On Friday I had my first real introduction to the neighborhood that is Middle Main. Starting off our self-guided tour at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, where work is underway on the redevelopment of the site as a central hub of sustainable business and residential living, our backs to a historical gem from the age of booming manufacturing in the city and region, we face a very alive and currently evolving Main Street that brims with creativity and development.
Upon surveying the streets you notice right away the many food establishments that seem to breathe life onto the sidewalks and from Main Street into the hurried vehicles of residents and passers-by alike. I regard any small restaurant or grocery as a competitive and healthy alternative to the fast food chains up the way; their presence and success keeps more money in the community and encourages more nutritious eating. Its detachment from all the city and town that precedes it contributes to the zone's own sense of self - its quirky, spicy and can-do image takes on many forms, all distinctly different from anything above and below its boundaries.
The highlight of my orientation excursion was inside what seems to be a quaint Mexican kitchen, a Hispanic grocery, a convenience store and a storage space. As soon as we step inside we are greeted by a delightful Peruvian lady with a smile and ' no hablo inglés." I mutter a "esta bien, cocina?" and she takes us back towards the kitchen to see her prepared food, kept warm in three large pots. It was 10 o' clock in the morning, so my mind didn't go to ordering up one of the tamales, burritos, or tortas, though these must be popular breakfast foods for some because from 5am-9am they're $1 off!
I had so many questions for this friendly, high spirited lady- mainly if she could speak slower- but my many years of Spanish education have since been washed away with Italian immersion, and so I listened closely and nodded to express interest and fake comprehension. I gathered that she is new to Poughkeepsie, that some family was sick in Peru and so she was pushed to come here and help out. She comes from a large family of cooks and seemed very passionate about her work in the kitchen. I tried to ask her if I could buy one of her overly ripe avocados and she suggested she make me a sandwich out of them (she did and it was surprisingly delicious). I could hear her singing along to Spanish pop songs blasting through the radio; the music and aroma of the food filled the place with a palpable energy. The place itself left much to be desired in terms of decor and ambiance, but something about her presence, the music, the large statue of Mary- it all contributes to very authentic and unique feeling, like it were a shop transplanted form Peru or Mexico but noticeably transformed, molded by the local influences into a different place, reflective of the community that it serves.
You can tell this lady feels included in her community, that she is proud to call Poughkeepsie and Main Street her home, even if just for a short period of time. Yes, I imagine the strong Hispanic immigrant population provides most of her business, but she will share her zeal and home-style Mexican cooking with anyone who walks in the door. If the fellow residents of Middle Main share only half of her excitement, her ingenuity and her work ethic then it is clear to me this neighborhood is a truly special place, one that cultivates relationships, business and entrepreneurship, and is a breeding ground for the creativity, innovation and collaboration all necessary for further development and beautification. With the right access to community resources, good connections between residents and local businesses, organizations, associations, and public officials, in conjunction with the great programs and initiatives already in place and still developing by HRH, Middle Main is well on its way to realizing its full potential as an inclusive, resident driven and supported neighborhood, economically stable, that is as rich culturally as it is in character.