Her Newburgh Boutique Offers This Veteran A Second Career
Posted in Liberty Street Shops | Last Updated November 22, 2021
Susan Knapik a United States Army Veteran owns Oliver and Chatfield on Liberty Street in Newburgh, N.Y. Photo: John Leighton
Walk into Oliver & Chatfield in Newburgh’s historic East End and you’ll find yourself surrounded by stylish, functional, and environmentally conscious treats.
Funky and elegant at once, it’s a “boutique-style general store du jour”- a journey back to the roots of retail.
It’s also a glimpse of a fresh future where small-batch makers rule, constantly evolving and yet firmly rooted in the vision of its creator, an army veteran who wanted a second career.
A Former Engineer Officer
Susan Knapick, a U.S. Army veteran, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she space-planned, designed and rearranged her bedroom with “super-functional, yet homey” as the goal. She majored in English at Ohio State and then joined the service, spending four years in Hawaii as an engineer officer.
Resigning with the rank of Captain, Susan and her fellow-veteran husband Greg headed back to OSU for another round of higher education as ex-military.
Retired Veteran Pursues a Second Career in Design
This time, she studied interior design. And this time, she knew a few things about herself that she hadn’t realized at 18.
“I’ve wanted to own my own business for a very long time,” she says, “but it always seemed like something other people did, people who were cooler or more accomplished. It wasn’t until I was selected to be an Aide de Camp to an influential brigadier general in the army that I gained the confidence in myself to say, ‘Oh wait, I am those other people!’
From that point, the seed was planted in my head, and I just needed to find the right fit for myself.”
While still in school in Columbus, Susan opened The Wedding Assistant as head coordinator and designer.
“It was something I could do in the summer when I wasn’t in school, had minimal risk and overhead, but was still something I had to build from the ground up,” she says.
“It was also perfect because I’d recently completed my year as a general’s aide. I was probably the most detail-oriented wedding coordinator in town.”
Finding Community in the Hudson Valley
In 2015, when her husband was offered a position as a professor in the mechanical engineering department at West Point, the couple relocated to the Hudson Valley and discovered a new community — and soon, Susan found herself discovering a new niche, one that felt like the best fit yet.
“I’d thought I’d start an interior design business, but it never quite got off the ground, and now I understand why — something else was waiting.”
A retail shop, she realized, offered her the opportunity of combining her passion for making life beautiful with her commitment to sustainability education.
“I’ve always loved the idea of bringing back the classic general store,” she says.” ‘Du jour’ harkens back to back in the day when shops survived by responding to the current needs of customers and at the same helped them make new, good choices as consumers.
“I love showing people that sustainable products can be nice to look at and extremely useful. I help bring the sexy back to eco-friendly living if you will.”
The name Oliver & Chatfield was inspired by a vintage 1900s ad someone posted to Facebook for a Cornwall-on-Hudson retailer of “staple and fancy groceries, dry goods, gents’ furnishing goods, shoes, crockery, glassware, etc.” and “fruits and vegetables in season.”
“I’m all about businesses that sell men’s shoes, crockery, and fresh fruits and vegetables all in one place,” says Susan. “And I just love the word crockery.”
Liberty Street, Newburgh
After a brief shakedown cruise in Cornwall, she found herself beckoned to Liberty Street.
“When a spot opened up there in November of 2018, I absolutely had to jump on it,” she says. “I have to credit Amal from Cream Newburgh for helping me find the location.
I think she saw a vision of my shop fitting in perfectly on Liberty Street even before I did. My building owners completed the renovations, and the move was actually quite seamless.”
You won’t find fancy groceries or furnishings for gents here.
Organizational items, ethically sourced
Instead, you will find organizational items, housewares, artwork, snarky cards, funny prints, hand-thrown ceramics, home decor, artisanal local jams and honeys, and one-of-a-kind vintage and “found” items, all of it meeting the Olver & Chatfield standards: local, ethically sourced, handcrafted, small-batch, made from recycled or reclaimed materials and/or designed for years of use.
Many of Oliver & Chatfield’s makers are independent artists and women entrepreneurs.
“I’m constantly scouring Instagram and Etsy, going to small maker shows, flea markets and thrift stores,” says Susan.
“Products must have great design to make their way onto our shelves. I decided early on to ensure that everything I chose fit within my brand; along with being sustainable and handmade, that means things that make me laugh and are maybe even a touch on the irreverent side. Life is short; I don’t want to take it too seriously!”
Beautiful items from Susan Knapik’s shop: Oliver and Chatfield on Liberty Street in Newburgh, N.Y. Photo: John Leighton
That lighthearted approach helps keep Susan energized to cheerfully subvert the dominant paradigm of mass-market consumerism.
“I’ve been concerned about sustainability since design school,” she says, “and it has become my priority—maybe even my duty as someone who is very familiar with product materials and their construction— to educate others about our destructive consumer habits and help shift our focus from fast, cheap, and ultra convenient to thoughtfully produced, durable, and sustainable.
“My most satisfying moments come when people tell me they’ve never used an eco-friendly product before and then leave the shop with beeswax wrap, glass straw, and mesh bags from our Everyday Earth Friendly collection and an open mind.
“They come back and tell me they’ve been cutting down on their single-use plastics, inspiring others to take baby steps in that direction.
“Those are the people I run my business for. We don’t need one person doing zero waste perfectly, we need a million doing it imperfectly. And watching that light bulb go on for someone, actually witnessing them changing their actions in an Earth-positive direction –. I’m thrilled to be a part of a change in people’s mindset, even at the most micro level.”
The Liberty Street neighborhood vibe, she says, is enough to inspire anyone to want to help protect the planet. “Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming. My neighbors are excited and jazzed that there is positive change moving south on Liberty Street.
Daily, I have neighbors walking by and stopping just to say hello or wish me luck. They’ve been amazing. The rich culture and diversity of Newburgh remind me of my former hometown, Columbus, where the huge university created a fantastic melting pot of interesting people.”
After work, she’s fond of working out, running and walking with Greg and their rescue dog, Delta Burke I Do Declare; visiting with the kids the couple recently fostered for a year, chillaxing with nature on her back patio or partaking of the charms of the Liberty Street Bistro.
Like a general store of old, where neighbors could get a blade sharpened or share the latest chat, she hopes to keep expanding the ways in which Oliver & Chatfield is of service to the community.
“We’ve partnered with TerraCycle to be a drop-off point for hard to recycle items like disposable razors, so I hope to be able to expand those offerings soon,” Susan says.
”I’d also love to have Repair Cafe events and other events where the community can interact and also get their needs met. Useful fun.”
You can ogle Oliver & Chatfield’s wares on Instagram, see the latest on Facebook and even shop online, but to get the most from your experience, stop in and immerse yourself.
The shop is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:30-5, Saturday from 11 till 5 and Sunday from 11-3.