Six years ago Denise Lombardi planned a special Christmas Day celebration for her 11-year-old son RJ. They drove to a movie theater to take in one of the sci-fi Star Wars films that her son so …
Six years ago Denise Lombardi planned a special Christmas Day celebration for her 11-year-old son RJ. They drove to a movie theater to take in one of the sci-fi Star Wars films that her son so loves.
“The theater was practically empty, but RJ was so excited that his vocalizations were loud,” Lombardi said. RJ has autism.
A little while into the movie, a fellow theatergoer showed up at their seats and asked Denise and RJ to leave. “I get it that he's different,” the man said, “but I paid for my family to enjoy this movie.”
Lombardi and her son left after she related the incident to cinema staff.
As she finished relating the story, Lombardi's eyes filled with tears. “You'd never, ever, find that here,” she said from her shop and coffee bar, the Hurleyville General Store.
“In Hurleyville, people with disabilities are front and center,” she said. “Rather than trying to make them act differently, we adjust the environment to fit their needs.”
The Lombardi business at 238 Main St. arose from the needs of RJ and Denise's 51-year-old brother Jack Van Dormolen, who cannot hear. The Lombardis wanted their loved ones to have their capacities emphasized rather than their limitations, “to be able to work in a place that celebrated rather than tolerated them,” said Denise.
Denise, a CPA, and her husband Rob who is an air traffic controller on Long Island, decided to open their store in 2019. Halted by the COVID pandemic, the shop reopened in June 2020. The store is now open seven days a week: Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the rest of the days from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“Our passion is to carry brands that hire disabled people,” said Lombardi. “We also try to select products that are made in New York, by hand, by women entrepreneurs, by minority companies.”
Front and center is the store's coffee bar with croissants, muffins and crumb cake. Coming soon are chicken and vegetarian wraps and smoothies.
The wares in the eclectic shop range from greeting cards and gourmet snacks, to candles and skincare products, to toys, pet treats and puzzles. On display are items like the book “The Borscht Belt,” by Marisa Scheinfeld, who grew up in the Catskills. For foodies, there's the likes of What's Poppin Kettle Korn from Jim and Melissa Rennison of Grahamsville or homemade cookies by Aunt Nenee of Hurleyville.
In the 'fridge are fresh organic eggs and veggies from the garden, and not far away are handmade lavender eye pillows and Shea butter soap – all grown or handcrafted at the nearby Harris-based Center for Discovery, which is in effect, the mother of it all.
The non-profit serves adults, children and teens like RJ Lombardi who have intellectual and physical challenges. RJ lives with four other boys in a house “with a large communal kitchen and a sensory room,” said Denise. “They live close to nature in a peaceful environment and have access to an indoor zip-line, a platform swing and a big yoga ball, all helping to regulate their nervous systems.”
The Lombardis rent their storefront from the Center, serving as part of the agency's four-year effort to rejuvenate Hurleyville and give disabled people places to live, work and enjoy new experiences. The Center has built pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and managed to get a Main Street traffic light installed. A handicapped-accessible nine-mile public rail trail is hugely popular, a joint effort with the Open Space Institute.
Drawing raves are the award-winning Pickled Owl restaurant and the artisanal charcuterie company and food market called La Salumina. Movies, art, dance, yoga and cinema make up the Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre, an independent community-supported organization founded by philanthropist Janet Carrus.
In the fall, Hurleyville will welcome the new Collaborative College High School at what is now the Technology Hub and Incubator on Main Street. The school is a partnership between the Homestead School in Glen Spey, SUNY Sullivan and the Center for Discovery.
In the end, reflects Denise Lombardi, it's all about learning and growth. At Hurleyville General Store, RJ gains new skills. Customers learn acceptance and awareness. And for any family entering the doors with a handicapped or non-handicapped child having a meltdown, Lombardi’s response is simple: “Don't worry. We're not going to freak out about it. It's all good here.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here