Photos by Richard Lovrich
Prints of colorful bunny rabbits, goofy cartoon characters, brilliant blue skies, fluffy white clouds and bubbling rivers cover the walls of The Rodney Shop at 362 Main St. Catskill. A table with a jutting wooden horse head sits in the middle of the room, small wooden animals tilt back and forth on little pendulums, the lights on a bright model skyscraper blink on and off. It’s like a petite FAO Schwarz, an oasis of whimsy and childhood fancy in the middle of this small Greene County town. Behind the counter sits Rodney Alan Greenblat who gives off the kind of placid aura commonly associated with yogis and gurus. He speaks in a calm, even voice; soft but focused, a bit like a cross between Mr. Rogers and David Byrne.
Greenblat, who was a celebrated fixture of the East Village Arts scene of the 1980s, now calls the building where The Rodney Shop is situated his home.
It wasn’t a simple journey. In the ’90s Greenblat published four children’s books and began working with Sony Japan. Over the years he’s done illustrations or design work for some of the largest companies including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Nickelodeon, Microsoft, and Majesco Entertainment.
At Sony, Greenblat illustrated a slew of characters that were merchandised by the company. The most famous of which was Parappa the Rapper, the lead in a major video game that is seen as the first true “rhythm game” as well as a cartoon series of the same name.
The game mixes hand-drawn art with 3D-designed levels and saw players control the beanie wearing Parappa as he mastered rap battles. In the iconic first level Parappa is instructed by an onion-headed sensei in the art of self defense and rhyming. “Kick punch it’s all in the mind/ if you wanna test me I’m sure you’ll find/ the things I’ll teach ya are sure to beat ya/ nevertheless you’ll get a lesson from teacher.”
In The Rodney Shop, Greenblat began storing merchandise that ranges from lighters, children’s clothing and stuffed animals to alarm clocks and toys.
“I thought maybe I’d open a shop with all of this stuff when I was in New York, but it was just too expensive,” says Greenblat. “I considered doing a popup but even that was prohibitively expensive.” Greenblat’s dream came true after buying his home in Catskill about three years ago. He and his family had a vacation home in Ghent, New York for years but decided it was time to move to the region permanently. Hudson was in the running, but he says he couldn’t find anything that fit his needs and was affordable.
“It’s been tremendously inspiring,” says Greenblat. “I think in New York City there is so much pressure there from every angle and you don’t even notice it. You don’t know about the competition you are involved in, even when you go to the store to buy a loaf of bread there is a struggle going on. So we lived in SoHo for 28 years and I didn’t realize how much of a struggle it really was until we got here.”
Catskill is now host to a burgeoning arts scene that Greenblat attributes greatly to the presence of the HiLo cafe that is just across the street from him. “It really gave a lot of people a home,” he says.
Greenblat is also a musician. His work on synthesizer is available on Bandcamp, and he is giving away copies of his latest album Beep Beep Type Music at The Rodney Shop. The album is described as “a collection of instrumental sound creations that play around in the vacant lot just outside the theme park of pop music.’
“There are so many cool artists and musicians up here,” says Greenblat. “In New York City it is kind of hard to meet your creative peers and hang out with them. I don’t think it happens very much, everyone is doing their own thing with a little bit of desperation. Here it’s not like that. We meet lots of artists in our age group, lots of younger artists too that I’ve really been inspired by. I’ve always done music sort of as a hobby but meeting all these musicians here inspired me to put together a gig of my own at HiLo. I never considered that before. In New York City you don’t just call up The Mercury Lounge and ask if you can play. It wouldn’t happen. But here you can and they’re like, ‘Sure! When do you want to do it?’”
Greenblat’s shop is only one of a multitude of art stores, galleries and creative-focused shops that now dot Main St. in Catskill. It is helpful in keeping up the foot traffic and those who aren’t familiar with Greenblat’s work might wander in and fall in love with his bright prints or find a knick knack decorated with one of his many characters, but the odds aren’t terrific that they’ll have any context.
But that isn’t exactly a problem for Greenblat. He maintains a mailing list subscribed to by the most die-hard Parappa the Rappa fans. He recently had a sale that saw his shop swamped and left him cleaned out of most of his Parappa swag.
“It was astonishing,” says Greenblat. “But it will be OK. I reached out to my business partner in Japan and it turns out he’s been storing Parappa merchandise and is sending it over. It should be here in April.”
Greenblat generally tends his shop three days of the week and then spends time at his studio in Leeds working on his art. He regularly shows at BCB Gallery in Hudson. Greenblat’s work is part of a group exhibition there that opened on December 1.
The Rodney Shop is open Friday—Saturday: 11:00AM–6:00PM and Sunday: 11:00AM–4:00PM.