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.