07 Mar Episode #14: Craig Muraszewski from Cold Spring General Store
A modern day general store.
Today I’ll be talking to Craig Muraszewski from Cold Spring General Store. Cold Spring General Store is located in a landmark 1897 building in the historic village of Cold Spring. They focus on handmade, American made goods that have a story and a true soul behind them. They stock quality goods for simple, everyday Hudson Valley Living.
The Cold Spring General Store also operates The Barn at the General Store, where they focus on local goods, in season fruits/vegetables and true pasture raised farm eggs.
What we talked about:
- Building a business that supports your local community.
- The perks of building a season business.
- Quitting the life in the city for the beauty of the country.
- The power of a support networks in business and life.
We really focus on that thing that that modern person needs today, but they're still living in the country; the same thing you would have found in a General Store.
Words from Craig:
Visit Cold Spring General Store:
Jennifer Dopazo: Hey, Craig. Welcome to The Fabricant Way. I’m really excited to have you here.
Craig Muraszewski: Thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s great to be here today.
Jennifer Dopazo: Awesome. So, for those who are not familiar with the Cold Spring General Store, can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Craig Muraszewski: Sure. The Cold Spring General Store is a modern day General Store. I think many people think of the classic store. The classic General Store that has like penny candy, and nails, and flour, and bullets, and things of that nature. You know, in a modern time, and in a modern area such as the Hudson Valley, we felt that people really were thirsty for some of those things they just couldn’t find in this area, like books on raising chickens, or handmade soap from bees. We really focus on that thing that that modern person needs today, but they’re still living in the country; the same thing you would have found in a General Store.
Jennifer Dopazo: Do you get people surprised when they walk in because they might expect something different?
Craig Muraszewski: People are surprised when they walk in. I think they’re thinking they’re going to find canned goods, and bags of flour on a shelf. I think they’re really pleasantly surprised they find this fresh modern thing that they hadn’t particularly expected when they came through the door. By focusing on local goods and things that aren’t in the mainstream, they’re often pleasantly surprised. They’re excited and they sort of walk throughout the store going, come over here look at this, or come over here look at this. They haven’t seen this before, and that’s really exciting. That means that they’re excited and that really makes me excited as well. It means that they came in expecting something and they found something completely different. That’s the beauty of it and that’s the part I really love.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, I bet the experience is really … It’s great for those who are not familiar with it.
Craig Muraszewski: Yes.
Jennifer Dopazo: On your website, there’s this slogan that reads the following, “It’s about family, friends, and enjoying life in the Hudson Valley.” Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
Craig Muraszewski: Yeah. Jennifer, when we moved here, we really wanted to embrace life outside the city and all that came with it. And when we were planning on doing this store, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t just dive into my New York City ways of working all the time. I don’t want to say killing myself, because that’s just in my nature to work hard and do things 100% and I love to work.
But I wanted to remember that we moved here for a reason, and that was to spend more time with family, spend more time with friends, and enjoy life in the Hudson Valley. The General Store really allows us that opportunity because we’re constantly surrounded by friends who are popping in the store just to say hello. Or family members are so close. We don’t have to do that thing where, we worked today, we’re in the city, and we’ll be home really late. Now, we’re here and they can either come and visit us at the store or we’ll be home at an appropriate time and we get to spend more time with friends and live life here in Cold Spring. That’s really about creating balance and I think that we’ve done that and that’s what that slogan really means to us.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great and I loved that you’ve mentioned the whole New York City background because that was going to be my next question. I read that before opening Cold Springs General Store, you were working in New York City. There was something about the commute that you decided to take the jump basically-
Craig Muraszewski: Yes. My wife and I, we both were commuting into the city from Cold Spring. That was really a lot of effort everyday, to get up super early, to get both of us going, get to the train, and do that shuffle through Grand Central. It took awhile. I won’t say right away, a lot of people do the commute from Cold Spring. It’s not that it’s that difficult. It’s an absolute beautiful ride along the Hudson River. I really loved it. You could watch the sunset come up. The sunset each day. You could watch the sunrise. It really was a spectacular commute. But I really felt that once again I was missing a lot about the reason that we moved to the Hudson Valley, and that goes back to that slogan, “Spending more time with family, friends, and enjoying life.” That’s what made me decide I had had enough and it was time to really do something different and start living life where we had moved to.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that. What did the idea of the actual store came to be? When do you say, my next … our next move is just going to be having our own store. How did that happen?
