By WILLIAM SHANNON
When I walked into the Savoia Monday afternoon, Jacob Walthour was sitting at the end of the bar, watching an episode of Gunsmoke on TV. He welcomed me to sit down and I soon started asking him questions. When his wife, Barbara, with whom he runs the Savoia, came in, the interview shifted to her and Mr. Walthour went off to run some errands for the bar. Toward the very end of the interview, there’s an appearance in the interview by Rick Nardone, regular patron of the Savoia. The following is a transcribed version of Monday’s talk.
WS: When were you born?
Jacob Walthour: 1941.
WS: Where did you grow up?
JW: I was born in Waynesboro, Georgia. But I came here when I was sixteen years old. Came here 1957. Been here ever since.
My mother was here, so I followed her. But I never left after she passed. I still stayed around here. I met my wife and I got married and had my kids, you know, so it was too late to leave then. Now I got my grandkids, so I sure ain’t going to leave.
WS: Where did you live in Hudson when you came here in ’57?
JW: Well, I’ll tell you what, when I first got married I lived right next door. 208. Yeah, upstairs. But, when I first came here I lived at 215 Columbia. The first house I bought was at 215 State.
WS: How has this area changed since then?
JW: Well, things have changed a lot. I don’t know. I think things changed a lot in a lot of different ways. Some things changed for better and some things changed for worse. But, I love this town because it was good to me. I got a good job and I worked hard and I raised my kids good. And that’s what satisfies me. So, I’m very happy with the way people have treated me here. I had problems later on, but everybody has problems sometimes—can’t help it. But, I’m kind of proud of the way the town treated me—it treated me good.
WS: What are some of the changes you didn’t like?
JW: Well, generations of people change. I don’t like the drug situation. I don’t like that, no. That seems to have got worse since I’ve been here. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.
WS: What are some of the changes that you like?
JW: Well, the way they fixed up the town, stuff like that. I thought they did a nice job with that. I don’t approve of all of it, but they fixed the town up pretty good. It’s a lot different from what it used to be. They fixed it up a lot and I love that part. Yup.
Like I said, some things you’re not satisfied at, but, you can’t be satisfied at everything.
WS: What did you do for a living?
JW: I worked in the cement plants. Atlas. I worked at both of them. I worked at Atlas and I worked at the one across the river. So, I worked at cement plants in total twenty-two years. And I worked in textile eleven years. Lorobrook. Made felt and stuff like that, automotive stuff.
WS: Lorobrook—actually my dad worked there briefly.
JW: It used to be up here on State Street near Greenport.
WS: Where the Register-Star is now, right?
JW: Yup. Right there. Yup.
WS: Can you describe what work inside the Atlas cement plant was like?
JW: Well, it wasn’t an easy place to work—it was tough. But the money was great, so, at that time it was a good place to work. And that was a good change. I was at Lorobrook, almost ten, eleven years. So, I decided to leave Lorobrook and go to Atlas. I got a good job at Atlas and I made good money. Then, when Atlas closed, I applied for a job across the river and I got it.
WS: What was an average day like working in the cement plants?
JW: Well, it was no different than any place else. When the day ends you’re glad. But, it wasn’t that bad. I thought it went very well. Like I was sayin’, it was a good place to make money at. And that was the idea. And the insurance and stuff was good, so I benefitted by being there. And raising my kids. One thing, I was able to give my kids a good education. Yup. All of them went to college and got degrees.
WS: And, so how many years did you work at Atlas?
JW: Nine years or so. (You can hear more about Mr. Walthour’s experience in the cement plants in the PBS documentary about Hudson, Two Square Miles, which can be viewed on YouTube.)
WS: What would you say have been your greatest struggles?
JW: Well, greatest struggle would be getting a job and getting going. Once I got a job in textiles, things started picking up for me. When I went to Atlas things got better. Yeah. So, that was the struggle. The struggle was getting going.
We had three kids come along and I worked nights, she worked days, so we didn’t have to have a babysitter.
We were married in ’62.
WS: What advice would you give to a teenager today?
JW: Well, best advice I can give is, stick to life and try to make it, you know?
Barbara Walthour: The advice that I would give to young people today is, don’t let a door close behind you that you can’t open.
Our young people have so strayed the wrong way. And, you know, being at business in Hudson for thirty-six years hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot of prejudice in Hudson. Still is, unfortunately. And, you know, we came up in a time where you knew. Unfortunately, the kids are coming up in a time where they don’t know. They take people at face value and it’s not a good thing. It’s okay to trust people, but I found that, being in business for so long, these people—there’s so much two-face going on in the city of Hudson.
