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Sugar Loaf Guild : The Hidden History of Sugar Loaf, NY


       Sugar Loaf, NY 10981

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  Updated Dec 28, 2016 | By Bob Fugett

    Sugar Loaf Four Step Process

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[  That Town  |  Candle Maker  |  Breakers  |  Four Step  |  Jon Baugh  |  Too Much   |  Startup   |  Cut   |  Art   |  Community   ]

Coming down main street one day I noticed a large new advertisement at the end of town.

A four by eight piece of plywood had been erected, a poorly made sign which (using the biggest block letters possible) said only:


It was the single thing that was fully visible from one end of town to the other.

Anybody coming through Sugar Loaf for the first time would be distracted from seeing the solid hard fought artisan businesses by the desperate last throws of this failure in progress.

Fortunately there is a sign law which disallows such a sign due to size and location, but the law was never invoked because the business was already gone before the removal process could begin.

Therefore that sign became just another example of a fully published Sugar Loaf failure.

The business that put the sign up was in a group of buildings built on speculation.

There were significant problems with the lot, so those buildings cost seven million dollars to construct and were a wager based on a full blown misunderstanding of what business is like in Sugar Loaf: what works and what does not.

In order to pay for their poorly thought out construction costs and overhead, the developers were working overtime to attract a steady line of hopeful merchants who would be guaranteed a failure but turned over quickly enough to pay for the next accounting period.

Those of us who watched it happening were not surprised.

The developer had been quoted in one newspaper article as having said, "...at first I thought Sugar Loaf was just a run down tobacco row. Then I noticed all the high-end expensive cars parked outside the shops."

Of course that developer did not have a clue why those cars were parked here, nor what the owners of those cars were coming into Sugar Loaf to find and carry off as quickly as possible, as if they had just stolen gold bars.

In case you are wondering, the owners of those very expensive high-end cars are coming into Sugar Loaf to find similar high-end goods made by top level artisans who are committed to producing their own work of the highest orderin the pure light of day within plain view of anyone who chooses to watch.

And there are many who do choose to watch.

That is to say, a great deal of money comes into this town because there are things to buy here that you can watch being made and that you cannot find anywhere else in the world.

Mentioning only three providers, we have: The Candle Shop (our anchor store), Clay Boone Woodcarver (second generation professional woodcarving), and also Endico Watercolor Originals (museum quality only begins to describe).

All provide top quality artisan products that they make here, sell here, and that they have perennially been handed success for doing so here...not just newly successful, nor sometimes successful, nor hoped for successful, but routinely, consistently, and very successful.

In fact, these businesses are so strong that a number of ancillary businesses (whether they know it or not) exist only by virtue of the presence of these types of artisan shops.

Additionally these and other top artisan shops represent the only type of commerce that is an almost guaranteed long term success in Sugar Loaf.

The ones just mentioned have been here for 45, 46 and 37 years respectively.

They represent the hey day and the to day.

If you recently opened a business in the hamlet and do not know that today is the hey day in Sugar Loaf, you need to quit listening to people who also do not know this: things are neither as bad now as you may have heard, nor were they ever as good as you may have heard.

Great businesses take a great effort...always have, and always will.

Hand made, one of a kind, locally produced items, are what has gained and maintained Sugar Loaf's substantial reputation in the arts, and that has been done despite a continual sideshow of temporal diversions implying the contrary.

The Sugar Loaf Four Step

The people who felt the need to erect that giant slipshod BEER sign were only following the long standing tradition of the Sugar Loaf Four Step Process.

The process begins after somebody comes to town with a foggy notion of what they want to do.


1) they blame their location
2) then they blame there signage
3) finally they blame the rest of us
4) then they are gone

This has been my long suffering observation and is my own terminology, so you have not heard it before.

You also have not heard what I call all the banners, flags, and whirly-gig eye-catchers those people always resort to using.

They are: Signs of Desperation.

Always an indication of a four step in progress.

On the other hand a successful business in Sugar Loaf is as elusive as the air you breathe.

Even people who have lived here for a long time may not be aware of which businesses are making it.

Sounds absurd, but how long did people walk through the air breathing it moment by moment before they tried to understand what it is?

Turns out coincidentally that a very similar process to the one which delayed people finding out about air has slowed people understanding what works (and what never has worked) in Sugar Loaf.

The defining of air was delayed for about a hundred years, because the people who should have been looking at it were alchemists distracted by something else.

They were wasting time trying to figure out how to change lead into gold.

Same thing in Sugar Loaf: a steady flow of new shop owners (who never take the time to find out what is here and why it works) routinely take over town advertising and continue promoting the hamlet as if it were just another retail mall, with cheaper rents.

The result is that the last twenty-five years have been rife with group advertising which totally ignores the successful businesses.

It is advertising that has been directed by individuals unlikely to be here for the next accounting cycle and who are replaced in turn by the next round of the clueless.

Being missed in the promotional hubbub has never bothered the true businesses because they know the old saw: "If it worked they wouldn't have to advertise it."

And the artisan businesses work.

Well, ok, they also do there own brand of advertising, but they will likely point you to the door if you ask them to join another group.

Or they might set the high-bar for a traveling ad-space salesperson by offering, "Of course I'm interested in advertising in your publication. Just do a cover story on me first, so we can see if it is any good."

