The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory

By Anna Kaigle, Geography, Class of 2025.

The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (PUF) is a historic factory building located at 8 North Cherry Street, just off Main Street. Since its construction in 1874, the building has undergone many changes in ownership and use of the space. Starting as the Live Oak Leather Manufactury, it became the Dutchess Manufacturing Company and William Paulding’s Cooperage. In 1904, the building became home to the Queen Undermuslin Company, from which the current name stems.

By 1906, the company had 174 employees and produced over 60,000 garments annually. The company’s success and renown stemmed mainly from its headquarters in New York City’s garment district, which enabled products produced in Poughkeepsie to be sold throughout the nation and even internationally. Another point of admiration was the company’s working conditions and general practices. These included meticulously kept grounds, a large flower bed, and tennis courts for employee use.

The undergarment company closed in the 1920s, and the last viable business to occupy the building was a paper mill. What happened to the building during the urban renewal efforts of the 1960s and 1970s remains to be seen. Still, we know the building was abandoned by 1980 and stayed that way for many years. In 1982, it was deemed worthy of saving and, therefore, put on the National Register of Historic Places, but it would still be many years before any serious renovations occurred.

A view of the Underwear Factory on 8 North Cherry Street, Poughkeepsie (Photograph by Hudson Valley Post).

Hudson River Housing eventually acquired the building in 2015. It began a $7 million renovation, implementing kitchen space and room for a coffee shop on the first floor, printmaking and artist studios on the second floor, and office space and apartments on the third floor. The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, the “community hub” and multi-use space we know today, opened in the spring of 2017.  

When planning to renovate the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (PUF), Hudson River Housing surveyed the community, which specified the desire for food, art, and housing. And that is precisely what PUF does so well. The kitchens are located on the first floor and basement, which serve as shared, rentable spaces for businesses and entrepreneurs to use while they begin to test their products.

Deb Belding currently supervises the building’s startup and operations of social enterprises and community events. According to Deb, there are currently 35 businesses using commercial kitchens at the PUF, most of which are women-owned. She raved about the success these commercial kitchens have brought and was especially proud of how they helped move 13 businesses into their own locations since the PUF opened in 2017. One such success story she told was of Hudson and Packard, which started a pop-up in the PUF selling Detroit-style pizza on Monday nights and, within six months, had moved into their own location on Academy Street.

Inside the PUF’s coffee house (Photograph by Restaurant Guru).

For the past couple of years, Little Loaf Bakery has been doing a pop-up in the PUF, selling delicious vegan pastries and various coffee and tea. Before Little Loaf, the pop-up was North River Roasters, a coffee brewing company that found a lot of success in the PUF, but eventually found a different location to operate out of. Although there have been many success stories of businesses starting in the PUF and eventually moving into their own space, there are also successful businesses that operate out of the PUF but don’t necessarily need their own space, so they do not see themselves moving out of the PUF anytime soon.

All businesses looking to use the shared commercial kitchens need to go through Deb, but the space is in such high demand that there are currently 45 businesses on the waiting list. These businesses come from a wide area because the PUF is the only shared commercial kitchen in the region. Deb and Jayme Schultz, who focuses on operations of the incubator kitchen, agree that more spaces like this are needed in the area.

The incubator kitchens have greatly impacted you, but you can only go so far with a good cookie recipe. The success of your cookies also depends on your know-how in the business world, and this is often the make or break of many small start-ups (whether they sell cookies or something else). However, the PUF keeps these folks from fending for themselves since there is always a variety of workshops happening here, as evidenced by the Instagram page. Before the pandemic, the Food and Beverage Institute included six different business startups in the workshop series. Entrepreneurs would hear from speakers in different specialties. At the end of the course, each business received $25,000 to spend on something for starting their own operations. There have been many other events, well received by the community, held in the “community hub” space on the first floor, where Little Loaf operates out of for part of the week.          

The PUF’s print studio (Photograph by Upstate Art weekend).

