Preservationists take action
Members of grassroots group Bedford Hills Live gather at the train station in the heart of their hamlet.
Photo by Rana Faure
If you had to choose a sister city for Bedford, what would it be—Aspen, maybe Greenwich (England)? What about Berkeley? Yes, Berkeley, California. On the surface, this hub of all things radical doesn’t seem very Bedford-ish, but a closer look proves otherwise. Grassroots movements have always played an integral role in creating and preserving the character of our towns.
In 1916, a group of locals rallied to buy Historical Hall and save it from development. The building was refurbished, while the group went on to form the Bedford Historical Society.
Of course, today we have a little thing called the Internet. Earlier this year, Katonah residents sprang into action regarding the proposed expansion of village newcomer CVS. Long-time small businesses were slated to be displaced. Local parent Kate Galligan responded by setting up a petition on change.org to protest the move. Through the Facebook Katonah Parents group (of which she is a moderator), word of the petition spread. Overnight she had 200 signatures and by end of week it exploded to 1,400. The matter was resolved quickly with the town agreeing to reduce the maximum square footage allowed within the historic business district.
The CVS controversy is only the latest chapter in a long line of local efforts to keep Katonah’s business district one that encourages and supports small businesses. From thwarting Starbucks’ 1991 effort to move into town to Martha Stewart’s attempt to trademark the name Katonah for her own use, local forces are always quick to mobilize in defense of their unique village. Galligan and others believe these problems are a luxury.
She says, “We’re in a position of privilege here. When I set up the petition, I was amazed at how many other towns had petitions begging CVS to come.”
Tom Hagen, co-president of Katonah Village Improvement Society (KVIS), adds, “It takes a fine hand to make sure that Katonah Avenue doesn’t become a museum of outdated old-time stores but also doesn’t become a shiny theme park for consumerism.”
While people in Bedford and Katonah are concerned with preserving what’s already here, Bedford Hills residents are focused on revitalizing their hamlet. With several large open storefronts, the town is on the precipice of change. Just this past summer over 60 locals met and formed Bedford Hills Live, a new community action organization dedicated to bringing Bedford Hills to the next level. With the largest number of residents plus its daily commuter population, Bedford Hills has a built-in audience that should appeal to new businesses.
Says Terrie Paladino, founding member of Bedford Hills Live, “Bedford Hills is neglected. We want to create a beautiful aesthetic for downtown while staying true to our compelling, diverse population. We are really a diamond in the rough.”
Pound Ridge is also eager to make improvements while refusing to become a cookie cutter suburb. With its eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, Pound Ridge is a place where you can grab a pizza, take a spin class, and also buy a used garden hoe. But the place could use a facelift. Enter the Pound Ridge Partnership, a group formed a few years ago to address the lack of investment in Scotts Corners. With money raised from its signature fall event, the Pound Ridge Harvest Festival (this year featuring Soul Asylum—not a misprint), the group is on its way to giving its downtown the attention it needs.
Pound Ridge Partnership co-founder Ali Boak says, “Our first step was to ask the public what they wanted downtown to look like. We then created a pocket park and led the charge to improve cell service. Pound Ridge should be a town where people want to come and open their businesses.”
While the immediate focus of these groups may be hanging flower baskets, fixing sidewalks, or encouraging people to shop locally, the bottom line is to build community. With everything here so spread out, it’s easy to feel isolated or inconvenienced. Stronger neighborhood ties beget successful local businesses which beget higher property values. When people speak up, everyone wins.
MOVERS & SHAKERS The Katonah Village Improvement Society (KVIS) is one of the oldest continuously active societies of its kind in the country. It was KVIS that actually spearheaded the historic move of downtown Katonah in the 1890s.