There must be something in the air in High Falls that calls out to lovers of fine, unique things. For decades now, the hamlet has punched well above its weight as an exceptional shopping district, waxing and waning but never going away. Some shop owners retire, others relocate to busier locales, but new, creative retailers always seem to discover the hamlet and fall in love.
“ We are all about helping people and promoting folks we work with. It’s so important, these days, to gather together. ”
“When I first saw the Black Barn, I was immediately drawn to it and could not get it off my mind,” says Katherine McMillan, curator and purveyor at the Black Barn and owner of the brand Northern Grade. “I met with Ron [Sharkey] in late-January 2016, and I just walked in, and the smell of the wood and the details in the ceiling and space—the energy of the Barn spoke to me, and I wanted to be here forever. Later in the year I opened up at the Barn with Ron as a holiday pop-up, and he never got rid of me.”
The Black Barn/Barn Days venture has a shimmer that’s hard to describe. Ron, the owner of the Barn with a degree in art education from Pratt, has been happily connecting lovers of well-crafted pieces with the things that they love since the mid-90s. He then found a hideaway in Accord and opened Downtown Antiques, which quickly became a go-to for interior designers. Something about Ron’s taste just resonates. When he acquired and renovated the Black Barn in High Falls, and it became the scene of the first iteration of the Field + Supply “modern makers craft fair” in 2014, The New York Times’ style magazine took notice.
Katherine, meanwhile, had helped establish Northern Grade, a well-loved, rustic-chic brand that strives to connect “conscious consumers”
“ We have local vendors popping up inside in the winter, and we welcome all and any who want to come in and create their own mini store with us for a day, a week, or a month. ”
to “the American Creative.” “I started off in retail design work as a retailer with Northern Grade as a pop-up market in 2010, while living in Minnesota,” she recalls. “I helped create markets with a high-end flea market feel.”
Northern Grade pop-up markets happened in 37 different US locations and overseas; there’s now a Northern Grade shop in Manhattan. But life was calling Katherine—who was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn Heights, and spent summers and weekends in the woods in Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania—back to the country. “I think coming upstate was the best decision for me and my children, and to pursue the business projects I wanted. I’m focusing on the Barn now, and other consulting projects in design and merchandising strategies. And we’re growing the Barn markets into a place for designers and brands to come in and have a pop-up shop, year-round.”
Katherine is loving the upstate life. “I love living here,” she says. “I love High Falls so much. The community-driven ideals in a small town are what I want my kids to grow up with and know. I go hiking in the woods at least once a week, I love how much there is to explore. I guess you could say I am a naturalist, and I like to be outdoors as much as possible. I like to keep things simple in my personal style. Bare necessities...basic supplies, but quality ones.”
Her instinct for quality—for clean lines and graceful curves and resonant objects—is evident on the Barn Days Instagram feed. Birdhouses, hammocks, stoneware, clothing, and furniture lure the eye and create a desire to experience them firsthand.
A key part of her dream is helping other creative souls to hone their own dreams. “My business, Barn Days, is a store, but I also work on design concepts and strategic partnerships for makers and artisans to grow and work with developers. If you want to build a store or market, I can try to help you do that the right way—but I love meeting customers and owning a shop, so the Barn will always be my first love.”
Customers are Katherine’s special joy. “I get to meet so many different people!” she says. “We have a variety of folks come in, lots of people just exploring and wandering through town. We have regulars, all sorts of folks with one common characteristic: they love to shop for quality and discover new and interesting things that really have human connection. Whether it is an antique or something new, you can see that a person took care and time to create our goods.”
As a broker of both items and ideas, she’s filling a vital role in the Hudson Valley maker economy. “I sell quality goods, promote makers and artisans, design retail concepts, and create markets for local folks to sell goods,” she says. “Ron has been doing the tents for years, and it’s always drawn a huge crowd. Together, we are growing and morphing and getting more and more cool folks to come be vendors here.”
Hudson Valley folk, not to mention their metropolitan neighbors, have always loved a good community flea market; at the Barn, the experience becomes an art form in itself, curated and exquisite, yet down-to-earth and welcoming.
“When Ron let me try out my ideas and products for a month, I got to see what we needed to do to make it work for the space and clientele. We had music and drinks; we made it more than just a store. We have local vendors popping up inside in the winter, and we welcome all and any who want to come in and create their own mini store with us for a day, a week, or a month. We want to help.”
“ I sell quality goods, promote makers and artisans, design retail concepts, and create markets for local folks to sell goods. ”
That spirit extends to each customer who enters the space, and beyond to the wider community. “I love meeting people and seeing how much every individual cares about what they are buying,” Katherine says. “It’s so interesting! I am also happy to see folks not wanting to waste a bag, or to add to the overspending problem we have as consumers. People want to buy, but they are thoughtful and conscientious about it. I love learning the things you learn about personality and life and beauty by seeing how people shop—it’s really about community and chatting and who you meet. I enjoy that part a lot.”
The Black Barn is retail for the wide-awake, the polar opposite of mass production and exploitation. Ron’s eye for fine, rustic items, and Katherine’s instinct for cutting-edge makers, are blending into a species of marketplace with the potential to thrive far into the future.
“Our plans for the year are to open up the Barn to more local makers and brands who want to showcase their products and business,” Katherine says. “We want to host pop-ups inside and out, and really engage vendors with the community. We want it to be the place folks come to grow their business, meet a friend, have a coffee, host an event, or do something to open up to the community. We are all about helping people and promoting folks we work
with. It’s so important, these days, to gather together.” The best way to keep up with the latest, says Katherine, is to follow @barndayshighfalls and @ronsharkey on Instagram. Looking for an especially fine rustic piece, an outlet for your own retail passion, or an outing for the afternoon? Treat yourself well, and keep in mind your standing invitation to the happenings at the Black Barn/Barn Days.
Black Barn/Barn Days
4-8 Bruceville Road,
High Falls 612-516-1169
@barndayshighfalls | @ronsharkey