Anita Kiewra manages operations of the print studio and has been working for Hudson River Housing since acquiring the building. She strongly values the connection and community that art can foster. The printmaking studio is located on the second floor of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. The shared studio has a range of machinery, including screen printing materials, a heat press, a 3D printer, block printing presses, and more. For Poughkeepsie residents of the local 12601 zip code, membership in the printmaking studio costs just $20 a year, but you need to know how to use the equipment to join. The PUF will host workshops to get people acquainted with the materials so that they may become members. A job training program operated out of this space, run by Anita, and taught valuable skills in the workforce and connected community members with jobs in the area.

In addition to the communal studio space, there are about six individual studios for rent that are currently all occupied, some by PUF residents, or artists who have been involved with the PUF for a while. These artists will occasionally have open studio days, and their art is displayed on the walls of the space. They comprise a mix of sculptors, painters, printmakers, and more. As for the communal studio space, a mix of people use the equipment. Some are making art to sell and are full-time artists, some are residents and/or PUF and Hudson River Housing employees, and some are business owners and entrepreneurs making products for their businesses. For example, Anita mentioned one person who owns a karate studio and has come into the studio to print designs on the karate uniforms.         

On the third floor there is conference space, in addition to part of The Art Effect, where they hold after-school programming for high school students looking to learn film production skills. Other programs are also available, but the primary importance is that kids get the chance to learn tangible skills and be funneled directly into jobs in the area. Students are also given a stipend as an incentive for finishing the program and compensation for the time spent. The Art Effect will eventually fully move into the Trolley Barn, a nearby building undergoing renovation. Anita says this will free up room for the art studio space and programming from the second to the third floors.

The Art Effect space on the third floor of the PUF (Photograph by author)

As for housing in the PUF, there are 5 apartments on each floor, some one-bedroom, and some studio apartments. Eleven of the fifteen are considered affordable housing and operate on a sliding scale, meaning the rent does not exceed 30% of the resident’s income. Anita said that most of the long-term residents are those that are paying full market value, and the residents that come and go are usually in the affordable apartments, but the reasons why vary. Sometimes, Hudson River Housing has to evict people if they do not pay their rent for multiple months, and sometimes, people pass away. Nonetheless, the PUF has given housing to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access, as some formerly homeless people live in the building.

A lot is happening at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory: as one of the firstmixed-use community buildings in the area, it has found much success. The incubator kitchen helps raise businesses that eventually branch out and serve the larger community. The communal art studio is a more accessible entry point into the art world, and The Art Effect above helps prepare people for jobs before they have left high school. The various programs in place at the PUF are funded by a mix of grants and donors, in addition to the money from members using the kitchen and print studio spaces, which are reasonably priced. Visiting the PUF and speaking with some of the people who make it run, I realized that giving and receiving is a wonderful balance. Learning about all that is happening here makes it feel natural to combine art, food, and housing, but those things must be combined in a way that is accessible and inclusive. And that is why the PUF has had such continued success.

Getting there:

Head north on Raymond Ave toward the shops in Arlington, turn left onto Fulton Ave by My Market, and follow past the Poughkeepsie High School, veer left as Fulton Ave becomes Forbus Ave. Follow until you reach the intersection with South Cherry St, turn right and follow South Cherry St as it crosses the arterial, once you reach the intersection with Main St, you will be able to see the PUF just yonder, but you have to cross Main Street and stay on North Cherry for a few yards before you are at your destination.

Learning More:

Abbott, Brant. “Underwear Factory Reborn: Historic Site to Have Residential, Commercial Space.” The Poughkeepsie Journal, 17 Feb. 2017.

Celaya, Elizabeth, and Christina Hines. “Middle Main Initiative 2016 Plan.” Hudson River Housing , 2016.

Rodgers, Linda. “The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory Is a Community Hub.” Hudson Valley Magazine, Feb. 13, 2023.

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