In addition to the steady flow turnover, there are other people who are also not artisans but have lived and worked in Sugar Loaf for years without the slightest understanding of what is around them.

But you, dear reader, will not have to guess what it is about Sugar Loaf that they are missing, because I am going to give you the truth right now.

At the very core of Sugar Loaf are the successful full-time working artisans who have built stellar reputations with incomes to match.

The way this is done is so uniquely different from the way things are done in the rest of the world, it is possible these businesses can be sitting right under your nose and you not catch a whiff.

Let's take a quick sniff.

Not a week goes by that somebody does not come into the Endico studio and assume all the work on display is done by numerous artists, not merely the output of a solo, prolific, internationally successful master of watercolor, and that the artist is standing right there in front of them.

Uncommon access.

Now take a look at the candle shop on the home page and ponder how many people come into it thinking, "Wonder where they buy all these candles."

Sometimes the most visible is the hardest to see.

Drop by Boone Woodcarver and go through his flipbook photos sitting by the front door and try to imagine what it took to generate that kind of output.

Only the smallest part of that output is shown on pages here, so go to Clay's shop and look at the photos closely.

Study them until, just like one of those poster images that jumps out of the chaos when you relax your eyes, you will realize you have been among Boone signs your entire life: they are everywhere.

Clay Boone Woodcarving Sculpture, Sugar Loaf, NY
Boone Woodcarving flipbooks

Do you really think that Clay Boone has the slightest interest in hearing about your new scheme to promote his town if it has nothing...

Let me back that up a little.

Do you really think that Clay Boone has the slightest interest in hearing about your new scheme to promote his town if it does not have everything to do with attracting more of the finest artisan work to be done here by a newly resident craftsperson hoping to become the next rarely advertised Sugar Loaf artist supershop?

Regarding Illegal Faux-Historic Signage

To be clear, the Sugar Loaf  supershops have not become part of a vast hidden successful commercial underground on purpose.

They do not mind if you hear about them (from maybe somebody like me), but a major block to anybody trying to highlight what uniquely exists in Sugar Loaf stems from the semantic problem.

It is a matter of definitions.

That is to say lots of towns like to call themselves craft villages or artist enclaves, but they have not a single artisan living, working, and thriving in them.

Those places are just fancy (or funky) import retail stores by another name.

Sugar Loaf is different, profoundly different, but breaking through preconception to reveal that fact is difficult.

I know because years ago I personally had a run-in with a head of Orange County Tourism who was taking steps to lay waste to our sign laws.

They refused to listen to even their superior at the state level who contradicted what they were saying was the state's position on trashing local sign regulations.

I guess they assumed I would not check to make sure their signage program actually was award winning.

Plus they had no understanding that I was fully involved in producing Sugar Loaf's promotional presence long before they themselves got into what they were calling, "...eighteen years in the tourism game."

During my years involved with Sugar Loaf community promotions, we were number two in bringing people into the County, just slightly behind West Point.

Sadly the assumption of the head of Orange County Tourism was that I could not possibly understand what it took to promote a destination.

Nonsense: my life was a destination.

The County's efforts toward encouraging tourism to Sugar Loaf has always been pitiful, because they would have to understand what it is they are promoting in order to do so effectively.

Fortunately Sugar Loaf does just fine without them, or rather despite them in such instances as when the County proactively tried to lay waste to our local sign laws.

Why the County believed it appropriate to use illegal signage to promote a pet project, well, it was as much a mystery to the rest of the world as it was to me.

The start-up business they were supporting stuttered, sputtered, and failed.

The destination the County was promoting was Lycian Centre.

I know you are thinking I have misspelled 'Lyceum' (an actually venerable old name in theaters and gathering places) and 'Center', but I have not.

The County promoted Lycian in part by using illegal off-site signage (faux historic signage at that), and their actions put our sign law in jeopardy.

BEER anyone?

Lycian was never more than a start-up with no track record, regardless of it being heralded (right out of the gate) as a massively significant cultural attraction—an idea supported in no small part by the erection of illegal faux national-forest type markers off-site.

Lycian went predictably bust, and those who took over the facility afterwards made it clear they had no interest in being associated with the past.

Happily those of us in Sugar Loaf who own artisan businesses do know what we are promoting.

Therefore the County's overstatement of Lycian's importance had no impact on us during its brief existence, and did not serve to destroy the rest us along with the Centre when it finally failed.

Once again the local artisans were left scratching their heads.

However, the big problem remains.

It is hard to describe Sugar Loaf, because there is nothing to compare it against.

That is as true today as it was the day I got here in 1977.

The term Crafts Village is universally misrepresented.

It is a term used to refer to almost anyplaceespecially by tourism boards.

Therefore when you actually live in a true Crafts Village, it is hard to describe.

People have never seen one.

Of course they have often been told they are looking at a real deal artisan community, but what they are looking at does not even come close.

Just like those faux hand-dipped candles I once found in North Carolina that didn't come close to being hand-dipped.

The result of this confusion of terms has been that the situation in Sugar Loaf is nearly impossible to communicate, but it has been done.

Sugar Loaf group banner - 12/24/2012







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Sugar Loaf, New York  10981