The Rhinebeck Department Store: A Bit of History Repeating
by Dale Stewart
Barbara and Dick Schreiber set their sights on One East Market Street back in 1985. The historic three-story Italianate building has been a cornerstone in Rhinebeck village since 1870, where, catty-corner from Beekman Arms Hotel, it stood as proof that the all-purpose shop has not gone the way of the horse and buggy. It didn’t matter that the business wasn’t for sale, or that the classic brick pile was heavily deteriorating: They were all in.
“It isn’t just about the store,” Barbara Schreiber says. “The store is about the building.” When Barbara originally approached “Lloyd,” the building’s owner, he wasn’t ready to sell. She became a real estate broker, and waited. “I thought, if I could write the way my life would go, I want to own that corner building.” She got her wish five years later, and the Rhinebeck Department Store was born. “I don’t want the business without the building.” Schreiber wasn’t looking for a get-rich-quick-scheme. She wanted the Dutchess County life, and slowly accumulated it: the country house, ubiquitous country outfitter, the community. She wanted to continue the function that the corner store had served since the 1940’s when it was the Hudson Valley Department Store. Every small town worth its salt has a central emporium store like this; Vineyard Haven has Brickman’s and Aspen has Pitkin County Dry Goods.
The Rhinebeck Department Store has authentic country classics down to a science, from knit tops by Fresh Produce Clothing ($26 & up) and brightly patterned Echo scarves ($32 & up), to colorful kids’ rain boots from Hatley ($38). There are selections from Pendleton, a brand synonymous with farmers and hipsters, to drive home the country charm, and a moose head looms over the dependable Woolrich classics. Other Americana mainstays, like the 250-year-old Caswell-Massey and 1960’s Royall Lyme cologne, punctuate the well-chosen lines. The owners’ attention to detail is evident; no inch in this compact space is poorly used; if the store is going to carry a dozen brands, they’re going to carry the best of what that brand has to offer. The Rhinebeck Department Store is comforting in its simplicity.
Part of the Rhinebeck Department Store’s charm lies in the meticulously restored space itself, which had a crumbling foundation and inexplicable layout when the Schreiber’s fell for it. The second and third floors had no direct access, and no heat, electric, or plumbing. Shepherded by an architect and the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the second floor is now home to At the Top Hair Co-Op, an eight-chair salon, and the penthouse, which once produced potbelly stoves, now houses Satya, a popular yoga studio.
For nearly all of those twenty-two years, Dick and Barbara have worked side by side. “There’s a rhythm,” Barbara says of the couple’s roles. “He has his job description; I have mine.” The Rhinebeck Deparment store is a continuation of their former lives. Dick, a former stockbroker turned think-tank executive, takes care of the day-to-day operations and Barbara, a former design and merchandising senior executive for a major woman’s corporation, does the broad planning, mapping out spring 2014 styling and beyond.
Barbara and Dick have dug into the community as voraciously as they did the renovation of the building. Barbara become Rhinebeck Chamber of Commerce co-president in the early nineties and both have helped launch an area website, EnjoyRhinebeck.com, in an effort boost tourism and the town’s profile. Their building, said to be the highest peak in town, also cleverly disguises a T-Mobile cell tower. Barbara looks around at the businesses outside her door, “We are a part of this community, we’ve seen a lot come and go in twenty two years, and have genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.”
Granted, this is not the usual idea of retirement. But, when not tending to their seven-day-a-week shop, the active couple can be found riding horses and playing tennis. “Sure it’s a different pace, it’s not 21-day trips to the Orient or a buying trip in Europe, but there’s never a dull moment here. We’re at the crossroads of everything here.”
Rhinebeck Department Store
One East Market Street
Rhinebeck, NY 12572
Monday – Saturday 9:15 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.