Craig Muraszewski: We had talked about it for awhile. At one point, I was working for Forager’s City Grocer. There’s a location in Chelsea. There’s also a location in Dumbo. They’ve also opened another large location somewhere else in Brooklyn. In that course of that process of working with them and the wonderful team there, I always said I’d love to do this type of store on a smaller version.
At one point, I had spoken to them about, we should do a home line, or Forager City Home. So, when we were thinking about the General Store concept, I thought, that’s kind of perfect, it’s a marriage of … You can do local cheeses. You can do fruits and vegetables when they’re in season. You can have some of those great handmade crafts like … We carry this beautiful handmade beeswax soap from our friends just across the Hudson River here who make it for us. So it’s a marriage of all these great things that are made locally, in the store. So, it was really about taking what I had learned at Foragers on a bigger scale and said, let’s do it on a little bit of a smaller scale. We can really touch everything and that’s where it came to be. A great town like Cold Spring we thought, this is the perfect town that needs a modern day General Store.
Jennifer Dopazo: Great. Yeah. That kind of ties with what I was going to mention that when I visit your website, the one thing that is very clear is your focus. Your focus is handmade American goods. That’s pretty clear all around. I’m just wondering. How often are you looking for things? Is it something that happens? You just maybe find some maker that has a great product? How do you go about that? Finding always new products for your store?
Craig Muraszewski: It’s definitely an ongoing, endless, constant effort. I keep a book and I always have a constant list that I’m adding to it. Because as the seasons change, I really like to change the store and bring new things in, all year round, especially season appropriately. I have this book and it’s always filled with things that I can go back to. Some things that we just may have brought in this year have been on that list for the last three years since we opened. We’re constantly on the hunt. We’re always meeting with new people. People are contacting us all the time as well, which really helps. But we like to get on the road. We like to stop in small towns throughout upstate New York and meet with people. Heading out to the North Fork is always a great time for us. We really love to go out there and there’s a great place you can always find a maker.
I think what really helps us in this time … We’re in a resurgent, especially in New York state of people stepping away from corporate America and going back to making things by hand. It was the right time to do this store because there were so many people and there’s such an abundance of makers and craftsmen and artisan in this state alone. We don’t need to go from a catalog or order things online, or … Things that you would find in a big box store we don’t need to do that. There are so many people here, right in our backyard and I mean literally, in our backyard. That we can call from, who are making everything you could possibly think of.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that you mentioned the whole New York state and crafters and makers and artisans because that was actually the inspiration for me to do this podcast and the whole project as a whole because I found out the same thing. You can just walk out and there’s so many great people doing great products and stuff. The things when people think of New York, they think New York City, Brooklyn, the urban area.
Craig Muraszewski: Yes.
Jennifer Dopazo: But I was so lucky to get introduced because of Dana from Field Apothecary and Matt from Brite Lite Neon Studio of the upstate New York and everything that’s happening up there. So, I’m glad you said that. It’s reaffirming that thought. I know you do seasonal … You have seasonal products, but what is your ultimate favorite item in your store right now?
Craig Muraszewski: Right now? So that’s a two part … I’ll give that a two part answer.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Craig Muraszewski: Right now is quiet time of year. January is really about getting reorganized for the season ahead. I think for me right now, one of the favorite things we have in the store, which isn’t actually for sale in the store, is this huge box I have of samples. It’s my chance to sit back for a moment and evaluate things that people are making and they’ve poured their heart and their love into. It could be a chocolate bar or a box of cookies and they want us to try it. They want to be a part of the store and it’s a chance for me to open something up everyday and read their letter or learn about what they’re doing and how they made something.
That’s one of my favorite things in the store that’s not really available at the moment, but I love it. That’s one of the exciting parts of the business, is always discovering new things and learning about people out there.
I will say that, even though it’s not really in the store at the moment, I really love the summer and the fall, and the spring. The three seasons when there’s produce that’s showing up locally from farmers who planted crop in the early spring. They’ll send me an email locally that’ll say, we just got onions in, or the first of the lettuce has arrived, would you like us to bring some lettuce over? I really love that because it’s almost like a surprise. Today, the grocery stores just filled with everything all year round. Tomatoes are 365. You can always get an avocado or apples all year. I love when I get that email, or that phone call, that says, we just got just a couple of peaches. This year’s harvest is really small, and would you like some?
