Andes merchants gather to mark closing of a hub

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By Matthew J. Perry
The core of the Andes business community turned out for a Sunday brunch at the Andes Hotel to celebrate and bid farewell to Brooke Alderson, who is closing her Main Street store after 12 years.
Brooke’s Variety has been the place to “find things you didn’t even know you needed until you stopped in,” according to Gary Simmons, an old friend of Alderson’s who now runs the Mountainbrook Inn in Bovina. With its well-stocked candy counter, eclectic inventory and its owner’s engaging, entrepreneurial spirit, the store has been essential to the hamlet’s commercial growth in the past decade. Its closing brings some in Andes to imagine the end of an era. Sunday’s gathering, however, had a feel closer to a torch-passing ceremony.
“This is your party, you make Andes work,” Alderson said. “And I hope you’re all as happy as I am.”
Alderson notes several reasons for closing up shop—she’s tired of moving furniture, there are other projects she might consider—but the primary cause is family. “I want to be a grandmother first and foremost,” she says. Her daughter, Ada Calhoun, and two-year-old grandson, Oliver, live in Brooklyn. Alderson and her husband, Peter Schjeldahl, split their time between Bovina and Manhattan.
Brooke’s Variety is not only the story of individual success. When she opened for business in 1996, Alderson sensed the potential for Andes to become a reliable tourism destination. She quickly formed alliances with established business owners.
The business model, in its essence, was simple: merchants would collectively promote the town and surrounding area through word-of-mouth and advertising, and form a network that could attract clients to a destination rather than to any one particular business. It required persistence, and in Alderson’s case, pressure applied to friends who wanted to open their own businesses but didn’t know where to start. She lured several to the region, Simmons among them.
“We didn’t want to change anything in the community,” Alderson says. “We wanted to make it better.”
“There were people who had the vision,” says Judy Garrison, who operates Paisley’s Country Gallery. “Brooke had the will to see it through.”
John Gregg, Paisley’s owner, on Sunday declared that he now receives calls from other Delaware County merchants who are eager to learn what makes the Andes commercial engine run. “I say, ‘you have to go out and get your own Brooke.’”
Other Andes merchants described Alderson as a mentor who has been generous with support, advice and encouragement.
“You stuck to your vision and so helped create a vision for Andes,” said Simmons.
The corner storefront at 72 Main, where Brooke’s Variety operated on weekends, will be closed for the first two weeks of November. It will reopen on November 15 as The Tin Horn, and will be operated by Fran Blackburn and Debbie Marmaro. The Mercantile, which occupied the other half of the building’s ground floor, closed in September; 72 Main’s owners are still seeking a tenant for that space.
Blackburn describes The Tin Horn as “the best of Brooke’s and The Mercantile put together,” with an emphasis on furniture and innovative home decoration. Fans of Brooke’s Variety will recognize the busy display of toys and novelty gifts in back. The candy counter remains as well, although it has moved to the center of the room. And if other merchandise continues old, familiar motifs, it likely will be due to the fact that Alderson will continue to act as a buyer for The Tin Horn, although she will not take part in day-to-day operations.
The personality that made Brooke’s into a locus for weekend socializing will nonetheless be missed, as Gary Simmons noted when he thanked Alderson for “12 years of being where everyone stopped to find out what’s going on.”