I belong to this group, it’s called Belo 3rd. And it’s supposed to be an organization that helps each other in the community. We don’t find that. I mean, I go to the restaurants, I order food from them, I go to the other shops—I’m sorry, art I don’t buy. Okay, but other things, the stores, the restaurants I do support. We don’t get the same. The only time you might get these people is when you have a meeting and they come in, we put out a few refreshments, they have a casual drink and then they leave. And that’s it for another year or whatever.
Those are some of the hardships that we found in the city. People being supportive—we have some. I mean, you have some customers who are supportive, but you have others, not only white, also black—so, not only saying it’s prejudice, it’s prejudice on both sides. Those are some of the hardships that we’ve gone through. Some that we continue to go through. Until we close the doors, it’ll be something we will continue to have to deal with.
WS: Did you run the Savoia when it was on the other side of the street?
BW: Yes, we did.
WS: What was the story with that, how come—
BW: We sold that building. We thought we were going to retire. Unfortunately, we didn’t retire. My son had did this building and it was called the Jubilee. And it was a restaurant. Unfortunately, the people he had working for him couldn’t be trusted, so he closed the restaurant down. And then he rented it out to some guy from Chatham. And he wasn’t getting paid there, so he decided to close that one down.
So, then we decided to come out of retirement because of medical and insurance. You pay this high health insurance, but it doesn’t cover a lot. So you look up and what you thought you had to retire with, you no longer have that. Because you keep taking, taking, taking. You look up and that’s going to be gone and you’re still fighting medical bills and insurance. And that’s what happened with us. What we thought we could retire with for the rest of our life—maybe if we had passed away three or four years ago we’d have been fine. But unfortunately—I mean fortunately—that didn’t happen. (laughs) So, that’s where we are with that.
It’s on the market for sale now. It’s on the market for sale. My husband has health issues as you can see. And the kids don’t want us going through this. And then there were a few incidents in Hudson that cost us quite a bit in legal fees and fines. And you know, if you have to pay out money for something you’ve done, it’s one thing, but when you have to pay out money for things that other people have done, it’s something different. And, unfortunately, people don’t see it that way. What they would say was, you know Miss B, we didn’t fight inside your establishment. No, but you fought across the street or down the street or around the corner. And, unfortunately, the city, being the way it is, always want to point it at us.
So, it’s not going to be a good thing to see who gets pointed at when we leave, but somebody else will pick up that same thing that we had.
And, like I said, being in business in the city, being a black business—black-owned, operated business—for so many years, it’s been good. It’s been a good thing.
We were blessed, we had three beautiful children and they all turned out well. That was a blessing. I think now it’s just time to—I’m gonna miss the people. Honestly and truly, we will miss the people, because I’m a people person. I will find something else to do in the community where I’m still involved with people. But, the stress and all that is just getting to be too much.
JW: Like I told him, there’s some good things and some bad things.
BW: Oh yeah. We’ve had a lot, a lot of great times. A lot of good friends. So many people that passed through here and when they come back again, it might be five or ten years—they say, wow, I’m glad you’re still here.
We have a customer, when he saw on Facebook that we were selling, he actually came down and he cried. He says, now I have to leave Hudson—I can’t stay here if you’re not going to be here. Can’tcha find someone to pass it on to?
They’re all well-off and they don’t need it. I mean, they live comfortable and they don’t want the headache they saw us go through.
WS: Did you grow up in Hudson?
BW: I grew up in Catskill. I was born and raised in Catskill and moved to Hudson fifty-two years ago when I got married.
WS: How have Catskill and Hudson and this entire area changed since when you were a kid?
BW: Hudson and Catskill have always had that rivalry. But it’s not as bad now as it was back in the day.
The thing about it is, both of them are infested with drugs at this time. Hudson used to be, but Catskill, if it was, you didn’t know. If it was, you didn’t know. Catskill was quiet and laid back. Hudson was always more open. Of course it’s a city and that’s a village, so that’s going to make a difference. In Catskill, everybody was family. Everybody knew everybody. We were all one big family. And Hudson was close-knit too. It was very close-knit.
I think when I came to Hudson, they had like thirty-something bars on Warren Street, if not more. And, we were laughing about this the other day—when you walked the street, they didn’t know if you were drunk, because you came out of one, crossed the street and went into the next one and they couldn’t tell if you were drunk or not because all the bars were zigzagged.
Back in the day, it was a good business. And, now, I think the restaurant and bar business—it’s okay—but I think what’s going on now, I think it’s getting to be too much. Because I don’t care how we look at it, there’s only one pie. And that pie only has so many slices. And, when it gets to the point where you’re getting slivers, somebody gets hurt. And, that’s the sad part about it.
WS: Are you worried what this building will become after you sell it?
