ERHONKSON, N.Y. - It was a tiny advertisement, 3 inches by 3 inches, buried on the bottom of the back page of The Blue Stone Press, a twice-monthly newspaper that serves this economically depressed Catskills town.
But the ad, announcing the availability of some long-boarded-up old storefronts on withered-up Main Street, was not the kind that usually shows up in the local paper, soberly promoting vinyl siding and auto-body repair. In tiny type, this one sounded like a little manifesto, written by a postmodern comic. It defiantly described Kerhonkson as a "real town - not like some of the other quaint towns around these parts." Anyone wanting to open a restaurant in one of the storefronts should leave the tofu behind, it warned. "And if you want to open a coffee shop," it continued, "don't make us learn new words for small, medium and large is all we're saying."
"Jews, Blacks, Italians (and all others) Welcome," it ended, and then, as if it had not been provocative enough, added, "No Artists or Canadians."
After the ad ran in late October , the angry calls immediately began coming into the offices of The Blue Stone Press. The company that placed the ad called itself Kerhonkson General, but it was really placed by Harris Silver, the president of a young New York City advertising agency called Think Tank 3, which has created sleek campaigns for products like Georgi Vodka and several environmentally friendly causes.
Mr. Silver, 39, who has owned a weekend house in Kerhonkson for years, got together with some friends recently and bought the three empty stores and some vacant apartments, with dreams of helping to revive the faded town, which has a population of about 1,700 and is probably best known as the onetime home of Clayton Bates, a k a Peg Leg Bates, the one-legged tap dancer.
The problem for the rejuvenators was getting attention for their cause. The answer, they concluded, was with the sharp-edged tools of marketing today: sarcasm and biting humor, with a hint of a point, but only enough to keep people guessing at the advertiser's real motives.
In an interview, Mr. Silver said he was partly serious about not wanting to see the town, in Ulster County about two hours from New York, become gentrified in a way that he feels many other upstate towns like New Paltz, Kingston and Beacon (not to mention many New York City neighborhoods) have been, in which artists, musicians and other creative types seem to be followed inexorably by antiques stores, overpriced shops, soaring real estate prices and then, of course, a Starbucks. In fact, the ad was largely a swipe at New Paltz, 19 miles away, with its tofu-loving restaurants, hordes of artists, and, now, a Starbucks on Main Street.
"We thought we don't really need somebody here who's just going to be putting up paintings on the wall," Mr. Silver said. "We need real businesses. We need people who are going to come here and sell socks and underwear." He added that his intention was to "set this place apart and try to let people know it has its own identity."
But he added that mostly, the ad - which also took oblique swipes at wine bars and expensive clothiers - was designed simply to get a rise out of people and to draw attention to itself. And if an art gallery wanted to rent a storefront, he would still probably sign a lease in a New York second.
"Obviously, we're not anti-artist or anti-Canadian," he said emphatically, adding, "We just threw in the Canadian thing because we thought it was funny." (Mr. Silver has repeated his "No Artists or Canadians" joke in big posters he has taped to the windows of his storefronts.)
But many longtime residents of Kerhonkson didn't find anything funny about the ad, which touched many of the raw nerves of economic-revival efforts upstate, seeming to pit art against commerce, weekenders against locals and urban sensibilities against rural ones. The ad provoked such anger (one caller declared it anti-Semitic, despite the fact that it specifically welcomes Jews) that the newspaper has declined to run it again, at least without some wording changes.
David O'Halloran, a longtime resident and owner of the Pine Grove Dude Ranch - a family vacation resort that is one of the area's biggest employers - said "the last thing we need to do is pour gasoline" on the kinds of tensions that constantly arise about how to revive the upstate towns and who gets to decide.
Mr. Silver is "the wrong person speaking for the people who've lived here for a long time," he said, and added that, as far as he was concerned, artists and artisans were "the growth industry in our community."
"Look at Kingston," he said. "Kingston is alive again because of the artistic growth there."
Mr. O'Halloran was not the only one angry. Mr. Silver - who, probably just to be more provocative, says he likes to think of himself the unelected mayor of Kerhonkson - was bombarded with angry e-mail messages, including one from a man who identified himself only as a manual laborer and 20-year Kerhonkson resident.
"Do your brothers-in-flannel up here who read these ads realize that your thinly veiled 'Think Tank' is really a N.Y.C.-based ad agency with a slick and pseudo-intellectual Web site peddling freshman philosophy about, among other things, art?" the e-mailer wrote. "Get real, you self-important fakes. I'd be willing to bet you drink fancy coffee drinks every day. In short, you have no authority to speak as one of us, and no business pretending to be from the other side of the tracks."
But Mr. Silver has found some local defenders, like Irene Rocha, a former Brooklynite who owns property near Mr. Silver's and thinks someone has to fight the resistance to change in the community. "I think a lot of people are just afraid of the New York City mindset creeping in here," she said. John Whiteman, a New York State crop adviser who has lived in the area since 1986, sees Mr. Silver as an entrepreneur willing to take risks that locals are not taking for the sake of the town.
"If people take offense to it," he said of the ad, "well, I think they need to find something in their lives to take up some more of their time."
He added, cheerfully: "I was up in Canada this weekend, and I didn't see any major protests going on up there about this."
In the end, the moral of the story seems to be that provocative, ironic, New York-style advertising is quite effective, even on the back page of a small, rural paper: Mr. Silver said that two of the storefronts have been rented and there is interest in the third, keeping alive his hope of a brave new Kerhonkson.
"This might be the hardest working small-space ad in all of advertising," he said. "In my wildest dreams I never expected anything like this."
One of the people interested in renting a storefront is the editor of the local newspaper, Chris Hewitt, who also runs a letterpress business and needs a home for it. But in an e-mail message he sent to Mr. Silver, even he was not quite sure whether he was eligible to participate in the potential rejuvenation of his hometown.
"I have to tell you, as a Kerhonkson resident, beer lover, coffee drinker, artist, Canadian, Italian, tofu eater and hard worker," he wrote, "I'm a little confused about whether I qualify or not."
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