Brooklyn food market Smorgasburg expands to historic Kingston brickyard

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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A Brooklyn outdoor market described by the New York Times as the “Woodstock of eating” has launched a location in the Hudson Valley, the first development in a California real estate firm’s plan to revitalize an historic former brickyard.

Smorgasburg, a market launched in 2011 as a spinoff of the popular Brooklyn Flea market, operates weekly in Prospect Park and East River State Park in Brooklyn and brings together more than 100 local food vendors at each site.

The market opened its first location upstate at the 10-acre former Hutton Brickyards property at 200 North St. in Kingston on Aug. 6 to a crowd of more than 10,000 people.

“The timing is right and we got really interested in Kingston,” said Jonathan Butler, who, with Eric Demby, founded Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. “Both geographically, it’s well located and it’s also at an interesting point in its own evolution with a lot of people moving there from the city to start businesses.”

Butler has a history of bringing life to old buildings like the brickyards, which was founded in the 19th century. The Brooklyn Flea team also operates a beer hall in Brooklyn called Berg’n, built out of an old garage in Crown Heights. In 2004, Butler founded the real estate blog Brownstoner, which often focused on the preservation of historic buildings.

“So the whole thing felt like a great fit, in terms of personally what we are interested in doing, and brandwise,” Butler said. “Locating the market at a site that’s kind of iconic is also keeping with most of the sites we’ve been at.”

The partners plan is to host the market every Saturday through October. There are about 70 to 80 vendors, Butler said, drawn largely from the Hudson Valley, with a small number driving up from Brooklyn.

Hudson Valley vendors include well-known brands such as Bread Alone Bakery and Jane’s Ice Cream and a long list of restaurants and food and beverage producers. But it’s more than food: Half the vendors are sellers of vintage items and antiques.

The market is the first use for the brickyard since its purchase in 2014 by Los Angeles-based developer MWest Holdings LLC, a real estate investment and property management firm.

Karl Slovin, president of MWest Holdings, said he was looking for a partner to activate the site and Butler and the rest of the team behind Brooklyn Flea had shown a skill in bringing life to former industrial properties.

“They are able to understand how a developer is looking at a site long-term,” Slovin said, “and how to be a catalyst for making something hip and cool and exciting to the local community.”

The Kingston property purchase is an outlier compared with the majority of MWest’s portfolio. The company owns 16 residential buildings in Los Angeles, nine residential properties in Manhattan and a handful of commercial buildings in California, Florida and Texas. The Hutton Brickyards is the first project for MWest in the Hudson Valley and its first commercial development in New York.

Slovin grew up in Manhattan and his family had a home in Rhinebeck that he visited often, so a property right on the Hudson, unobstructed by train tracks, had a certain sentimental value, he said.

“When I was a kid growing up, the access to the river was limited,” he said. “So when I became aware of this opportunity, it was like gold was dropped in my lap. I fell in love with the site on my first visit.”

MWest Holdings has a history of what Slovin called “transformational development,” taking historical buildings that have fallen into disrepair and revitalizing them. The company’s portfolio includes the 87-year-old Hollywood Tower and 90-year-old Wilshire Royale apartment buildings in Los Angeles and several prewar residential buildings in Manhattan. That approach made the Hutton Brickyards a natural fit, he said.

“It never made sense to me to tear these buildings down and start building hundreds of condos,” Slovin said. “There’s no market for it and that just doesn’t excite me.”

The Hutton Brickyards property has a long history. It started operating in 1865, a time when the clay deposits along the Hudson River in Rockland County allowed the Hudson Valley to become the largest brick-making region in the world. As documented by George V. Hutton in his book “The Great Hudson River Brick Industry,” explosive growth in New York City during the late 19th century created a demand for bricks to build fire-resistant housing for the city’s rapidly expanding population.

Dozens of brickyards lined the Hudson River and employed between 7,000 and 8,000 people at the industry’s peak in the region in the early 20th century, often providing jobs to recent Irish, Italian and other European immigrants who settled in the region. Hutton bricks were used in the construction of the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters in Upper Manhattan and the Hayden Planetarium. The original Yankee Stadium may have been The House Babe Ruth Built, but bricks inscribed “HUTTON” were pulled from its foundation during demolition of the iconic Bronx baseball stadium more than 80 years after it was built.

Demographic changes, new building materials and shipping technology that allowed global trade in bricks dramatically reduced the Hudson Valley brick industry toward the end of the 20th century. Hutton Brickyards ceased operation in 1980, 15 years after it was acquired by the Jova Co., a Newburgh brickmaker.

The property has changed hands a few times since its closing. A restaurant called The Brickyard operated there in the early 1990s. Plans by a developer to build a large-scale housing and commercial project called Sailor’s Cove on the Hudson, announced in 2002, stalled during the review process.

Since purchasing the property two years ago, MWest Holdings has spent about $1.5 million rehabilitating the property. Hazardous materials from the brickyard had already been removed by the site’s former owner, according to Slovin, though the company still had to work with the state to verify the site was clean.

“But you can imagine what 150 years of brick use would look like,” Slovin said.

After years of the site being used as an “amusement park” for paintball and ATV riders, Slovin said employees removed 40 dumpsters worth of trash and have restored several of the historical buildings, building bathrooms and bringing in water and sewer services.

Those services were tested by the 10,000 people who showed up opening weekend for Smorgasburg, Slovin said, but everything held up well. On the other six days a week Smorgasburg isn’t operating at the site, Slovin said work will continue restoring buildings.

The website launched for the new Hutton Brickyards describes it as a place to “attract the thinkers, makers and doers.” But what that place ultimately will look like is unclear. There are no concrete plans yet to do anything with the property beyond Smorgasburg, but Slovin said he has had discussions for other types of events on the site, such as retreats and weddings.

He said events and hospitality could be a likely use for the site, but it will depend on what he hears people want and what proves economically viable.

“Creating a space there that people can use that is more interactive and has more life to it is something I’m really interested in,” he said. “What that becomes ultimately, I don’t know. We’re on a long journey here.”

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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