BW: Well, the building belongs to my son. People are saying to me, don’t go, don’t go—we need you here. So, what it becomes, I can’t say. I have no choice—whoever he sells it to, whatever they turn it into, that’s up to them. But it’s a great spot. Whoever moves in here I just wish them the best of luck. Because we’ve been blessed with it, he was blessed with it. And, I just hate that he’s selling it, because it ends the era of us in Hudson the way I see it. For the years that we’ve been here and the accomplishment that we’ve made in Hudson. Being a minority—as far as I know, we’re the only minority that’s come into the city and held a business for so many years.
And if it wasn’t for my husband’s health, I don’t think my son would sell the building. You know, he knows it’s the only way his dad is going to slow down. Even though he can’t—he enjoys getting up in the morning; it gives him something to do. He comes down. He sits; he’ll serve a couple of guys if they come in. But they’re usually the regulars that come in. So, he enjoys doing that. It gives him something to do. So, I’m also afraid of what this might do, you know, to him as far as his health going down. And what we can do in order to maintain his health the way it is now. So, that’s an issue. You’ll probably see him sitting across the street in the truck at eight o’clock in the morning because he does that. And some mornings I wake up and I look for him and he’s gone. He’s here, watering the plants or putting on toilet tissue, little things that he can do. Because he can’t do the big things anymore. For years he ran it by himself.
WS: What would you say you’re greatest struggles have been?
BW: I think my greatest struggle was raising a family without my mom—without both of my parents. ’Cause my mom died when I was eighteen. Okay. Seven years later my dad was gone. So, my biggest struggle was raising a family without my parents. But I had brothers and sisters that were there, that were very, very supportive. So, I think losing our mom at a young age—and my baby sister was ten—and in June my two youngest siblings graduated and the following year in March my dad was gone. So, that has been my biggest struggle.
But, I can always remember my mom would always say, I don’t care what you do in life, make it honest. And, I’ve always told that to my kids. If you’ve got to go out and shovel it, don’t ever let anybody tell me you was a bad shoveler. You know what I’m saying? I don’t care what you do, just be honest in what you do.
And the thing that sticks with me, I see a lot of young boys now, and I’ll talk to them and I’ll say to them, remember this, never let a door close behind you that you can’t open.
That’s something that I always like to tell the young people. Think twice before you do anything.
But that was my biggest struggle, was to raise my kids without my parents. Yup.
Hudson has been good. Coming up, did I think I would ever live in Hudson? Oh, no. That was the worst place you ever wanted to be when I was coming up. But, I got married—and we always lived in good neighborhoods. Matter of fact, we lived right on State Street and the high-rise was right there. And that was a good neighborhood. My neighbors and I, we would sit outside till one-thirty, two o’clock in the morning. Never any problems. It was quiet. Like I said, it was a good neighborhood. Eventually, that neighborhood changed a little. But, it’s getting back to being quiet again. I mean, there’s a few things that can happen, that can be changed, but it’s getting back to being a very quiet neighborhood again. Different people are buying the properties there and moving in.
Hudson has really, really changed.
WS: Did you ever drink at the Tainted Lady Lounge, when this was the Tainted Lady Lounge?
BW: I don’t drink. I don’t drink and my husband doesn’t drink either. He tried at one point to drink, but he could never drink. I’ve been in the Tainted Lady Lounge, I’ve been there. But, I would have maybe a Sprite or something of that nature. I can’t drink. I don’t drink. Alcohol and I never agreed. I used to try. I’m not going to say I didn’t try as a young adult. But, the way I felt the next day just wasn’t worth it.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that, when you’re in this kind of business, you don’t need to drink. Because, number one, you’re going to drink up your profit and, number two, somebody needs to keep a clear head in this business. And, I’ve had to remind people, don’t forget I don’t drink. They’ll say, Miss B—’cause they call me Miss B—they’ll say, you know Miss B… No, no no. Don’t forget I don’t drink. So, what I’m telling you I saw or what you did is what happened. And that’s because, like I said, in this business you have to keep a clear head.
WS: I’m sure you’ve seen the types of businesses that are on Warren Street change a lot over the decades.
BW: Oh yeah. Everything before used to be mom-and-pop businesses. Everybody was local. They were families. And that’s how it used to be. When we were upstreet we used to call Savoia the black Cheers. You know, because everybody knows your name. And that’s what it was, it was one big family.
So, yeah, they’ve changed for the best. They’ve changed for the best. Even though I would like to see some of us locals still on Warren Street. But, unfortunately, I don’t feel that the people that are coming into this city want to be involved with locals. That’s how I see it. I’m not saying that’s true, but that’s how I see it.
I think they actually want Hudson to be another Hamptons. But there’s so, so much to be done to get to that level. And I’m just hoping they can hold on to what they have going. I mean, you can come to Hudson, shop, and go have a nice meal—but you need more than that. There’s no theaters. There’s nothing for the kids to do. I spoke to the mayor about that the other day. You know, you need to do a few changes in the city of Hudson. And parking is terrible. Parking is terrible. And I don’t see any place in the area, you know, where they could put parking. When people come into town—even if you have to pay to park—you need to be able to park.
