Reality is gold. 

Let's capture it.

"In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality."

-Alfred Stieglitz


Behind the photos

An ongoing series of interviews with local businesses photographed by JKHOP.

The Mind Behind Elizabeth Boutique

November 27, 2020

Beth Madsen, owner of Elizabeth Boutique, shares her inspiration for the Poughkeepsie boutique that makes you wonder why you'd shop anywhere else.

As we gear up for fall and winter in the Northeast and looming chilly grey days, holidays are a bright spot. We are now accustomed to things being “different” in 2020, so this season will naturally bring new concerns, change the ways we’ve celebrated in the past and will also alter our activities and access to goods and services. Usually, shopping and prepping for the holidays are upon us this time of year. This year, holiday prep seems to have come early and is on overdrive with families putting up decorations in October simply because it brings them much needed joy. The stores are on board too and have been stocked with winter holiday items since the end of August. The tag line “shop local” has become a trend but this year will undoubtedly become a necessity both for shoppers and for small businesses. Over abundance of choice and options have at times left us wasteful and rather careless with our purchasing power. This is our year to use our dollars wisely.

Shopping locally can certainly help this “Amazon-fever” and support our community.  Thinking outside the shipping box is rather satisfying and let's be honest, it feels really good to see the places and faces that your dollars are helping stay afloat.

Enter, Elizabeth Boutique. EB, as it is commonly known, is a women's clothing and accessories boutique. Anyone who shops there knows that it’s so much more. It’s your local watering hole for fashion. Owner, Beth Madsen, and her faithful staff know your name, your style and what you need even if you don’t just yet.

I’ve worked with Beth in the past to photograph a co-hosted event with Zimmer Brothers Jewelers and her new arrivals back in 2017. Seeing the energy and expertise she pours into every aspect of her business explained the shop's success.  When we were in quarantine round 1 last spring I took the opportunity to ask Beth for some insight into EB’s evolution and describe the work and talent that she puts into her boutique. Her answers show how her boutique’s success is due to a combination of a lifelong passion, hard work, a natural talent, and being able to read the room. My suggestion is to read and then shop EB.

Could you explain your backstory, Beth?

It’s every little girls dream. I wanted my own boutique since I was little and loved to shop in my favorite stores, like Limited Too, as well as in small towns where my family vacationed. I always got excited to check out the unique shops in town. I knew I wanted to go to school for fashion. There was never a second option. Owning my own business seemed natural coming from a family of business owners.

When you started your business, what was your vision? Has it changed?

My vision was definitely always to have a fun shop. I wanted something casual and not at all stuffy. I feel like I’ve really grown into that and I think it has a lot to do with me gaining confidence and being comfortable with what I had to offer to the community. I opened my shop when I had literally just turned 28. I had a lot to learn! The foundation was always there and I just needed to really come into my own. The second most important thing was definitely making sure my store was part of the community. Contributing to local organizations and just bringing something unique to it.

The fashion and retail industry changes quickly as trends shift, what is a constant for you, your business and mission?

I think what’s most important is to know who your customers are and having a strong relationship with them. They trust you to make them look and feel good or simply to have the styles they need, when they need them!

What pieces or products are you most excited about this season?

Honestly, I focused a lot on bringing in less of every brand, but adding more new brands to the roster. I also focused on dresses and pieces you could wear to weddings, bridal and baby showers. Kind of a backfire on that this year!! I am a very casual dresser and tend to be on the low-key side outside of work, so I tend to over buy the casual stuff. I focused on bringing in dressier items and 2020 was the year to do it. I go into every year with a motto and this year was mindful buying (for me and my customers), so that played out nicely. I was very choosy and only picked have -to -have styles. So even though I added dressier items, I didn’t over buy in any categories. Kind of a win-win!

Which socially and environmentally conscious brands do you have in your store?

That’s a tough one! I am definitely on the bandwagon for that, but I think it has a lot to do with these leading brands that are so popular to really start focusing more on that. Sometimes it’s up to them to set the tone for change. I’m always open to new brands that are sustainable and Made in the USA. I’m thinking we may see more of that in the bigger brands over the next year or so. Z Supply did come out with an organic tee line this season, which has sold really well.

