By Joseph Juste
Edited and packaged by Kevin Durk
A woman with light brown hair and ocean blue eyes is surrounded by clothes that vary in color so much so that they resemble a rainbow. As she stands patiently behind a counter, customers enter the store and as quickly as they enter, the woman’s face lights up and a wide smile spreads from cheek to cheek.
“How are you guys! Just to let you know, all the jewelry is 50% off!” Of course, she’s talking about the jewelry that is sold alongside all the other clothing items and accessories in her store, the Groovy Blueberry. This is Amy Cohen, a resident and business owner in New Paltz for 23 years.
“The idea just came out of necessity,” said Cohen when asked why she decided to open her own business. “We had to make a living and support our family. We saw that there was an empty storefront on Main Street in New Paltz and we decided to take it and move in.”
The Groovy Blueberry was one of the first handful of stores to appear on Main Street, long before the Water Street Market even existed. Back then, Cohen’s rent at her original location was $600. But by the time she moved out of that location, the rent was nearly $3,000.
The idea to make a clothing store came much more from experience than spontaneity. Cohen had been an international textile buyer before she moved to New Paltz. Prior to this, she had been a department store manager at Macy’s. Her partner Jon Cohen, had owned and operated several clothing stores throughout Brooklyn. One of his storefronts Jonathan David, was particularly successful and had several locations in the 1980s. In Amy Cohen’s words, “It was really just natural for us to be in the clothing business.”
While operating in New Paltz, Cohen had definitely experienced her fair share of success. Her most successful feat so far, was manufacturing over 10,000 pieces of baby clothing for Buy Buy Baby, a subsidiary of Bed Bath & Beyond. Other than that, Cohen simply enjoys the things that “hit home” for her, “It has always been empowering to empower others and to see our ‘store’ family grow. Over the years, I have gotten to know so many creative and interesting people.” One person in particular is Sam Johnson, a fourth-year music major. Cohen may not remember Johnson but he certainly remembers her and her store. “It was such a unique atmosphere and it was kind of cool being in one of the oldest stores in New Paltz.”
However, these happier moments could not exist without some shortcomings.
Towards the end of the year, Cohen’s store gets little to no business. She blames this mostly on the lack of tourism in New Paltz during the winter months,“If it’s cold, nobody wants to go outside.” Despite the lack of tourism, she doesn’t let this impact her outlook on the future. During these times of slow foot traffic she does one thing, vacation.
Fifteen years ago, Cohen’s partner Jon bought a condo on Hollywood Beach in Florida. This is why when Amy Cohen decides that it’s time for vacation, she packs her bags and heads straight to Stewart Airport. Over the years, Cohen has learned a valuable lesson, “I realized that you have to be in business when it’s busy and when it’s not busy, there’s no point in kicking a dead horse. That’s usually a good time to recover.”
Her store isn’t the only thing that Cohen concerns herself with.
Cohen likes to play an active role in her community, whether it’s helping students at SUNY New Paltz or getting involved in the local government to promote change.
More recently, Cohen has been doing her best to help students that come looking for internship opportunities. From her waiting list of 54 people, she picks six to eight kids to help her with varying tasks. The students have not only helped to improve Groovy Blueberry’s social media presence but they also assist Cohen with any events that she may have in mind. Most notably, they helped put together a project called Humans of New Paltz. Cohen still keeps a primary goal in mind, “Save the world by working with the next generation.” She believes this can be achieved with a vital yet basic concept. “Talking common sense, because there isn’t really much of that anymore.”
As for being an active member in her community, Cohen has a long list of what she has accomplished, some have been perceived as good and some not so good.
For the past five years, Cohen has served on the New Paltz planning board. Before that, she was one of the town police commissioners. Her participation in the local government has led her to appear on news networks multiple times. However, one of those appearances had garnered some negative local publicity.
Cohen appeared on Fox Five, discussing her disappointment in the Town of New Paltz because many residents didn’t want to keep the Pledge of Allegiance in school. To say the least, Cohen’s opinion did not sit well with many people. However, she still believes that she did the right thing, “I got a lot of criticism for that but I think as a leader, a community leader, a business owner and as an adult in the community, it’s important for me to stand up for what I think is right.” Jane Rivera, a fourth-year communications major agreed with this sentiment, “I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in, so the fact that she spoke out about such a hot topic is honestly really cool.”
Cohen’s kids are also a big part of her life and their stories are unique and interesting in their own right. Josh Cohen, her eldest child is a chef whose talents gained him a spot on Food Network’s Chopped this past summer. In high school he was a very talented musician. He became extremely fascinated with cooking and he started reading cookbooks and practicing cooking daily. Amy Cohen claims that her son is self-taught but also attended culinary school. Now at 23, Josh Cohen has worked as the sous chef at multiple restaurants across New York, including The Flower Shop and Gem. Currently, he is the head chef at Rosie’s in Amagansett.
Josh Cohen isn’t the only chef in the family. His little brother, Amy Cohen’s second son, worked as his sous chef for some time and acted in place of Josh Cohen when he suffered a herniated disk.
With most of her children being chefs, it leaves Amy Cohen to ponder about the fate of the store. Her children are welcome to take ownership of the store from Cohen when the time comes but she admits that they might want to go into a different type of business model or even open a restaurant. Cohen also confesses that not a lot of people are going into the “brick and mortar” stores these days and that it’s hard competing with online retailers like Amazon. Nevertheless, she celebrates the fact that they are “dinosaurs” and is proud of what she has been able to accomplish, “A lot of things look easy when you see them from afar like ‘oh, I could do that.’ But it really is like dancing like a ballerina.”
The possibility of selling the building is very real for Cohen but first she needs someone with “a lot of money to come by.” If that happens, it certainly won’t be the end of Groovy Blueberry. Cohen knows enough about the online market to understand that she can move online as a wholesale model or just move her store onto Amazon. Until that day comes, Cohen will continue to be open as much as possible for her customers, provide new items and be as nurturing as she can be to both her customers and her community. If there is one thing that she has learned throughout her years, it’s that, “Most things in life are elastic. Try them out, and if you don’t like it, then don’t do it anymore. You don’t have to be scared, just keep going until you’re sure of yourself.”