That’s an exciting time of year for me because I think that’s what’s really special about fruits and vegetables, or that’s what should be special about them, that it’s a short season. You get them for just a few weeks. You cherish that moment, like the spring strawberries, and it’s gone and then you have to wait until next year. That’s something … That’s the thing in the store that I really love that kind of comes and goes.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s kind of more like the insiders side of it right?
Craig Muraszewski: Yeah.
Jennifer Dopazo: You mentioned the produce and you’ve mentioned the seasonal produce that you have, which is the barn, right? That it’s at the General Store. Was that part of the original idea, having produce and fruits and vegetables?
Craig Muraszewski: We originally always wanted to do it in the store and because the pantry section of the store is in the back part of the store, it’s kind of like a secret nook, I think that enough people didn’t know about it. They couldn’t see it, or couldn’t find it, and we weren’t really able to provide enough product back there. It’s not big enough and it really wasn’t doing it justice. So, we also rented the barn next door to the store and we thought, this is the perfect place to have sort of an outdoor, weekend, farmer’s market and throw open the doors and let people feel like they’re outdoors and it’s fresh air. At the same time, they can mill around and find what they’re looking for and give them that upstate feel while still being on a main street.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s wonderful. I love that idea. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since opening the store?
Craig Muraszewski: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never under estimate and never say never. Never say never because life changes, business changes, climate changes, the neighborhood changes, relationships change with people in the community or fellow business owners. Always just keep an open mind. Don’t judge, don’t be closed minded. Be willing to adjust and adapt and you’ll be successful in any business you do. But never under estimating I would really say is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my whole career.
Jennifer Dopazo: In talking about that, was there ever a figure like a mentor or someone who you reach out to when things get hard? Is there someone like that for you guys?
Craig Muraszewski: That’s a great question. Thanks, Jennifer. I think through one’s career, you always have those people, and it’s great to have those people. Everyone should have a small team of those people they can always go back to for guidance. In my earlier careers, I will say a great mentor was this gentleman named Alexander Smalls. He owns two restaurants up in Harlem. He was a great person to provide information and guidance, know-how, and wisdom. Throughout my career, I would say Elizabeth Murray. She was originally the owner of The Inn at Clog. She also came out from New York. She was a guiding light, a strong-willed woman who was intelligent and had a great sense of style about her. I learned a lot about her and I still keep in touch with both of them.
I worked at Per Se, the team there and Thomas Keller, every person there is a world of knowledge and wisdom. I feel like at any time, I could turn to those people and ask them great questions or get guidance from them. That was a really amazing experience, where so many people brought so much to the table and those relationships still carry on today.
Anna Castellani, who is a great business woman who really taught me a lot about being diligent and putting your head down and moving forward in business, who owns the Forager’s City Grocer in New York City. She was really a great person who taught me about being calm, being gracious, but at the same time, staying focused and keeping your eye on the business side of things.
Today I use the community when I have questions. I’m not so sure about things. I’m at a place in my life where I feel if I have a question, I’m not embarrassed, or my pride doesn’t get in the way of asking anybody who I think has information. I’ll ask them because knowledge is power. If someone else out there has the information that I would like, I’m not afraid to speak to anybody.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that because I think that for most people this whole journey sometimes becomes very lonely because again, it’s so hard, the good days, the bad days, there are so many things that you have to do, so many hats you have to wear. I think-
Craig Muraszewski: And my wife of course, I can’t forget her. My wife who’s constantly … We talk five times a day about the store.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah. I can imagine that. I really love that you also mentioned the community because tapping into those people who are not only around you, but also, even your customers, anyone who’s around you. You said something that I feel is so valuable which is, if you have a question, just go ask. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think that … What are they going to think if I ask this? I really love that you mentioned that because I feel that even I have to remind that to myself. That’s it’s okay to have questions and reach out to people and be vulnerable, I guess. Yeah.
Craig Muraszewski: A great answer to follow-up to that is it’s not about being vulnerable. You actually are showing respect to your friends by asking them. I think that they think … I would believe that they would think that you’re a better person for reaching out and asking a simple question about how to get help. We have so many great small business owners here in the community and we all are constantly reaching out to each other to get guidance or information about things we might have any questions about or problems. I would say in the last 24 hours, I’ve probably spoken to three other fellow business owners about things that I just needed answers on. Some of my best resources are right here in my community.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s wonderful. It’s kind of like having an extended network of partners right?
