By Holly J. Coley
Photographed by dKol Photography
“Back in the day, this used to be a dairy market.” Christina Silvestris motions to the cut in her hardwood floor. It’s one of the last Sundays of summer, and we’re sitting in her Newburgh shop, Field Trip: a store devoted to top-tier handmade goods by indie American brands, including Hudson Naturals, her own line of apothecary-based skin care. It’s a beautiful space, with charcoal-blue accent walls, hanging planters that drip greenery and lots of vintage and rustic touches. It’s easy to miss the groove in the center of the room.
Built in the 1900s, the building at 113 Liberty Street has been many things throughout the years. Along with being a former market, the boutique was once a dress shop, as well as the home of Monk’s House of Jazz, owned by Thelonious Monk’s niece.
Christina loves the history of the building and the city in general. “That used to be where they would carry the dairy up. If you’re in the basement, you’ll see the coolers going into the ground,” she says.
It took her two years to find the storefront. She searched everywhere, trekking to places like Hudson and Kingston. “I just kept coming back to Newburgh,” she says thoughtfully. “I just liked what was going on here.”’
Hudson Naturals began while Christina was living in Chicago, working as an art director in an advertising firm. “Mike, my partner, was selling avocado oil for culinary purposes,” she says of how it started. “He was mostly selling to restaurants but was beginning to do a lot of markets, and I would go with him. As he was selling the oil, it would hit an expiration date of a year and he was going to toss it. I was like, ‘What are you thinking? You cannot throw this away!’”
Originally from Wallkill, Christina was raised believing that with enough perseverance and time, one could do anything. Lois, her mother, was exceptionally industrious and taught her to make many things by hand, including cold-pressed soap.
Back in Chicago, she made two batches to give to Mike who “one, two, three,” she says with a snap of her fingers, “sold them.” Soon they were routinely doing craft shows, and she was looking for other products in which she could use the oil, like her soon-to-be Coffee Scrub and Sea Salt Scrub with Rose Clay. Eventually, her line would expand to include lotions and body butters, bubble baths, skin moisturizers and facial serums—all handmade in small batches with plant-based ingredients, and no fillers or chemical preservatives.
Like many good things, soap takes time to produce. It’s a temperamental product, sensitive to changes in temperature. “I make the soap by combining water and lye, and then you have your oils mixture,” she explains. Both solutions are brought to the same temperature before being blended together with essential oils added. After the mixture is placed into molds for 24 hours and insulated, it’s cut and cured for three to four weeks before being hand wrapped. If things don’t go just right, soap turns to ash and the batch is lost. It’s a practice of patience, as well as craft. You have to be invested to see it through. Love must be involved.
Each year, Christina would return to the Valley. “Every time I came back, I’d find someone or something that inspired me…the Hudson Valley is a very inspiring area.”
When the opportunity to move back to the farmhouse she grew up in presented itself, she jumped at it, taking a job in Newburgh at Thornwillow. She knew the ins and outs of the Valley and was shocked to learn the renowned press was located there. “My first day I thought, ‘This is just crazy that this is here and nobody knows about it!’ Till this day, it’s like this secret of Newburgh.”
Much like her storefront, the city has a vibrant history, full of innovation and artistry. In 2015, The Guardian.com cited it as one of the “most architecturally significant cities” in America, being home to the Dutch Reformed Church that is now a historical landmark. It was also one of the first electrified cities worldwide, but many don’t realize this when driving down the more desolate streets.
Field Trip has been a welcomed edition to the block that also includes Newburgh Flour Shop, The Velocipede Museum and menswear clothing store M. Lewis Lifestyle Boutique. Its edited collection of goods includes jewelry, totes, stoneware and home accessories by local designers such as Elizabeth Grubaugh, who creates cards and notebooks locally as well as nationally. “I wanted to offer products I love,” Christina says. “There [are] so many talented makers everywhere!”
The front end serves as retail, while production for Hudson Naturals takes place in the back. For the city’s Last Saturday (a monthly event where art studios open to the public and stores stay open late), she plans on offering free classes to the public. When she tells me this, I think I’ve misheard her.
“Yep,” she responds matter-of-factly. “I want it to be people in the neighborhood, so I can give back to them. The whole idea for me coming to Newburgh was I want [my business] to grow, but I also want this area to grow. I think that’s the great thing about being here. I feel like everyone wants that.”
Like soap making, building a business takes time. Prior to owning the shop, after a long day of work, Christina would come back home and fill wholesale orders and prep for shows. Sometimes she’d only manage four hours of sleep before she rose to do it all over again. After four years, she was clocking 80-hour weeks and beginning to burn out.
She started asking herself what it was all for, especially as she began to consider opening a shop. After investing so much of herself into Hudson Naturals, she wasn’t sure if she had more to give. But damn, she loved it. She wasn’t sure what to do.
The sun begins to dip into the sky. The scent of lavender and rosemary waft from Field Trip and into the street—from Christina’s soaps. They make the space smell like an herbaceous garden. It pulls people in. They step into the threshold, though it’s after hours. She waves them inside. “We’re so happy you’re open,” they say, and she smiles broadly. So is she.
Earlier in the year, she was still trying to decide whether she was going to move forward.
“The thought process was, ‘I need to make this company grow or I have to stop and maybe do this life of advertising,” she says. She continued to look for spaces but wasn’t sure if she was wasting time. “It was the hardest decision of my life.”
She decided to do some volunteering, selecting Habitat for Humanity Newburgh as the recipient. Oddly, it seemed as if she was always returning to the area in some way. She wasn’t sure why. Familiar with the organization, she wanted to pitch in. “They’ve done so much for [Newburgh],” she says. “They build and rehab five houses at a time.”
Her day was spent painting at the women’s house and talking to the other volunteers, a crew of chatty older women who welcomed her with opened arms. Later she joined them as they met with other volunteers in the basement of First Congregational on Liberty. It was break time. Everyone stood enjoying baked goods made by the ladies of the church while leaders of the not-for-profit spoke. They shared the different projects they were working on and how their efforts were creating something good.
Everyone listened. Christina looked around at the crowd of 50 to 75 people, all willing and eager to give their energy and time. The sight was overwhelming. She had never seen so much love and investment into building something. Well, maybe once.
Suddenly, she wasn’t afraid of making the leap anymore. “It’s one of the reasons I chose to have my place here,” she says of the experience.
Once she found her shop, she had only 23 days to open. Show season was about to start. Mike sanded the floors and painted the walls. Shelves were stocked with Kinto teacups and totes by eco-conscious brand Maika. When they opened their doors, people filed in. “We’ve been waiting for you,” they said.
When she thinks of it now, she sees that’s she’s always been traveling to this place, waiting for the right time to call it home. Before our meeting ends, Christina tells me how her first show back in town was no less than a block from where we’re sitting; it was hosted by Cher Vick, the editor/founder of the popular website Newburgh Restoration. “And the crazy thing is, we got this place because of [her site],” she reveals. “We didn’t even know she did it until she came in here one day…It [was] a full-circle moment for us.”
“I thought it was going to be great area. But since opening…it’s been nothing but love.”
Field Trip is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can find Hudson Naturals there and at select local retailers, as well as online at www.hudson-naturals.com. █