They spill from the station and come stomping up the hill. The men wear plaid shirts, suspenders, and unbuttoned vests with skin-tight pants, the women vintage dresses. They don skull caps and whatever non-modern leather shoes least match their outfits. Their beards are big, their glasses even bigger. It’s a wave of hipsters, washing over Beacon every time another train pulls in from New York City on the weekends. They flood into the DIA:Beacon modern art museum, crest at Main Street, and then recede back to the farmer’s market on the waterfront, leaving their money behind.
Bless them for it. And damn them.
My wife and I are newish Beaconites. (Beaconists? Beaconoids? Beaconators? Beaconians? There surely has to be a better word for us than “Beaconites,” which just sounds too much like “bacon bites.”) After a long search, we bought a house here in late 2013, after a foreclosure in Newburgh fell through at the last moment, as chronicled in the pages of this magazine, and then a regular sale there did the same — both for reasons beyond our control. We’d hoped to live in Beacon all along, and were glad things turned out the way they did. Kismet. Or something.
We’ve loved the place even more than we thought we would. We can walk everywhere to get just about anything, and do. Our neighbors are kind and helpful. The little house we bought is just right for us. We’ve made friends.
But in that single year alone, we’ve noticed a difference. There is an inexorable hipsterization afoot. A Brooklynization, if you will. Of course, Hudson Valley has already covered this trend with its April feature (“Are We Really the New Brooklyn?”). Along with the seemingly ever-swelling number of day-trippers have come the new arrivals, like us, almost all of whom moved here directly from Brooklyn — unlike us. We don’t quite know how to feel about all that.
A town that was in a bad way for decades is now thriving and continuing to gain momentum. Main Street scared people not so terribly long ago. Now it bustles and new businesses seem to spring up every week, supported in part by those weekenders. DIA, which opened in 2003, has rejuvenated the place, although some trace Beacon’s turning point back further.
That also means the town is changing. Becoming a hipster enclave has its benefits, certainly, although your perspective could differ from ours. The businesses are becoming more high-end. There are many terrific new spots to eat and drink. In the fall, Main Street got its first food truck — that beacon of hipsterdom — serving delightful fare.
Yet in all that progress, the very fabric of the place is being altered with it. For every house that’s taken up by a new family — the new money, as it were — a native family usually leaves. A rare middle class town is becoming something different, something more expensive. It isn’t lost on us that to some in our neighborhood, where many families have lived for generations, we are the very manifestation of this change, of the gentrifying invasion.
The problem with stripping a town of its original locals, who form the social core and backbone, is that the essence of the place leaves with it. The values that were cultivated here are what make Beacon what it is: an appealing place to live. The trick is to manage all that change in such a way that what a place is about is somehow left unmodified.
What makes Beacon special — aside from its fine and fortunate appointment among the Hudson River, Mount Beacon, an airport, an interstate, a commuter rail line, and a bridge — is that it’s the unlikely place where everybody really does seem to know everyone else’s name in spite of being situated not so far outside the country’s biggest metropolis and well within America’s most populous corridor.
Mess with its DNA too much, however, and it could turn cookie-cutter and over-manicured, the municipal equivalent of an Urban Outfitters, like some of the towns in Westchester County. That intimacy and civility will disappear. And the very thing that attracted the flow of newcomers will be cannibalized by them.
These are the stakes. It’s a rosy situation to be in, to be sure, but an anxious one all the same.
We want Beacon to stay Beacon, even if we are not exactly sure that we qualify as true Beaconites yet.