And we have that problem—no parking. You can go all the way down to Basilica, but who wants to walk all the way back up. You know, and there’s no bus or trolley or anything going. Back in the day I remember the trolley when they had it in Hudson.
WS: Yeah, that was great—I wish they’d bring the trolley back.
BW: Yeah, see there’s little things that they used to have that they need to think about redoing. Even though everything now costs a fortune and it takes a while before it gets done.
But, I think, eventually, those little things’ll come back.
We used to have a ferry years ago that went from Hudson to Catskill. Now they still have that one that goes to Athens. I think they have to have one going to Catskill. And I honestly and truly think that’ll make a difference. Yeah.
They need to do a bicycle trail. These are the kinds of things they need to work on. And I spoke to the mayor about these things the other day and he said, yeah, never thought about that, but it’s something we really need to work on. Because you see people riding their bicycles. I don’t feel they’re safe. Somehow, they need to—I don’t know if it’s make the street narrower, or something of that nature, but so when these people are riding their bikes, they have a bike route that they can ride on.
WS: That’s all the questions I have, but is there anything else you’d like to add?
BW: I just think that—I know I’m going to miss the people. I’m going to miss the community. Really going to miss the community. Because the thing about it is, we have no place where we can go—like we do small weddings and we do birthday parties—you know where our people can come and be comfortable and do these things without having to pay a fortune to do it. You know, so that’s my thing—where are my people going? What are they going to do? But, someplace, somehow. And my son says, Mom, are you going to do another venture? I said, No, I’m not. No, I’m not going to do another venture. I’m just going to just take things slow. A lot, lot of years this has been.
I’ve been blessed to be here, to be seventy-two and still have my children and to see their children grow up. No great-grands. But, it’s still a blessing to be able to be here to spend time with them. Both of us. Because at sixty-five, his mom was gone. And his dad died in his forties. We both raised our children without grandparents.
When the two of us got married we had fourteen dollars—that was it. Fourteen dollars between the two of us. Yeah. And, it’s been a struggle. But, we’ve managed. Like he said, sometimes with our jobs, he worked nights, I worked days. And that was the only way to be able to raise a family. And I feel we did a great job with them.
WS: I forgot to ask, can you tell me a bit about your kids?
BW: My daughter, her name is Nona and she went back to school at age forty-three to become an RN. Before that she worked in Social Service for years. And she left there and that’s when she decided to go back to school to be an RN. My one brother, one year for Halloween, she had on this nurse’s outfit and my brother said to her, you are such a beautiful nurse—you need to be a nurse. So, when she went back to school, she would always say, Uncle Steve told me that I should be a nurse. She became an RN.
And my son, Jake, he’s an investment broker. Okay. And Nona has the one child, that’s Kenny and he’s twenty-two. Jake has four. They’re twenty, nineteen, sixteen and eight. Those are his four. His wife is a judge in Brooklyn. Her name is Shawndya. And, if you look her up, her name is Shawndya Simpson. She’s a judge in Brooklyn. Matter of fact, she was just in the paper not that long ago because, these people had been in prison for all these years, and she overturned that. So, if you look that up, that’s what you’ll find on her.
And, Marcus, he’s a State Trooper Investigator. That’s my baby boy. And he has one child. And he has a wife and she’s a nurse.
WS: Well, thank you very much—do you have any last, parting thoughts?
BW: I’m just going to miss the people. When they come home, they have their class reunions and it’s like all of my kids are getting together. Because I’ve seen all these kids grow up with my kids. So, it’s like one big, happy family. And, we’re going to miss that. And, probably the hustle and bustle.
And, you know what I’m going to miss the most? Having to argue with the city officials. I think I’m going to miss that the most. I’ll have to find something to do to keep them on their toes. Of course, we don’t always agree with city officials. And when I look at some of the ones that we have in office. I don’t know if they’re voted in because they’re friends with people or what it is, but you look for something different. And all these years—it’s only been maybe the last year that I’ve had to be kind of involved with the city officials in any kind of way. Because we basically stay to ourselves. We do our business, go home and that’s basically what we do.
But, at this point, they do have a good mayor—I think, anyway. Everybody has a right to their opinion.
But I think (Jake, Sr.) is going to miss getting up in the morning and coming down.
We’ll still see the city people and do what we need to do.
So, at this point, once we leave, Melino’s will be the only—
Patron Rick Nardone: Stop reminding me! And they’re not really that inexpensive for being local.
BW: Okay, Rick.
Rick the patron: I mean, it costs you five dollars to get a pint of beer over there now. That’s where I gotta draw the line.
BW: But, that’s going to be the only local establishment left, that I think—am I right, Rick?
Rick: Well, as far as I know, everybody else is gone.
BW: Everybody else is gone.