How much of what you specialize in and are successful at (personal shopper, store ambiance, marketing, the list goes on and on) is: trial and error, studied results, following trends, or just doing what you want to do and following your instincts?

I think that I probably have a more natural ability to create a store ambiance and help my customers find styles that work for them. I was always into helping people look their best and rearranging my friends’ bedrooms ever since I was little. I know what I like when it comes to style and like everyone else I use Instagram to get inspiration (gotta love it). Marketing was also a strength I feel like I have that many business owners struggle with, but I think I know my brand because I created it. I try to stay up on the latest trends to further develop it. I’m always open to something new.

I'm a huge fan of your quirky and some might say "a bit fresh" stationary and accessories. Do these reflect your sense of humor and personality?

Def! Anything that gets a laugh I’m down with. I’m definitely fresh. :)

Is there a new "truth" you have realized and find yourself believing these days?

I always have a new “truth”! Every year has a different focus for sure. I’ve had some rough years and I’ve had some great years. I think I’ve been definitely coming into my own lately and I’m finally comfortable with where I’m at professionally. I think it has so much to do with connecting with your audience and creating relationships with them.

 Where do you find inspiration for your business?

INSTAGRAM! I definitely have boutique crushes! Stores that have beautiful interiors and well thought out Instagram feeds. I’m not as big into bloggers unless they do clothes + home (they have to do both). I tend to find new brands via other boutiques. You know something actually sells if a store has it. It’s not a guarantee if someone is getting paid to model it.

Is there anything I haven't asked that you think is important?

Maybe another big topic is that I will be celebrating 13 years in August! Lucky #13… kind of a weird year for me! Turning 40, celebrating 13 years in business and social distance and mask wearing is the latest trend. Who would have guessed?!?

* Bonus question: What's getting you through quarantine? 

I have to say that my life hasn’t changed much except that I’m working even more than before. I miss my staff! I’ve been fortunate enough to build my team over the past 8 months and doing this mostly on my own has been very tough. With that being said…a lot of WINE, Freddy and I love to talk on the phone with my friends. I was also a little delayed on getting into the swing of my at home yoga practice, but I’ve been good the last few weeks and have made it work. It’s hard to decompress at home! Oh, and I’m a newcomer to taking baths! That’s helped with the stress and decompressing. Outlander has been my go to Netflix series too.

I’d love to get an update from Beth on her 2021 plans for EB and all the moves she’s made since I asked her these questions, but I know from her Instagram feed that EB is in full holiday shopping mode and they are extremely busy making local shopping fun, safe and an option for all! For now, follow EB on IG and even better, stop into the shop to check off items on your giving list or just to treat yourself. You can make shopping appointments here. Quickly though, they are booking up!

Looking for respite in the Hudson Valley ?

August 11, 2020

Founder, Elisa Gwilliam, answered my questions about her slice of peace, restoration and much needed place of healing, The Hudson Valley Healing Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. If you're looking for  new ways to improve your health and well-being, you may want to start here. 


2020’s challenges on mental and physical health are perhaps unprecedented. A pandemic unlike anything recent generations have experienced and atrocities spawned by glaring social injustice have me thinking of healing. Now more than ever we need tools, modes, and methods of inner and outer healing. As I scroll, I read things like “do small things with great love” and I feel hopeful and able. I read other messages with factual accounts of abuse, neglect and institutionalized racism and I feel helpless, stunned and in result, paralyzed.

Taking a step back helps us remember to work on what’s in front of you. Doing so can act like medicine for helplessness and despair.

Pausing also promotes healing. As New Yorkers, we were asked to “PAUSE New York” to stop the spread of COVID-19 and online communities united to pause to amplify voices from those groups often underrepresented and unheard rallying for justice. Pausing gives space to listen, learn, grow and heal.

