves into the space.”
—Björn Olsson Executive Director, Tarrytown Music Hall
Coming soon will be the impact of nearly 1,200 new townhomes, condos, and loft apartments at Edge-on-Hudson, the Toll Brothers development that broke ground last fall on the former GM property. While technically located in Sleepy Hollow, its main entrance is a brisk 10-minute walk from Tarrytown’s Main Street.
But that’s not all. “Another big impact will come from the bike-and-pedestrian path that will come over the new bridge,” says Village Administrator Rich Slingerland. “That will bring a lot of new visitors and will change things significantly.” He says they don’t have an exact number of projected visitors, but if it’s anything like the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, it could amount to more than 500,000 annually. Those would be in addition to the 315,000 visitors who currently come to visit sites like Lyndhurst and events celebrating The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Photo by Heather Sommer
“We’re trying to enhance amenities up and down the waterfront with new segments of the Riverwalk,” Slingerland adds. “You’ve also got the old Croton Aqueduct heading south from here. There is so much history here, the downtown restaurants, the shows, the museums — people are going to find out how great it is to come here.”
Local business owners are rising to the occasion. “The Tarrytown business community is alive and active,” according to JoAnne Murray, owner of Allan Block Insurance, an agency that’s been in business in Tarrytown since 1959. “The business owners care. The village board is very supportive, too. They want to hear what’s needed and are trying to help businesses succeed.”
Tarrytown Occupation Profile
Source: US Census Bureau, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
That’s what Ona Cohn found when she brought her eponymous gallery and gift shop, Ona, to Tarrytown in 2016 after eight years in Bedford Hills. “I am so happy I moved the shop here,” she says. “Tarrytown is a great community to do business in. This little village has soul and energy. People here care about each other. Even competitors will send customers to each other. It’s a very user-friendly place to do business.”
“Tarrytown is a casual, laid-back town that has a fair amount of life,” adds Mike Love, owner of Coffee Labs Roasters, a coffee shop and roastery that opened in 2003. “It’s close to [New York City] but far enough away. Our restaurant-and-bar scene is great; we’ve got art galleries now; it’s awesome. It’s a great walking town, too.”
In a way, the Tarrytown Music Hall started the village’s current renaissance. Built in 1885, it stopped showing films in 1976, and was destined to become a parking lot, but was saved from demolition by a local nonprofit group. Today, it attracts more than 85,000 visitors annually to Main Street. “The economic impact of the theater is huge,” says Executive Director Björn Olsson. “We generate dozens of jobs in the community, as well as in the theater.”
Phelps Hospital Northwell Health
Rendering courtesy of Phelps Hospital
Olsson contrasts the old village with the new, observing that “Tarrytown in the 1970s and ’80s was a tough place. Main Street was full of empty storefronts. Now, every time a business moves out, a more upscale one moves into the space.” His impression is born out by the data. Retail space in Tarrytown has a recent vacancy rate of only 1.7 percent, considerably lower than the county average.
“Main Street Tarrytown is situated perfectly,” Taylor explains. “There is front-facing retail at street level with apartments above.” A recent informal survey of Main Street counted 50 storefronts — 27 of them occupied by retailers, 20 by restaurants, and only three vacant.
“Being in this area makes us easily accessible to clientele from everywhere. We draw from Orange and Rockland Counties, Dutchess County, northern New Jersey, and throughout Westchester. Plus, Tarrytown residents are super-supportive.”
—Chef Michael Cutney, Owner, Twisted Oak
“I love being in Tarrytown,” says Chef Michael Cutney, owner of Twisted Oak, a 65-seat farm-to-table restaurant on Tarrytown’s Main Street that opened five years ago. “Being in this area makes us easily accessible to clientele from everywhere. We draw from Orange and Rockland Counties, Dutchess County, northern New Jersey, and throughout Westchester. Plus, Tarrytown residents are super-supportive.”
Like most of the county, most new construction in Tarrytown centers on transit-oriented residential. Hudson Harbor, a 264-home luxury community on the waterfront has been solidly successful, with all units sold nearly as soon as they are built. It’s within walking distance of the Metro-North station, according to Alicia Goldman, director of sales, and probably 80 percent of residents commute to NYC. Perhaps 60 percent are empty nesters, although there are also younger couples moving from the city. “You can walk right up to Main Street and Broadway, and to all the shops and town hall,” she says. “It’s a big plus for our residents.”
Tash Farmer's Market
Photo courtesy of Tash Farmer's Market
There are a few weak spots in the local economy, though. The Tarrytown Comprehensive Plan, adopted last year, points out that storefront merchants on North Broadway (Rte 9) have struggled. A recent project to repurpose nearly three acres on the street for a mixed-use retail/residential development was withdrawn, according to Slingerland. Most of the buildings in the office parks on White Plains Road were constructed in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and have significant vacancies like much of the county’s older office stock. Some repurposing has taken place, notably the conversion of the former Kraft Foods building to administrative and back office operations by Montefiore Medical Center in 2013.
Tarrytown Music Hall
Other healthcare facilities in the village include various medical practice groups on White Plains Road. Among them is Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, part of the Northwell Health System, which has joint ventures with GoHealth Urgent Care, including the location in Tarrytown. “The joint venture is providing an expanded level of medical services to the community,” Taylor explains. “Our primary-care doctors throughout Tarrytown are part of Northwell Health Physician Partners.” (In addition to serving as the volunteer co-president of the chamber of commerce, Taylor is vice president of support services for Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow.)
Walkability is one of Tarrytown’s biggest advantages, which is a good thing, since automobiles and where to park them are problematic. “The biggest issue we have is traffic flow on Route 9,” Taylor points out. That is bound to exacerbated by the residents of Edge-on-Hudson and the bicyclists coming off the bridge. There’s more development coming right behind Edge-on-Hudson, too, Taylor reports. “Part of the deal that was made with Edge-on-Hudson was for development of what’s known as the East Parcel with public parks, an amphitheater, and low-income housing. There’s going to be a lot of density in the coming years.”
“A parking structure is necessary,” Cutney believes. “With a large population increase coming and tourism on the weekend, it’s exceedingly crowded. The streets are narrow, and there are delivery trucks complicating the situation.
“One thing that would be helpful would be to have some form of inter-Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow transportation, like the trolley that used to run,” he continues. “It could run to the hotels on Route 119 and to the historic sites like Kykuit. Of course, identifying the problem is the easy part. Paying for it is the hard part.” There is discussion of a jitney service to serve Edge-on-Hudson, according to Slingerland.
Source: US Census Bureau, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
JoAnne Murray takes the long view. “We have concerns about traffic, but I’ve been here since GM was here, and when the plant let out at three o’clock, you couldn’t move through town,” she says. “The new traffic will have a different distribution, and a lot more people commute by train or bus, so it might not be as bad as people think it will be. Only time will tell.”
Annie Cauthren, board member of TaSH, the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Farmer’s Market, welcomes the new residents. “When we started TaSH,” she says, “we envisioned a village green that would enrich our community, where neighbors would join neighbors each week to shop, swap news, eat, and enjoy music and the arts. As with any new residents to our community, we hope to continue to make newcomers feel welcome and give them a place to shop, mingle, and enjoy their town each Saturday, alongside their neighbors.”
Frequent 914INC. contributor Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison but loves to eat in Tarrytown.