Life After Brooklyn: Upstate New York

By

Photo: Casey Scieszka

The view from the Spruceton Inn. Photo: Casey Scieszka

It all started just a handful of years ago, a slow and steady migration of Brooklyn residents packing up their belongings and heading north–to the mountains, to cabins, to a respite of crisp greenery and stillness.

Or did it?

In reality, city folk have been settling in various counties of upstate New York for generations. The only reason it’s lately been deemed a phenomenon is because social media is now here to chronicle every minute detail of said migration, from photos of people packing up their Cobble Hill apartments to Boomerangs of bonfires crackling in their new yards.

Over the last couple of years, everyone from The New York Times to Vogue has covered the influx of New Yorkers foregoing the mind-numbing squeals of the subway and crowded city parks for long drives in the mountains and afternoons spent hiking, foraging, and buying fresh produce right from the farm. Plus, a hammock or two. We sought out these souls and met Megan Brenn-White (a international marketing business owner, real estate agent, and former resident of Clinton Hill), Sarah Jane Suarez (a former Dumbo resident and co-owner of Gaskins), Casey Scieszka and her husband Steven Weinberg (the people behind Spruceton Inn and former residents of Park Slope) and Alecia and Tom Eberhardt-Smith (co-owners of Eberhardt Smith and former residents of Lefferts Gardens and Sunset Park).

They settled all across upstate New York, from West Kill to Germantown, for all sorts for reasons. Some had family nearby, some had aspirations of opening up their own businesses, and some accidentally turned a vacation into real life. Pretty fabulous “oops” if you ask us. Here’s what these ex-Brooklynites had to say about their moves to the mountains.

(Note: yes, we are aware that there is some debate about the exact definition of “upstate New York.”  For the purpose of this article we have defined it as Hudson Valley towns at least 100 miles north of New York City.”)

BB: Why did you move upstate?

Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg Photo: Nat Chitwood

Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg Photo: Nat Chitwood

Casey: We moved up to the Catskills so I could open our hotel, the Spruceton Inn: A Catskills Bed and Bar. I’d thought about opening up something in Brooklyn (mostly because that’s where I’d always thought I’d want to be long term), but Steven and I were coming up to the Catskills on the weekends and it was his idea that I open a place out here. “Why don’t you just build a place that we would go to?” he asked, and he was so right! Steven’s always been very outdoorsy and his job is so mobile, so there was no twisting his arm to get him to move.

Megan: My husband Rob and I went to a wedding in High Falls a few years ago and totally fell in love with the area. We just kept coming back for vacations, staying in Airbnbs around the Ulster County area. We came up for a vacation last March and I looked up how much the people had paid for their adorable little house, which was something like $160,000. I did the math on what we were paying for the Airbnbs and realized that we could swing a weekend place if we were able to get some rental income. We started searching right away and, after the first house deal fell through, found the house we’re in now. Weirdly, it was just two weeks before we closed when Rob suggested we think about moving up full time. Somehow literally everything fell into place (including his teaching schedule at Pratt) and the decision was basically made within a week.

Alecia: The move to the Hudson Valley was, I’d say, primarily sanity-motivated. I was working a job that was challenging and rewarding, but I wasn’t using any of the skills I’d just spent four years learning (and paying for). I was barely making ends meet paying rent for my tiny bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment, and I just could not see a sustainable future in New York. I often yearned to be closer to nature (at least more nature than Prospect Park could offer). Plus, no one in NYC dances at shows—what the heck is up with that? I need to live where the people have a little ENTHUSIASM.

Sarah: I’ve always dreamed of having my own restaurant, since working in a little French bistro as a teenager in the Hudson Valley. Once my partner, Nick, and I decided we wanted to dive in and open something for ourselves, we knew it would be a more sustainable lifestyle if we could move out of New York City. We looked at a few small cities, but gravitated to the Hudson Valley since we both have family nearby. We liked its proximity to our roots in NYC and we already had connections with local farmers in the area. It took us about a year to actually leave Brooklyn, and then another six months to find Germantown and the building that would ultimately become Gaskins.

