Interview with Chad Foti of New Paltz Climbing Cooperative

I spoke with Chad Foti of the New Paltz Climbing Cooperative (NPCC) a couple days before its grand opening (80 people came out for it!). The New Paltz community has created a unique climbing space meant to bring people together, and Foti shared with me how it all got started.

Where did the idea for the NPCC get started?

The initial idea came about, I don’t know how many years ago. I was reading a climbing magazine and a group of climbers in Colorado had this small co-op gym that had been thrown together. It was $5, and everyone came, no matter who you were. I liked the idea of a bunch of people getting together and making something like this work.

Last year, another gentleman had the idea of opening up a co-op and for whatever reason he didn’t follow through. I decided one day with a close friend of mine to just go look for a space, almost as a joke that we were going to do this. Then, we found a perfect space, and that was only in September. From there, it’s already built (laughing). It’s done!

Wait, so September of this year was when you found the space?

Yeah, we found the space this year. I’m a high school teacher and I would go to work during the day, leave work at 3, I’d sleep for an hour so I could get some kind of rest, and then I’d go to the space and start building. And I was there pretty much every night for the last month and a half with a series of other people. All people who are just donating their time and their efforts. And we were able to pull this off in no time. We didn’t start building technically until the second week in October.

What is the space like?

When we acquired the space it was for the most part empty, barring some artist was using it for storage. It’s a little under 2000 square feet. Our walls are 15 and change feet tall, and we tried to use as small a space possible while still keeping the area as open and inviting as we could. That left us with a lot of climbing surface and also a lot of room to grow. There are huge windows and it’s also right on the Rail Trail and so you look out a window and it’s almost like you’re climbing outside.

Do you have a designated beer drinking area in the gym?

A designated beer drinking area (laughing)? Actually, no we haven’t thought about that yet. We don’t have any kind of beer nook. Technically we don’t open until Saturday so I’m sure one will evolve. As of now, the whole idea is for it to be a welcoming community space where people can relax and train and get fit and have some fun. We’re looking to get some community yoga nights and a working library of guidebooks, get some art up.

We have a great artist who donated a ton of time. Paul St. Savage did so much graffiti work in our space. He blew it up.

What kind of routes do you have up right now?

We’re just as much interested in creating climbers as we are in supporting climbers who are veterans. The whole idea is to get a space that is welcoming to everybody. The gyms technically not even open yet, and we’ve had 20 people a day sometimes walking in saying, “hey, can I learn to climb here?” Just a lot of new people all the time. We have problems up that are V0 and easier, and problems that are V10 and harder.

It sounds like you’ve been putting a lot of money into this. Has all this come out of your pocket? What’s your plan to recoup it?

Sustainability (laughing)? That’s a great question. A lot of the money has come out of just a few peoples’ pockets; it’s certainly not all me. There’s been a small amount of contributors but a large amount of effort, labor and materials. A lot of the plywood was local people saying, “oh yeah, I’ve got some ¾ inch that I used for a little woody. You want it?” Most of the material we bought was the steel and the 2x6s. But compared to the amount of material that was donated to us, it’s just a drop in the bucket. So many people have been amazing.

In terms of recouping, it’s more just a sense of sustainability for us. I’m not really worried about the money I’ve put into it. I’ve always wanted to do something like this and the money I’ve invested is money I never need to see again. The fact that this exists is way more important to me.

Our target is 50 members for the year and we’re only charging 350 bucks, which is less than a dollar a day and damn cheap.

What experience did you have with co-ops before?

I’ve never climbed in a full blown community co-op. All throughout those years, we had these mini community gyms. These places where there were a couple people and we were like, “hey, let’s put together a wall.” And we built one, then I moved to a house a couple years later and we’d build another one. They got better and they got more interesting. It kinda helped me in terms of where this would go and what I wanted to do with this gym. I knew what would work and what wouldn’t.

How long have you been in New Paltz?

I moved to New Paltz 7 years ago and fell in love with the town. It’s a great location to live, not just as a climber, but anybody interested in outdoor sports. I teach in town, live in town, have a co-op in town. I don’t leave New Paltz unless I have to. Unless I’m going on a climbing trip, I’m pretty much here.

Do you think being in New Paltz made it easier for the co-op to happen?

Yeah the people in New Paltz have made this thing exist. All I’ve done is open the door and people came in and built this. It’s not really myself, it’s everyone else who built this. So yes, New Paltz built this co-op.

Could it be anywhere else? Yeah, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. I think if someone is motivated enough to get this off the ground, it could happen. If you find a space that’s viable and you find some friends. I hope co-ops spring up all over the place and I hope the community recognizes that if they want to support something and put the effort into it, it can be a phenomenal thing. So far, we’ve been testimony to that.

Absolutely. Thanks for talking to me!

I really appreciate you giving this any kind of time. It’s been this little flame that went crazy. I’m always dumbfounded that people care. It’s this small, tiny grassroots thing, so thank you. Thank you again, really appreciate your time.

For more information, go to the NPCC website or their Facebook page.
Photos courtesy of Christian Fracchia.
To see more artwork by Paul St. Savage, visit his website.

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