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Real deal in New York State
There are delectable edibles inside the Runcible Spoon café, but visitors must be lured by aroma alone.
The display cases are hidden by the picture window. Yes, hidden, because it's covered with handbills.
There are various offers for massage therapy, aroma therapy and reflexology; classes in yoga or tango or Tai Chi; promises of relief through guided introspection, rolfing or homeopathy. There are reminders of the annual Nyack Street Fair, upcoming historic walks and a fire department pancake breakfast fund-raiser.
Nyack is what Hollywood directors call real. So real that a few scenes from NBC's small-town charmer, "Ed" -- supposedly set in Stuckeyville, Ohio -- have been filmed there.
Of all the waterfront villages on the Hudson's west bank, Nyack and its tree-lined streets, is a favorite for a day's worth of puttering, capped by a visit to nearby Piermont village. Bring your appetite and your credit cards.
Most weekends, side streets are bumper-to-bumper with out-of-state license plates as their owners stroll Broadway and Main streets, shopping, soaking up the arty ambiance and enjoying fine restaurants.
They duck into the antiques and collectible shops along antiques row and contemplate a rich assortment of teas, wind chimes, pottery and indoor fountains in shops with names like Tetsubin Tea, Cat Bamboo, The Klay Gallery, Pickwick Books and Trends.
Those with a nose for Nyack history make sure they make the ritual visit to Christopher's, credited with giving Nyack its now more than 25-year-old identity as an antiques mecca.
Christopher's is three overstuffed floors of antiques, pretend antiques and collectibles stacked every which way.
Here, progress is slow to protect the browser from stumbling and/or missing the "just-right" item partially hidden by a period print, a stack of dishes or a retro lamp.
Also, watch out for the chocolate poodle Addie, who sometimes snoozes on the cool wood floors of the Victorian-era building.
These old buildings of brick and well-worn wood are ideal backdrops for the cases of estate jewelry, china cabinets, silver tableware, oil paintings and French, Italian and English furniture. Some stores have piles of old postcards that portray former Nyack eras.
Since its settlement a few centuries ago, Nyack has plied a historical journey similar to many waterfront communities -- river settlement, manufacturing town, resort and finally picturesque village with original shops, bookstores and cafes.
The riverfront communities and one or two other Rockland County villages revel in their historic roots, especially since most of the remaining towns were born with the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955. That's when Rockland became a "bedroom" or commuter community.
But the ensuing building and population boom, and later waves of urban renewal, pretty much bypassed downtown Nyack.
The result is that downtown Nyack, with the exception of one hotly contested waterfront condo development, looks much as it did when native son Edward Hopper made its Main Street an icon of the American realist school of painting.
Nyack still doesn't have the pansies-in-a-pot perfection of ritzy beach communities or the deliberately ragged earthiness of some mountain retreats. It remains scenic and livable.
In its heyday (every village seems to have had one), Nyack was described as "the Naples of America" and "the gem on the Hudson" by a poetic journalist writing in 1889 for the New York Daily Graphic. The population then was about 4,000. Today, it's about 6,700.
In those days, Nyack had a couple of shipyards (today it has marinas), a half-dozen shoe factories and another half-dozen factories devoted to cigars, church organs and pianos. The village saw 30 passenger trains a day, while ferries and steamships brought vacationers. They came to escape the heat and various city epidemics and to stay at plush resorts, including the Palmer House, a grand hotel favored by President Grover Cleveland.
After financial problems in the 1890s, many of the factories closed, and growth in the region slowed to a halt. The resorts are gone, either burned or torn down or transformed into schools, but many of the Queen Anne, Italianate, Federal-Adams and Gothic Revival homes built during that period remain.
Between the shops and village institutions -- the YMCA, the post office, Village Hall and various churches -- those restored homes can be glimpsed. Anyone with a little extra energy should stroll down the "Father Knows Best" side streets or the ends of either North Broadway or South Broadway to appreciate the architecture.
The ivy-covered village library is one of the public buildings that's worth a look -- visitors enter a grand, if shallow, lobby with a vaulted ceiling and a stone fireplace -- and it's a nice place to rest your feet for a few minutes.
The Edward Hopper House Art Center at 82 North Broadway is loosely done in the Queen Anne style. Part of the center is devoted to Hopper's life and career, the early part of which he spent in Nyack after graduating from high school in 1899. The rest of the house is exhibition space and a community cultural center.
Hopper is among many stars in the region's firmament. Others either born in the region or who have lived here include Helen Hayes, Rosie O'Donnell, Maxwell Anderson, Toni Morrison, Kurt Weill and Lottie Lenya. The region also draws celebrities. Woody Allen has brought his film cameras to Rockland County twice -- to Nyack to film part of "Manhattan" and to nearby Piermont to film some of "The Purple Rose of Cairo."
Piermont is about 3 miles and three hairpin turns south of Nyack. It's main street, Piermont Avenue, is near the water, whereas Nyack's sits on the crest of the hill overlooking the river.
The village of Piermont is an abbreviated and quieter version of Nyack with the greater emphasis on galleries and shops. Many homes perched on steep hills overlooking the river sport red and white "Stop the Thruway -- No New Bridge" signs. Residents complain that their small, narrow streets are already taxed by the additional traffic from the relatively new townhouse development that juts into the Hudson on the site of a former can factory.
The Paradise Harbor complex includes a half-dozen galleries open Thursday through Sunday, a bike rental shop, a kayak shop and a handful of restaurants. A waterfront walkway offers commanding views of the Hudson River, nearby marina and the Tappan Zee Bridge that are particularly noteworthy at dusk.
Like Nyack, Piermont's main street is a study in century-old architecture mixed with more recent times. There is an eclectic and interesting group of retail stores, with women's clothing, decorative and useful garden supplies, a thrift shop, a kitchen and collectible stores and more.
Behind the old clapboards at two buildings there sit jewels that shine within -- Xavier's restaurant and the Turning Point. Either of these Piermont establishments is worth the trip alone.
Xavier's is a smaller version of the well-respected establishment in Garrison and should be booked weeks, if not months, in advance for a weekend dinner.
No joke. The New York Times gave the 40-seat restaurant an "extraordinary" rating (sort of A++), and there's been no looking back. The parking lot on Saturday night looks like a luxury car dealer's.
For the musical crowd, there's the Turning Point.
A beloved establishment since it was started by a brother and sister in 1976, the Turning Point is a restaurant (with porch seating in the summer) upstairs and a club downstairs.
The cozy venue has featured Arlo Guthrie, Kris Kristofferson, Dave Mason, Poco, Orleans, Bela Fleck, Bill Monroe, Joan Osborne, Christine Lavin, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Rick Danko and more. June's schedule includes Tom Rush, Jesse Colin Young and Al Stewart.
Sure, you could go see these artists in the bigger, flashier venues -- and you could shop at the big new Palisades Center Mall in nearby Nanuet and eat at a chain restaurant.
But if you're looking for an original experience, stick with Nyack or Piermont.
Nyack is in Rockland Country, across the Hudson River from Westchester County, N.Y. From Hartford, take I-84 west to I-684 west/south to Route 287 west to Route 87 west across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Warning: Traffic is especially difficult during rush hours. For more on tourism, visit www.rockland.org or www.nyackny.com.