For decades, people have been moving from New York City to the country in search of space and the good life. But in recent years, the migration north has shifted. Suddenly, with the opening of dozens of über-hip coffee shops and restaurants, and hipsters roaming our streets, everyone is wondering — are we really the New Brooklyn?
George Mansfield grew up on Long Island. But after college, like countless young artists before him, he made a beeline straight to New York City to try to make his mark as a sculptor. In the never-ending quest for affordable housing, he lived first in the East Village, then the Meat Market district on Manhattan’s West Side, and ultimately settled among the abandoned warehouses in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. “I was sort of pioneering all those areas, as artists do,” he recalls.
But in the late 1990s, Mansfield sensed another major move was on the horizon. “The neighborhood was becoming sort of unaffordable. We were lucky to have a 10-year lease on a pretty cheap building, but we knew that when it was up we’d have to go and find another place.” In what now seems like divine destiny, in 1999 Mansfield just happened to read a tiny article about how the Dia Art Foundation had bought an old factory in Beacon, with plans to turn it into a modern art museum. “We came up to Beacon the next weekend, and within a month we had bought a place,” he says.
Mansfield — who, along with his wife, purchased a three-story brick building on the banks of Fishkill Creek — knew he had stumbled onto a good thing. But he couldn’t have envisioned quite what would happen over the next 15 years — in Beacon and similar communities throughout the Hudson Valley. It was in 2006 that the New York Times first wrote about this phenomena: “Brooklyn on the Hudson,” they declared about the tiny northern Dutchess town of Tivoli. Fast-forward a few years, add in a major recession, and suddenly headline after headline is touting the region as the new Brooklyn. Earlier this year, a local blogger’s post went viral when he poked fun at this trend, playfully pitting town against town: “Is Rosendale the new Brooklyn? Is Kingston the new Brooklyn?”
Photograph courtesy of Dogwood
Of course, the reasons why so many city folks are fleeing to the Hudson Valley are no secret. Many are priced out of the city and attracted by the interesting and affordable housing stock (Victorians! lofts!), the revitalized Main Streets, the region’s stunning natural beauty, and an infusion of creative energy. As Mansfield says, “Finding Beacon was a happy combination of a diverse urban community that had country accents, too.”
But despite the fact that “almost every week I meet someone new from Brooklyn,” Mansfield says that the idea of Beacon being Brooklyn North “is a little off. I don’t think these people have a need to recreate Brooklyn. It is almost that they have a need for something else — something real and genuine.”
The coffee shops, artisan bakeries, and hip beer bars continue to pop up on the city’s Main Street. Last year, Mansfield and Tom Schmitz, an artist pal from his Williamsburg days, opened Dogwood, a cozy pub with a welcoming performance space; a small, upscale bar menu; and a great selection of local craft beers on tap. “I wanted a place that when you walked in the door, you got a sense of the complexity of the community; a place which wasn’t all about sports. I wanted a pub like you find in England or Ireland.”
It seems to have worked. “People immediately became regulars,” says Mansfield. “One day I walked in, it was probably 6 p.m., and there were four single women sitting at the bar, either reading or looking at their cell phones. I was happy that I built a place where a woman is not going to be harassed by a drunk guy. The bar seems to have become an important social hub.”
Photographs courtesy of Michael Polito (top) and Teresa Horgan (bottom)
Mansfield notes that recent college grads typically head to New York City to fulfill their dreams. “But now they simply can’t afford to do that anymore, so many of them are sticking around here to live. There are lots of 25-year-olds in the bar,” he says, adding that the place offers 10 percent off to all Beacon city workers in order to promote a true mix of customers.
While Mansfield considers himself lucky to have landed in Beacon, he believes that “Newburgh is the future.” Associate Broker Chris Hanson of Keller Williams Realty agrees 100 percent. “My friends have been here since the 1980s; they tried to revitalize Newburgh then and got discouraged. They ask if I think it is real this time. I say yes.”
Hanson says that the majority of his clients are from Brooklyn and that, in the last two years, when the market was down, the “opportunities in Newburgh were unbelievable. They were buying incredible houses with river views that someone had already put a lot of work into. That scene is gone now, but what you can still do in Newburgh is buy an unbelievable building on a street with some momentum — but you are going to have to put some work into it. I’m showing things that weren’t on anyone’s radar six months ago because they were marginal neighborhoods.”
In Ulster County, “We’ve seen a big upturn in the number of people from Brooklyn buying here,” says Harris Safier, broker/owner of Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty, “particularly in Kingston. There are wonderful creative people moving up and making it their primary residence because they can be gainfully employed by telecommuting and going to the city once or twice a week.” The second-home market, which was very quiet in 2011 and 2012, really gained steam last year too, he adds.
Safier points out that it’s not all young people. “I have two retired men as clients; they live in Sutton Place and are selling their home in East Hampton and looking to purchase a home in Kingston,” he says. “They want a home that is half the price and an easier commute to the city. They found a house with a tiny garden and were thrilled that they’d be within walking distance of 12 restaurants. It’s kind of like having a bit of Brooklyn Heights.”
Hudson, an old whaling city in Columbia County, was among the first river communities to begin gentrifying almost 20 years ago. Gabriele Gulielmetti and Rachel Sanzone lived briefly in Brooklyn before opening Bonfiglio & Bread in its current location in November 2012. “We would never, ever have been able to do this in New York City without training, investors, backers. What’s nice about Hudson is that, without a $50,000 a month rent, we can take it at our own pace,” says Gulielmetti, noting that they began baking bread at their home before transitioning to a storefront.
Now, at the chic, 1,200 square-foot space on Hudson’s main drag, the duo churn out popular baked goods as well as breakfast and lunch items. They are clearly doing something right. “We’re sort of the meeting place for most of the chefs in town,” says Gulielmetti. “We also hear ‘this is the best bread outside of Europe.’ ”
Gulielmetti says the duo sometimes miss New York City. “The convenience, the hustle and bustle, and the anonymity — they were hard to give up. And I miss bodegas, those are my weird nostalgic things,” he says. “But I don’t miss $200 parking tickets, and living paycheck to paycheck. And I don’t miss the oh-so-cool culture of Brooklyn. I felt alienated toward the end, like I didn’t belong there. Here, it’s extremely affordable, and we can build something.”