We were for months limited to online resources for healing. But as the world inches carefully closer to returning to “normal,” we’ll be able to physically engage with our communities and visit places that offer precise, tangible, and targeted restorative tools. One such place is The Hudson Valley Healing Center. Elisa Gwilliam is the founder of Hudson Valley Healing Center – “a place for human exploration in the wellness arena.” I had the opportunity to meet Elisa and photograph her space last September. If you happen to find yourself at the window of HVHC, located on Springside Avenue in Poughkeepsie, you’ll first see a storefront for all items concerning wellness and healing. However, HVHC is more so a gathering space, a resource for yoga and meditation retreats, and a rental space for wellness practitioners and community events. It is also a restorative salt cave, filled with 14 tons of Himalayan salt. HVHC has even expanded its services to include video and media production space. Elisa describes HVHC employees as “caring and professional. They know your name, offer you complimentary tea, and are there to listen.”

I experienced the curative effect the space has on its visitors and became curious how it came to exist here in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I reached out to Elisa with questions about her healing center and was guided through the many positive aspects and offerings of the Center. Many years ago, Elisa’s life was interrupted with a medical diagnosis and she searched for ways to help her body. This led to the creation of the Hudson Valley Healing Center. Although visiting is the best way to experience personal and physical healing, the HVHC website is full of helpful information about the services they offer and can guide you on your healing journey. Elisa adds, “each service offered has a resource page that includes peer reviewed journal articles.”

For HVHC, “heart and love for our clients” remains the constant. Elisa and the HVHC employees “love to see them ‘get’ something. The biggest moment is when they realize that they are not alone, and that sometimes what they go through is normal.” Although HVHC’s vision “hasn’t changed, the center itself has seen a lot of changes. We are constantly adding new services that help people on their road to wellness.”

I asked Elisa a few specific questions about what to do when visiting the center and she had some helpful suggestions. A very unique element that the HVHC offers is the salt cave. The salt cave is their “ shining star. But the newest offering has people taking notice! We now offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Currently, we are the only mild hyperbaric center with a Doctor of hyperbaric medicine in the area.”

The BEMER is something Elisa considers an under the radar treatment worth checking out. It’s a “powerful machine that promotes wellness and microcirculation.”

Aside from specific treatments and services offered, Elisa relies on and practices meditation. “As a long time meditation teacher, there is power in the time you spend practicing. Meditation can physically change your brain. The science is there.”

If you’re looking for a local healing resource during these trying and uncertain times, the Hudson Valley Healing Center should be on your list of places to discover and start your healing journey in 2020, of all years. 

For more information go to https://www.hudsonvalleyhealingcenter.com/.

Interview with Jack Smith explaining his view on what everyone has but no one talks about

May 23,  2020

To Jack Smith of William A. Smith & Son Insurance, protecting businesses and families as an insurance agent is no joking matter. Proving the point when asked if he knew any good industry jokes, and he aptly replied, "what we provide is so important to protecting businesses and families that I find it hard to joke about it." That's exactly what everyone wants to hear from their insurance agent, right? Below Jack explains the role and value of insurance agents at his company, and how the culture at William A. Smith & Son Insurance contributes to their long business history in our area.

Jack Smith CPCU, ARM, CIC

Executive Vice President/Owner

William A. Smith & Son Insurance

Jack understands that "often we as individuals or business owners don’t feel we have any time for the details." But "right now we do, so take advantage of that time to work on your business, not just in your business. The same goes for your family, it’s a great time as parents to really get to know our families in a way we can’t in the 'normal world.’"

People respond differently in times of great uncertainty. However, it is commonly "human" to grasp at the known, avoid risk, and increase predictability in the areas of life that are within control. Under "normal" circumstances, insurance is one of those things that gives peace of mind and measurable security. It is also something that can take a back seat in daily conversations. In an attempt to add control and order to this COVID-19 world, now’s as good as ever to "talk insurance" with a Hudson Valley-based, seasoned insurance professional.

Jack Smith is the Executive Vice President and one of the third generation owners of William A. Smith & Son Insurance, an independent insurance agency that works with for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and individuals located in the Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, NY areas. For him, business and family are nearly synonymous. Jack grew up with his grandfather and father working together to build the company Jack works for today. "Building, liability, workers compensation, auto, homes, life, disability and benefits insurance lines" are all part of Jack's everyday vernacular, and our community is the beneficiary of his firm’s 90-plus years of experience. By virtue of being here since 1928, William A. Smith & Son Insurance has "become very entrenched in its support and efforts for many local businesses and not for profits" and firmly believes in supporting their community as so many have supported them. As Jack sums it up, "we've seen a lot in 90 years of business."

