Guinan family delays Garrison bar's last call
Barbara Livingston Nackman
1 February 2007
The Journal News (White Plains, NY)
GARRISON - It was unusual for Midge Willett, an 82-year-old retired teacher, to be in a bar downing a bottle of beer at 1 p.m.
But the Cold Spring resident who once taught first grade said she came to Guinan's, a bar and convenience store at the train station, to bid a final, sad farewell to a friendly outpost where she often bought newspapers and sometimes listened to Irish music.
After almost 48 years in business, the store was set for its last day yesterday - closing because of family illness. Instead, Guinan's rallied, and the family said this week that the cozy landmark along the Hudson would be open another year.
"I came to say goodbye. But now that it is staying it makes me happy. I felt it was worth a drink," she said, simulating a toast. With her black wool coat buttoned and her red scarf loosened, she caught a glimpse of the water and got warm from a fire in a stone fireplace.
Institutions in this river hamlet don't fade easily into the past.
Almost two weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, the Garrison post office was abruptly shut down when a local woman crashed into the building. The woman, 80, told Putnam County sheriff's deputies that she mistakenly put the vehicle in drive instead of reverse and plowed into the post office for ZIP code 10564 that has been there since 1964.
Window service is suspended for at least a month while repairs take place. Customers who need service and stamps must go to Cold Spring or Peekskill in the meantime.
Owners of the 417 boxes inside can, though, get their mail there by ringing a bell.
"It is nice to see postal workers," said Caroline Kasterine of Garrison, adding that the community has unique gathering spots that carry on despite obstacles. "We are a special place in many ways. I just heard the good news about Guinan's," said the media producer who, after getting her mail, planned to get a newspaper by the train station.
At Guinan's, its 81-year-old founder who has been battling complications from diabetes for years was holding court.
He greeted a larger than usual throng of customers - some who came to say goodbye and others who had heard of its reprieve.
"I knew it wouldn't be closed down, not when I have a breath in my body, my dear," said Jim Guinan, who came to America from Ireland after a stop in England in 1958 with his wife and four children, the youngest of whom was 15 months old.
He opened the store in 1959, handing out coffee and newspapers to morning commuters and chilled libations - beer only - in the evenings. And once a month on the Thursday after a full moon, there's an Irish songfest with live musicians. His two grown children living nearby had been running the place. But his son, John, is recovering from a brain tumor ,and his daughter, Margaret, a police officer, has a tight work schedule. Guinan's grandchildren often work in the bar and a cadre of friends and customers have volunteered to help. His daughter said she would find a way to keep it going.
Gwendolyn Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist, made the place famous beyond its local reach with her book, "Little Chapel on the River." Following the 9/11 attacks, she came to the hamlet and was warmed by the friendliness of the community at Guinan's. She became so attached to the place that, at one point, she tended bar and helped open the store in the mornings.
"Like so many people, it really cut to the bone," she said yesterday of its closing. "I understood the family and felt an incredible depth of sadness."
She, like others, felt relief at hearing that it was not Guinan's last call and that the patriarch would still live in an apartment at the back of the store.
Garrison newcomer Charlotte Rowe was thrilled, too, that her midday sandwich stop with her daughters, Anna, 4, and Chloe, 2, wouldn't be their last.
"This is a place they can be themselves," she said of her daughters, who gobbled cheese sandwiches and leaned against old-fashioned wooden cabinets.
"Everyone is so nice and welcoming," added the pregnant woman who's due in March. "We moved here this summer and I've been waiting to deliver to finally have a beer at the bar!"
Keep 'em cold, Mr. Guinan.
Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at email@example.com or 845-228-2272.