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Dear Pine Plains 11.5.21

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Dear Pine Plains,

For a really good analysis of the current housing situation in Dutchess County, please check out this PDF. It is not “dumbed down” for people, it asks you to work to understand it. The work pays off. This is from the committee I was appointed to by Marcus Molinaro, our County Executive.


Please attend the November 15th Sewer Feasibility Study Community Meeting at 7pm at the Community Center. The results of the study will be discussed at length with the engineers we hired via grants from the County and the State.

There is a wonderful rockabilly band at the Stissing Center on Saturday,, and don’t forget the Turkey Dinner being sold for takeout on November 13th by the Presbyterian Church. Call 518-398-7117 to reserve your dinners. 4pm-5:30 pick-up.

It has been a quiet week in terms of Town Board activities, so I thought I might write about what it is like to own a business in Pine Plains. Perhaps a lot of you don’t know that I own Tower Pizza, the Cabin Bar, and the Back Bar Beer Garden. Jeff Zengen runs the places. I bought it in 2013 with the idea of saving it so that some day he could buy it from me.

2 months after I closed on it, the entire septic system failed. It was January 26th, 2014. I remember, because I was teaching out at the University of Iowa and got the call around dawn. For Jeff to lose any days of business in winter would be devastating to him and his family. I made calls. The repair/replacement of the tanks, bringing them up to code, under 3 feet of frozen ground, cost me over $75,000. Not having this kind of money, I did the next best thing—I got out my credit cards and charged it. Jeff never lost a day of business. (BTW–I don’t personally need a central septic system; mine will last the next 50 years! I support it because it is best for the Town).

Many worried that I would turn the enterprise into an expensive, out-of-reach-of-many kind of place, where they would not feel comfortable. It is a kind of club for a lot of people. But I love it the way it is. So it remains a place for everyone to meet.

During COVID, when Jeff and every other restaurant in town converted to all takeout, I cut the rents to the apartments upstairs in half for the “kids” living there, most of whom worked for Jeff. I knew they would not be able to make up any of their lost income. I offered the same to Jeff, but he declined. He was counting on the summer at the Beer Garden to make up for the winter and get him through the whole year. He knew that I have big bills to pay on the place, particularly for insurance, because bars are high-risk. He’s a decent guy.

The Beer Garden is where different kinds of people go to sit outside in the summer, eat with small kids, (because nobody minds if they run around), and relax. Jeff keeps many items on his menu at very affordable prices. I keep his rent affordable. Our deal is predicated on being a beating heart at the core of the town, a place where anyone can afford to eat and drink and be with their friends.

And everyone does. For instance, a man I had to evict a few years ago after 10 months of not paying rent. I lost $5,000 on him not including a lawyer’s fee. His drug addiction got the better of him. One night, when we had a good band playing at the Garden, I found myself dancing next to him, and have had that experience a few times since. He’s doing better now, it seems.

One of our frequent customers loves to get on social media and criticize me in thoughtless ways. Another is a man whose dog we took in after his divorce. A third once dated my daughter; I loaned him the money to buy a pickup truck. He never paid me back. Two couples who frequent the place are the ones who made and put up the signs that say Anyone But Cloud. There we all are in the Garden, together. Our lives entwined.

I know that many business owners in small towns experience similar things. They are people who work hard to pay their bills and contribute to the causes others ask them to help fund. The secondary work of a business in a small town is support of all the wonderful things people are trying to do for their children and the needy. I know that Jeff gives away a lot of food, as do the other restaurants and farm businesses here.

The irony of all this is that it illuminates the way we live in a small, tight-knit community. Civility is the only glue that truly holds us all together. Once we lose that, we will be lost.

If, after the absentee ballot count there is new leadership, may they go forward intent on supporting our small businesses, our library and recreation department, and on kindness and respect for others, no matter what our differences.

Here is to civility at all cost, Pine Plains!
Darrah Cloud