In my limited experience as an insurance consumer, it seems that clients might tend to obtain insurance coverage and assume a “see you at renewal time” mentality. I was curious to know Jack’s recommendations on how clients can take advantage of his expertise in between policy inception and renewal. Jack highlights a most common point of confusion: "not understanding the difference between the agent and the insurance company. We aren’t the same entities, so when a client pays their premium, we don’t keep that, the insurance company does. We are the entity that advises you on your options with multiple insurance companies. Which brings up misconception number two. We as independents are like your 'personal shopper.' We can go to 20+ insurance companies to find the best options for you and your family or business. Unlike the commercials you see on TV where they actually only represent that one insurance company. We work for you, our client." Jack further explains that he and the agents at William A. Smith & Son Insurance "advise clients all the time on how buying houses or renovating impacts their coverage needs, how the trusts they set up with their lawyers impact their insurance program, how they can work to reduce areas of their life that increase premiums. It's really using us to not only be your 'personal shopper,’ but also your risk manager."

After providing photography services for Jack's company on several occasions, I was struck by the collegiality of the group. The culture at William A. Smith & Son Insurance is an aspect of the business that makes Jack proud. It has "evolved over the years as times change, but basically it’s modeled on the 'Golden Rule': Treat others (our clients) the way you want to be treated. Give great advice, work hard and be friendly. We are here to serve our clients so we need to make sure our clients feel that from every interaction with us." He attributes this culture and the company's success to the staff hired not just for their specific skills, but also because they "fit" within the company's culture and are willing to learn. "Without the right staff who can work within our culture, it just wouldn’t work. Many of our staff have been with us for over 30 years! That said, we have new folks too... I’m a 'team' guy, so I want everyone to feel as though they are a part of our team."

I asked Jack to ponder any new "truths" he’s realized and finds himself believing lately. His response is quote-worthy:

"I think my new truth is a confirmation of an older one. We all need to support one another locally, nationally, as humans. I say locally first because it’s so important that we support those in our communities, both as families and as businesses. It’s not always easy or cheap, but it has the most impact on our immediate communities. Also, our families are so key to the emotional fulfillment of our lives... and boy does the gym matter to my physical and emotional health!"

For more information go to William A. Smith & Son Insurance .

Interview with children's art guru, Marlea Liguori of The Artist's Corner 

"Miss Marlea"

May 11, 2020

Meet Marlea Liguori, President and Instructor at The Artist's Corner. She provides the inspiration and tools and lets the students' imaginations do the rest. Whether Marlea is teaching kids about political activism through Banksy style art projects or showing them that their mistakes can be art too, her goal is to empower children through art. Read on to hear her take on what she sets out to do each summer, her collaboration with other local businesses and learn a little about "Miss Marlea" herself.

(Photos are from The Artist's Corner 2019 Student Art Show when students displayed their projects for their families, answered questions about their work, and celebrated and admired their artistic creations.)

Please, introduce yourself and your business!

I'm a lifelong resident of Dutchess County and currently a fifth grade teacher at Ellenville Elementary school. I'm an avid reader, beach goer, and servant to my house full of pets. My grandmother was a watercolor painter and just all around incredible artist. As a kid, she always had me doing creative things, including drawing on my knees and turning them into little faces. She passed away when I was only five, but the art memories I have with her are vivd. While I will never claim to be the best artist, not by a long shot, creativity has always been a part of me.

In 2015, after 5 years working for another art program, they sold the franchise and eliminated the Dutchess County locations. This meant that not only was I out of a job, but my students would now be disappointed right along with me. That summer I was teaching art classes to some of those students in a local park and started talking with their parents about starting my own program. It was an idea that came to me on my couch one night and my personality being what it is, I decided to follow that seemingly impossible dream. Those parents I talked to gave me the encouragement I needed to believe in myself and escalate the motion of the wheels already turning in my head. In those moments, I learned that small gestures, ones of uninhibited support and enthusiasm, were the most powerful thing anyone could have given me. Once the seed was planted, it didn't take long to assemble the necessary pieces and work to where we are today. At twenty eight, out of almost nowhere, I became a business owner.

