08/18/2009 (6:21 pm)
He’s a barber. He’s a contractor. He’s a photographer. He’s the founder, with his wife, Cathy, of the Rosendale Pickle Festival. He is, most will agree, the unofficial mayor of Rosendale. Meet Bill Brooks, proprietor on Main Street since 1968, and resident of Rosendale since 1981.
Chances are, if you’ve been in Rosendale for an hour or two two, you’ve already met him. You can find Bill four mornings a week at what most people refer to as “Bill Brooks’ Shop,” which is part barber shop, part general store, part historical society and curiosity shop.
There, he cuts hair from 9 – 12:30, something he’s been doing since 1963, after studying at barber school in Schenectady. “The week after I got my certificate, the Beatles landed in America, and suddenly everyone was growing their hair,” he recalls. “But I didn’t let that stop me.” He’s still charging 1963 prices – just $11 for a haircut.
When he’s not busy barbering, he’ll sell you whatever he’s got – candy, key chains, books of old pictures from the town’s past, grooming products, Rosendale Cement bags and tee shirts, and of course, shirts from the annual Rosendale International Pickle Festival, all haphazardly displayed. What can’t you get at Bill Brooks’ Shop?
Bill and Cathy founded the pickle festival by accident. A Japanese couple they were friendly with invited dignitaries from their homeland to visit Rosendale. One their way to visit Japan, they asked the Brookses to put together a reception for the dignitaries for when they returned. “As they were leaving for the plane to Tokyo, they said to us, ‘Oh, by the way – they like pickles,'” he remembers. “I had no idea what they would be expecting. So I put together a party with pickles. And 1,000 people showed up. That was the first pickle festival.”
Now the event draws 6,000 to 7,000 attendees a year, and vendors of all manner of fermented cucumbers and other veggies. They run the gamut from simple garlic dills, to foodie favorite brands like Rick’s Picks.
I asked Bill why he thought Rosendale has never completely taken off. He blamed it partly on parking issues. “It was better when we had parking on both sides of Main Street,” he said. “When they took the parking off the west-bound side, you could see people driving through who wanted to stop, but they’d look around and not know where to park.”
The key to success here? “Diversify,” he suggests. “You have to be able to have a few things going so that if one stops working, you’ve got something to fall back on. If it’s a slow day cutting hair, I’ll just go out and fix somebody’s roof.”
And when things are really slow, he’ll take a vacation. Bill and Cathy – and his camera – have traveled extensively. “I’ve traveled all over the world,” he says. “But I keep coming back to Rosendale.”
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[…] knows a thing or two about that. Before moving to the apartment building behind Bill Brooks’ shop in 2007, he lived for many years in a large junior-four in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. […]