strategist investigates

Is There Any Cool Upstate Merch?

Photo-Illustration: retailers

I live (and have always lived) in the Hudson Valley. According to egocentric New York City residents (and Google), who define upstate as anywhere north of New York City, this means I live in Upstate New York. (To anyone in unquestionably upstate cities like Rochester and Albany who says the term really refers to places that are closer to Canada than New York City, I would point out that I went to college in Syracuse.) To people in the city, my part of upstate has always been prime long-weekend territory — a place to visit but nowhere to live. During the pandemic, however, with everyone cooped up in tiny apartments and craving nature, it has now become cool to say I live in the Hudson Valley. And based on some of the clothes at J.Crew, Aerie (its “upstate” sweatshirt is actually so popular it is now sold out), and Revolve, it’s also cool to dress like you’ve been there.

But just as a New Yorker wouldn’t necessarily parade around the city in an I ❤ NY T-shirt (with no disrespect to the design’s creator, New York co-founder Milton Glaser), folks who actually spend time (or live) in upstate New York would not wear those. If you want a more authentic version of upstate gear, I suggest you invest in some subtle, actually cool merch that will earn you approving nods from locals instead of snarky glares. Some of the best options, including everything from artist Dan Colen’s Sky High Farms in Ancramdale, sell out almost immediately, but there’s still plenty of great clothing to be had. Below, I’ve rounded up the best of it: T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, and more, all sold by local businesses throughout the area.

Instead of buying a cheesy Woodstock poster, try this Yasgur Farms T-shirt. The now-defunct dairy farm hosted the festival in 1969, and only an in-the-know person would appreciate the reference. Buying it from Bethel Woods, the museum for the festival and popular concert venue, will give you an additional level of clout — and directly benefit the institution that preserves the memories of the festival.

Anyone who has spent any time in Beacon will recognize this dummy light, which loosely directs traffic at an awkward intersection on Main Street. Driving there is a nightmare, so commemorate making it through with this actually cool mug from Last Outpost.

Merch from the Phoenicia Diner, one of the most popular landmarks in the Catskills, has become a bit ubiquitous. But putting this subtle mug pin on a denim jacket or tote (as you travel the state) is a great way to support it without looking like you’re trying too hard.

Cooperstown merch can also be quite ubiquitous, since some 300,000 people visit the Baseball Hall of Fame every year and shop at the local merch stores. Wearing a vintage tee like this one will set you apart from the other baseball fanatics that visit the town. And in case this shirt sells out, it’s also offered here and here in different colors and sizes.

Unexpectedly, Buffalo has some of the best merch I’ve ever seen. It’ the largest city in the state, just after New York City, and people from there seem to really have a lot of pride. This shirt says all you need to know.

This shirt from well-known pennant company Oxford Pennant makes a promise that apparently no place but Buffalo can keep.

Aside from equally popular Trax and Bank Square (which don’t sell merch online), Big Mouth is one of Beacon’s main coffee suppliers. Lots of local coffee shops stock their coffee, and because they’re stationed smack dab in the middle of Main Street, they’re easy to spot. Wear it to show that you know where the best coffee spots are, even in an area with one on every block.

Shawangunk Ridge in New Paltz, better known as “The Gunks,” is one of the biggest climbing locations in the country and a fairly popular biking trail. This beanie, which would be excellent for a late-fall hike, features a scenic patch of the view you see along the trail.

Support an ultra-specific movement to build a skate park in Kingston with this goofy T-shirt designed by local artist Ryan Williams in collaboration with Boneshaker Records, a Catskills-based record label.

Patrick Merryman, a born-and-raised Hudson Valley resident (and full disclosure, a friend of mine), founded Marlboro.NY as a tribute to the area. I bought this cheeky shirt from his shop earlier this year because it’s possibly one of the coolest upstate New York shirts I’ve ever seen.

For a more subtle nod to the Hudson Valley, I’m fond of his apple logo sweatshirt, too.

Hamilton & Adams, a Kingston-based brand devoted to showcasing what upstate New York has to offer, is best known for their “Upstate and Chill” merchandise. But it would behoove you to check out their other designs, too, like this vintage-looking keyhole T-shirt, which feels more like a flea-market find than a gift-shop purchase.

The Woodstock Film Festival, coming up at the end of September, spans four days and features different independent films from rising and established artists. (You can buy a pass here.) Buying a tee supports both the not-for-profit organization and emerging creatives.

Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon has become a popular stop for weekend visitors, and for good reason. If you need something to remember your visit by (or to inspire you to get up there), the brewery’s merch is nearly as good as its beer.

The Walkway Over the Hudson opened in 2009 as a historical park, long after a fire destroyed the original property in the ’70s. The bridge goes straight across the Hudson River from Highland to Poughkeepsie, with beautiful views that tourists can’t seem to resist. This limited-edition tee was designed in partnership with Marist College and features a cute and subtle drawing of the bridge.