When you started your business, what was your vision? Has it changed?

When I started The Artist's Corner I was mostly focused on doing short after school classes. I knew I wanted to provide an affordable art option for kids and parents but also create something that was more than just a drawing class. So many programs are expensive, and I understand the reasons, but I never wanted a family to feel like they couldn't afford an activity for their child. To do this, I had to get creative too and balance high-quality supplies with low-cost (and sometimes up cycled) items to balance cost without sacrificing quality. I wanted a place where kids were excited to come and where they knew any creative idea would be supported and helped to develop. I quickly started exploring different ideas and offering family events like a grandparent paint party, Mother's Day tea-and-paints, and various art workshops. I was fortunate to connect with the Fishkill Recreation Center early on who still embraces any wild idea I have and support me in running with it. As we grew, the most exciting part was being in a position to give back to the community through donations, fundraisers, and no-cost events. I love taking on any art challenge and creating events that bring people the same joy to those attending that I do in planning and teaching.

What role do family and community play for Artist's Corner?

Family is huge. I grew up in a small business family and that business raised me. My dad owns and operates Hudson Valley Pavement. It's a business he started with his dad in the 1970s and he now runs it with my brother and the help of my mom. In starting my own, I had already seen the benefits and stresses that come with a business and I was pretty well prepared. After I started teaching full-time, my niece took over teaching a number of after school classes for me. She's been an integral component in the Fishkill community and keeps that program running. Then, there's the element of our students and their families. We like to think of the whole program as one family. We truly care about the kids and getting to know them is important to us.

Community is also a big piece. I think that as a business there is a responsibility to the community to set a positive example and to help each other. And helping comes in so many forms - volunteering, donations, events, just talking to people and being a friendly face. There are so many community events that we participate it and being out in the community and supporting other programs and efforts is really important to me. I think it's like a circle - a business can't survive without the support of the community and a community can't survive without the support of small businesses. When we work together, every piece benefits.

What keeps you excited to do what you do?

The kids - for sure! I love how many regular families we have and meeting new students. It's amazing to watch students grow from elementary students to middle school and still keep in touch. To know that The Artist's Corner gets to be a part of their journey is something pretty incredible. I also love their faces when they create something when they didn't think they could. Often I'll show a drawing or a project and they'll say "there's no way I can do that!" but then they do! And when they excitedly detail the process to their parents while showing off their art, it's the best feeling.

When I photographed your Student Art Show, I noticed that all your students were highly focused and so calm, yet happy. There was definitely a lack of chaos usually associated with kids' camps. Can you elaborate on the kind of atmosphere you aim to achieve/provide and why?

Yay! That is the goal! I think the way this is so consistently achieved is through class sizes and enrichment. I keep all of my camps small by design, usually closing them out at 10 students. Though, I do go up to 12 if there are siblings and registration is about full. I think this helps for a lot of reasons. For kids, they want to be challenged and creative, but each kid isn't going to find that in the same way. In a small group, we can take a project and provide different experiences to enrich different kids through that one piece of art. We often have students with different sensory needs or just general preferences. When groups are small it's easy to meet those needs. I think it's also important to meet the kids where they are and embrace their ideas - I like to provide the inspiration and the tools, the rest is up to their imagination. You want to have a unicorn-mermaid with snakes for hair? Great! Let's see how we can make it happen. So often kids are told no when making something that when they are told yes, it opens a whole new world of possibilities. They're more willing to focus if they are invested and they are invested when they are watching their vision take shape before them. We also spend a lot of time chatting in camp. I give the lesson and then I sit with them and do the project together and we brainstorm and help each other. Sitting with them instead of standing over them creates a different environment too. It's so hard in school or in larger camps to work closely with the kids since there are just so many. That conversation I think helps the kids to see that you're really there for them. I'm invested in each kid and don't forget their names or their art from year to year and I think they can feel that.

What projects have you been brainstorming and can't wait to offer?