Craig Muraszewski: Yes, for sure.
Jennifer Dopazo: Because they care the same as you care. They’re honest with any feedback that they’ll give you. I really like that. I really like that you brought the whole community, the conversation of the community because I think it’s really important. It’s really important to find it. It’s really important to be supported by it and just support it as well. What will be the number one reason for someone to go to the Cold Spring General Store?
Craig Muraszewski: Well, that’s a great question. Someone who’s looking for a unique, handmade item, or wants just an experience that’s relaxing and enjoyable. A lot of our customers, I’d say, they come in and they just enjoy the space. They’re at peace. I think a lot of people walk in and they say, “Oh, it smells so nice in here. This is really enjoyable.” And I notice, I watch, especially on weekends. Weekends, people tend to step back for a moment and they relax a little bit. I notice that people sort of gather in here and they conversate with each other and they … Strangers are talking to strangers and neighbors are talking to neighbors. That was a really … That was originally what we wanted to create.
We really spent a lot of time making sure that we focused on how people felt. What the lighting was like. What the smell was like. The overall feeling of the store. That’s really what’s important to us because we wanted people to feel comfortable. We wanted them to be relaxed and if you create that environment, people will come just to hang out. And they do that. When you say to me, “What’s one reason they should visit the Cold Spring’s General Store?” I would say just the common experience and just hang out a little bit. We play good music and there’s always something burning in here. It’s nice just to kind of let your mind drift away from current events, especially today, and take in something new. Maybe open a book that you hadn’t expected to open. Take the time and read a chapter or two and just relax. That’s all we ask.
Jennifer Dopazo: It seems to be the type of place that you don’t have to have something specific in mind to go, just go, be open to the experience, and just browse around and you’ll find something that you might take home with you. I don’t know, it seems when you describe it, and even when I read about it. When I found it, it seemed like that. It’s just this place that you just go and see what happens.
Craig Muraszewski: Yes. I agree.
Jennifer Dopazo: I really like that.
Craig Muraszewski: Thank you.
Jennifer Dopazo: What’s next for Cold Spring General Store?
Craig Muraszewski: Well, that’s a great question. We have spent some energy and some time really thinking about that and where we want to go. Do we want to open another location? Do we want to go back to New York, where we left? A lot of people have asked us to come to particular places and open a store there. We’ve taken our time to plan the next part of this, but I think what we’d really like to do at some point is do the Cold Spring General Store Home edition. And really focus a little bit more on things that are needed for the home, here in the country. We haven’t exactly nailed that yet but that’s … I think that could be our next step, is the Cold Spring General Store Home and Garden.
Jennifer Dopazo: Sounds exciting.
Craig Muraszewski: Thank you. I hope it’s … It’s all about life here and sometimes life here isn’t … You don’t have all those things at your fingertips. Having a store that has a book on raising chickens, or pruning back your spring bushes, or grabbing that health drink that you need, or that perfect gift for a friend or a family member, that’s what a general store is about. Sort of moving a little bit into home would be a natural transition.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, sounds great. Just to like finish up. What would be an advice that you would give to someone who is either, will I take the jump, or they’re considering open their own store, or business. What would be your advice to them?
Craig Muraszewski: My advice will be, as I’ve sort of stated a little earlier, is keep an open mind. A lot of people really, that I’ve talked to over the years about their businesses or people who I’ve met who are starting up small businesses, distributing cookies, or so on and so forth, they really have an idea and they want to stay with it, even if it’s not working. Be open minded to adjusting and change.
That’s what business is about anyway. It’s about adjusting to what’s happening in the current market. You can’t just say this is what I’m going to do, this is the only thing I’m going to do, and this is the way it’s going to work. Because it really often doesn’t work like that. Never say never, as I said earlier, and really keep an open mind.
Jennifer Dopazo: Wonderful. I love it and I just realize how you also must be a witness of different makers and artisans just growing their own businesses because you sort of like see them through the process and I just imagine also how that could be so inspiring. Thank you so much. It’s been great having you. I can not wait to visit the store.
Craig Muraszewski: Thank you.
Jennifer Dopazo: I hope everyone enjoyed this and have another reason to go visit Cold Spring.
Craig Muraszewski: Great. Yeah, come see us at the Cold Spring General Store in Cold Spring, New York.
Jennifer Dopazo: Wonderful. Thank you.
Craig Muraszewski: Thank you.