SUNY Oneonta has a bit of a …reputation. Get in on the joke with this crewneck from a brand that’s embraced it: Stoneota.

Albany-based brand Compas Life trademarked the slogan “Upstate of Mind,” a feeling that comes through clearly on this somewhat motivational vintage-y T-shirt.

This Hungry Chuck’s Bar tee will bring back lots of memories for any Syracuse alum who attended before the bar was replaced with luxury condos. The notorious seniors-only spot will reopen this fall, making this T-shirt more relevant than ever.

The Red Apple Rest closed in 2006, but for 50 years before that, this restaurant and motel along Route 17 was a beloved Catskills destination. The heyday of the Borscht Belt meant this business had served 1 million people by 1965. Its iconic gigantic apple still sits atop the building (although it’s abandoned and worn down). Memorialize it with this sweatshirt.

Popular Hudson restaurant Lil Deb’s Oasis has some particularly charming and funky merchandise, like this cheeky tee.

Lake George is another big summer vacation spot. This T-shirt in a calming butter shade screams vacation without being too cheesy.

Any baker will probably recognize Daniel Leader’s bread-baking books, especially his most recent one, Living Bread, which won a James Beard award last year. Each book shares the secrets, recipes, and baking knowledge he has gleaned owning Bread Alone, a bakery with four locations around the Hudson Valley area. They have lots of fun merch, but this re-created vintage Bread Alone T-shirt definitely stands out.

Photo: Eli

Every local high-school or college student has probably gone to at least one concert at the Chance in Poughkeepsie.

Up until the early ’70s, the Capitol Theatre in Portchester was a popular concert venue for big name artists like Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. After a brief shutdown in the early ’80s, it now showcases artists like Sheryl Crow, Billy Idol, and Elvis Costello.

Although it has lately become a checkpoint for Instagram influencers trying to show off their culture, Storm King’s 500-acre outdoor museum is still a wonderful place to visit. Instead of (like any other clout-thirsty tourist) getting a tee that says simply “Storm King,” try these socks, which are based on artwork featured in the exhibition Indicators: Artists on Climate Change.

The annual Army Navy football game is still very much a big deal. You can pick sides like a local would with Army merchandise to show support for West Point.

Whatever you do, please do not buy an “Ithaca Is Gorges” tee. The pun references the Ithaca waterfalls, otherwise known as “The Gorges,” and it is probably the most touristy shirt you can find in the area. (You can find them here, though, if you are unconcerned with the judgment of others.) This T-shirt from Ithaca-based brand Ithaca Tie Dyes is a nice alternative. The brand offers lots of different clothing items, from tees to socks, and while it doesn’t explicitly say “Ithaca” on it, you’re supporting a local business — and when you get compliments (which you will), you can say where it’s from.

Central Intelligence Agency or Culinary Institute of America? People may never know. (For something a little less ominous, this sweatshirt is nice, too.)

Although it has grown popular enough to be sold nationwide, Ithaca Beer was first found (of course) upstate. Support the brewery by wearing this subtle nod to its best -selling beer “Flower Power.”

One of the most popular Finger Lakes is Seneca Lake, which has a large state park at its north end where you can fish, boat, picnic, and more. This collegiate-style sweatshirt is a nice tribute.

Some of the biggest horse racetracks in the country, such as Saratoga Springs and Belmont Park, are located upstate. With the recent rise of preppy clothing, perhaps now’s a good time to sport this hat supporting Saratoga Springs — the oldest racetrack in America.

People travel far and wide to come to Mohonk Mountain House, an all-inclusive resort and spa in New Paltz. From personal experience, I can confirm that it’s truly magical. This actually-kind-of-cute rainbow hoodie is for kids, so if you’re one of those people who can fit into children’s clothing, then this is a good choice.

At one point, Syracuse was the largest salt producer in the country. While that’s no longer the case, the city is still referred to as “The Salt City.” Support Syracuse’s Mets-affiliated minor-league team with this T-shirt bearing the reference.

Lots of magazines have raved about Fortunes Ice Cream in Tivoli, New York, with Food & Wine calling it the best ice cream in all of New York State. To top it off, they have some of the coolest T-shirts. You can buy one online by emailing it on its website or pop by the store to purchase in person.

Nalgene was born in Rochester in 1949, an inadvertent creation by a scientist looking to make the first plastic pipette. In the 1960s, lab techs took the lightweight bottles on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks, where they quickly became popular among hiking enthusiasts. Given this history, it seems only right to sport an Adirondack Mountain Club Nalgene, which we’ve coincidentally dubbed a status water bottle — so you kill two birds with one stone.

If you call it the “The Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge,” you’re clearly not from around here.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Is There Any Cool Upstate Merch?