Project planning is another favorite part for me. I get made fun of by my friends all the time for asking them to save up their tin cans or glass jars for my next creation. I'm also known for telling waitresses that I want to keep my empty iced tea bottle because I'll be turning it into a fairy house. There's so much art potential around us and creatively finding new ways to use it is really fun. This summer, our camp theme is music through the decades. We'll be focusing on a music event or theme from the 20s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, & 00s and creating an art project inspired by the music from that decade. Projects include marionette puppets, crayon melting, record painting, bottle art, and a lot of glitter. Camp is my favorite project season because I get so much time with the kids. We can do big projects that take a few days to really get involved with creating different things.

Another event is Puppies and Paint where we team up with a local animal rescue to do a paint fundraiser. We completed one in February and it was a huge success. Our second one was scheduled for April and had to be rescheduled. It was so much fun and I can't wait to offer it again.

Is there a new "truth" you have realized and find yourself believing these days?

With the current state, I've really seen the truth behind the value of small business. Small businesses are often thought of as the little guys, but right now, small businesses are the big guys. We're all working together and getting creative. Services have moved their programs online. Restaurants transitioned to curbside and delivery. Places are donating and raising funds for the frontline. Stores are providing free materials to make and donate masks. And, it was all done almost overnight. It's amazing. Big businesses don't have the same connections to the community that small businesses do so they can't have the same impact. Right now, as much as small businesses are financially hurting, their value is shining. So many people are getting an extra night of take out to help their favorite pizza place, buying gift certificates for boutiques and salons, trying new programs from home. Many are doing this all while uncertain about their own finances. It's so selfless. The community is so supportive of small business and it's universally understood that our area wouldn't be the same without all of the businesses that make it what it is. It's incredible to see the businesses supporting the community and the community supporting the business. We really are all in this together and small gestures from a lot of people makes a big difference.

In a time of many options for summer camps, why do think people choose yours?

Most of the feedback I receive about camp is that it's fun! Parents also really like to see the wild projects kids come home with. We rarely use paper and pencils. They're happy when their kids are happy and that's what I try to achieve. I think a lot of times we go places where other camps don't go. One summer I taught kids about political activism and created fake brick walls and Banksy inspired graffiti. They came out incredible. Another year I took boxes and boxes of tin cans, including giant ones donated by a local restaurant, and we created the TinMan from The Wizard of Oz. Last year, we created the Great Barrier Reef and used a lot of up cycled items to illustrate how we can do our part in helping our planet. Sometimes adults think something is too hard or too deep for kids but that's not usually the case. With the right support, a 5-year old CAN build a 2-foot TinMan or use faux-graffiti to start a movement. I think it's more about how we approach presenting the lesson and how we inspire the kids to achieve the end goal. Empowering kids is important, they have great ideas that they want to express, and art is a great platform to use.

The other thing I hear a lot is "we choose your camp because it was the cheapest and were so impressed!" And while it can be interpreted as a little backhanded, I don't think of it that way. Just because something doesn't cost a lot, doesn't mean it can't still be cool. I think that we provide a service that people find value in and that's always been the goal.

What is something you find you tell your students often?

I have a few mantras. One thing I find myself saying a lot is "that's not a mistake, we can turn it in to something!" I don't like when students crumple up their paper after one thing they don't like. It's so much more fun to imagine what that stray squiggle could be. Or, if that oops-flower could really be turned into a ladybug. Kids that have been with me a while really get in to the idea and they start to see that nothing is permanent and there is always something beyond our mistake.

Another thing I emphasize is "just try." I think effort is so important (both as a fifth grade teacher and in art). You never know what you will come up with if you just try. Very few things are accomplished on the first try, art included. You don't think you can create that castle? I bet you can, just try!

Is there anything I haven't asked that you think is important?

The one thing I haven't touched on is collaboration, but I think that ties back in to community. One of the most fun thing has been working with other businesses, kids programs and sometimes otherwise, to bridge our businesses and create events. We cross promote for each other and get to meet students from other programs. It's fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of and meet other businesses with the same goals as your own. Many times I collaborate with Liz at Mindful Yoga with Liz and Rachel at the Harmony Garden Music Studio. Together we've done some really cool events that I couldn't have done on my own - like painting and assembling working ukuleles! 

*To stay in the loop for current offerings check The Artist Corner.