Two friends, two businesses: one that delights the eye, the other that dances off the palate, and both that ignite the spirit. College friends since 1981, Paty Lott and Cathy Buchak, have both opened up new stores at the bustling Water Street Market in downtown New Paltz.

Lott is the passion behind the Gray Owl Gallery, where she has on display some of the best artists in the Hudson Valley — including the renowned Hudson River School-style artist Kevin Cook, whose oil paintings and gouache pieces will be on exhibit at the Gallery from May until June 14. Cook, who resides in a stone house in New Paltz, “hasn’t had a hometown show in almost three years, and I feel so honored that he agreed to exhibit his work in my gallery,” said Lott.

While the New Paltz Times was interviewing Lott, two of Cook’s paintings sold. Beyond his river-reflected lighting and views from West Point along the Hudson or his impressions of the Shawangunks vista in line with the great Hudson River School tradition, the Gray Owl Gallery offers a variety of media and artists that would appeal to most art-lovers.

“I grew up in an art family, only I wasn’t an artist,” said Lott with a smile and a beautiful handcrafted steel owl pendant delicately hung around her neck. “So what do you do when you grow up in a family of artists and are not an artist yourself? You open a gallery!”

In fact, Lott worked for many years in commercial radio in marketing and sales; but as corporate American began to shrink, her retirement came a little earlier than she imagined. “I always knew I’d own a gallery, but I just didn’t think that dream would come so soon. But here I am, and I love it!”

Featured prominently in her gallery is her sister Katie Trinkle Legge’s still-life oil paintings of luscious fruit: plums, apples, pears, ceramic vases that are so intense in their color and dimension that you want to reach out and grab them. Legge also has numerous oil paintings of sheep that highlight texture and wild beauty.

Then there is the work of Joyce Washor, so delicate and precious, painted on 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch canvases illustrating peonies with a grey background or white mums and poppies. “Isn’t she amazing?” said Lott. “She is also the author of the book Big Art, Small Canvases,” which is featured in the gallery.

While the space is small and intimate, and though its white-wall painting and track lighting create a much-larger-feeling gallery, Lott is able to showcase several artists without her store ever feeling crowded. Each piece has its place, and there are watercolors by local award-winning watercolor painter Ray Curran, as well as one-of-a-kind woodwork that turns pens, cuff links and bottle-stoppers into mesmerizing pieces of art. There are owl dolls with oil-painted faces perched on stained glass, with pendants that are subtle yet draw the eye in.

“I was an Army brat, so I lived all over the world; but mostly, my family grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, so I’m very familiar with this area and New Paltz. And I felt that New Paltz is known as such a cultural and artistic town, yet they have very few galleries. It was the perfect place to open a gallery. We have the artists; we just don’t have the venues to showcase their art. And my gallery gives art-lovers the opportunity to start a collection at a reasonable price, while tapping into such a deep reservoir of talent and beauty and tradition.”

While Lott was getting her space ready at the Water Street Market, her best friend, Cathy Buchak — originally from Queens, but now living in the area — came to help her paint and hang and arrange the artwork. “We met in college on October 31, 1981,” said Lott with a smile. “I remember the date because it was Halloween, and I needed black nail polish. And I asked around if anyone had black nail polish, and they said, ‘Go see Cathy on the third floor.’ It was like country girl meets city girl, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

While the two buddies enjoyed a passion for horseback riding and horse shows, as well as radio work, their lives crisscrossed but always returned to a point of connection — whether announcing a horse show together, working on a radio station or celebrating various milestones in their lives. “When Cathy came to help me she met Walter [Marquez, the manager of the Water Street Market], and he saw that she was wanting to do something herself.”

“I’ve done many things in my life, but like Paty, I always knew that one day I wanted to own my own shop,” Buchak chimed in. “I loved the venue here, and the setup with retail, art and cafés and restaurants all mixed together along the rail trail and river, and asked him what it was that he felt the Market needed. He said, ‘a candy shop.’”

Ironically enough, Lott’s nephewJake would always refer to his aunt’s best friend as the Candy Lady, because, having grown up on Nantucket and not having been privy to much candy in his life, he first met Cathy while at a horse show with his Aunt Paty. Cathy was working the concession stand with tons of candy, which she gave to Jake. “He still calls me the Candy Lady,” she said with a laugh.

Very different from, but yet equally as appealing as her best friend’s shop is Candy, Candy: a stone’s throw across from the sculptural waterfall at the Market, and filled with confection aromas that put one into a dizzying state. This is a retro candy store that appeals to sugar-lovers of all ages, with rows of glass jars offering jellybeans, Mary Janes, endless licorices and licorice wheels, gummy bears, gummy worms, giant gummy worms, gummy sharks, peachy penguins, cinnamon bears, candy necklaces, saltwater taffy, Bit-O-Honey and a mouthwatering rock candy collection.

“It’s mostly by the pound,” said Buchak, “and you can mix and match, taking a little bit of everything you like — unlike a convenience store, where you just get a bag of M & Ms or a package of Starbursts.”

Then there is the nostalgic candy that brings out sweet childhood memories from many of Buchak’s customers. There are Choward’s Violet candy mints or gum that elicits a powerful violet perfume. There is Black Jack Gum and Teaberry gum, Abba-Zabba, foam wafers with candy beads, Valomilk and the Sky Bar, which is a chocolate bar with four flavors in one: vanilla, caramel, peanut butter and fudge.

She also offers Turkish Taffy, which is very popular with customers who are anywhere from their 40s to their 60s. “People remember buying this taffy at a corner candy store and breaking it into pieces on the counter,” she said. “You get so many stories when people see this candy or smell it. They remember their grandmother giving it to them, or their aunt, or having it on special occasions or sharing it with their best friend. It’s a store that is filled with memories and creates more sweet memories.”

One surprise that she found was how popular the giant rainbow-swirled lollipops are with teenage boys. “They come in and love these giant lollipops, often saying that when they were little, their parents wouldn’t let them have one. And now that they have some of their own money, they can’t get enough of them!”

A special touch is the vintage glassware, bowls and dishes that Candy, Candy offers for patrons to fill up with whatever candy of their choice and wrap it up for a one-of-a-kind gift. “What’s neat is that there are still these confection factories producing candy and chocolate that we grew up on, and it’s made in America and has lasted generations because it’s so good!”

Both friends said that they’ve felt enormously welcomed at the Market within the New Paltz community. “It’s a great setting: so many interesting stores and galleries, antiques, food, restaurants and cafés,” said Buchak, “and I get to sell candy and work next to my best friend!”

Be sure to check out the beautiful artwork at Gray Owl Gallery and pick up a bag or a bowl of palate-popping, mouthwatering delights at Candy, Candy. ++