BB: What was your job in Brooklyn?

Tom: I walked—and subsequently fell in love with—dogs.

Sarah: I was a restaurant manager at a few places over the years. I started at Franny’s as the general manager, and then worked at Beer Table for a year. During my last four years in Brooklyn I worked for Andrew Tarlow, managing Roman’s, Diner, and Marlow & Sons.

Casey: I was a freelance writer and graphic designer. Steven was (and still is) a kids’ book writer and illustrator. Once I decided that I wanted to open a hotel though, I took a job at one in Brooklyn for years to learn the ropes, and make sure I even liked the industry.

Alecia and Tom

Alecia and Tom Eberhardt-Smith

BB: How has your career shifted since moving upstate?

Alecia and Tom: We run a multidisciplinary media company called Eberhardt Smith, where we’re able to make use of all of our creative skills: copywriting, social media, branding and visual identity, photography, video, and more. We make our own hours and work out of an old building in Saugerties. It’s really hard sometimes, and a little unstable, but ultimately really rewarding.

Casey: I run the hotel! Steven is still a kids’ book writer and illustrator, as well as a painter. I’ve also recently returned to writing more, now that I have a larger staff and am no longer as involved in all the day-to-day operations all week.

Sarah: I am the co-owner and floor manager of Gaskins, a restaurant in Germantown, N.Y., with my husband Nick Suarez.

Megan: I still run my international marketing business from up here. I also finally got my real estate license, so I’m working as a salesperson with Habitat Real Estate Group in Stone Ridge. The broker was our agent and we got along really well, so it was an easy decision. In another weird twist of fate, she also had a small one-room cottage out back that I’m now sharing with another Brooklyn transplant, so I can literally hop across the parking lot for my two jobs. I absolutely love driving around with (mostly Brooklyn) people and seeing their jaws drop when they see how pretty it is up here—and how much less expensive. Actually, both of my jobs don’t feel like work a lot of the time, and my stress levels with work also seem to have dropped dramatically since moving up here.

Megan and Tom

Megan Brenn-White and Rob Langhorn

BB: Where do you live, and what’s it like?

Megan: We live in the hamlet of Kerhonkson, which is part of the “town” of Rochester (not the city!). It’s in the Rondout Valley, which is basically between the Shawangunk mountain range and the Catskills, and is mostly agricultural. It’s insanely beautiful. Lake Minnewaska and Mohonk Preserve are about a 15-minute drive up that mountain range from our house, and we’ve got the Sundown Wild Forest about a 15-minute drive in the other direction. Our “town center” has two gas stations and a bar called Hot Shotz that I haven’t ventured to yet, but we’ve also got a diner, Chinese food, a couple of pizza places. Kerhonkson only has about 1,200 people, so, well, you’ve got to drive a few minutes to get to other places. Oh! But we also have the world’s third largest garden gnome at Kelder’s Farm–“Gnome Chomsky”–and an agricultural-themed mini golf course.

Sarah: We live in Germantown, in a house down the road from the restaurant. Up until the last month, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment above the restaurant, right on Main Street in our small village. True mom and pop-style. We’ve lived here for almost three years, and the restaurant opened in June of 2015. Germantown is small–it’s close to the Hudson River in the lower tip of Columbia County. We’re also close to Bard College, numerous local farms and orchards, and a robust community of small business owners. There’s a small hamlet with a charming town center that is home to Gaskins, as well as a grocery store, two antique stores, a hotel, a new clothing and home store, a liquor store, a flower shop and a laundromat.

Casey: We’ve been in West Kill for just over three years. It’s an itty bitty, teeny tiny town, around 500 people. We live five miles down a seven-mile dead end road in the middle of the State Park. It’s about half weekenders (most from NYC or Jersey) and half full-time folks like us. Some people’s families have been here for literal centuries, but there are a lot of people who’ve moved up from the city over the past thirty years or so. This “trend” of New Yorkers moving up here is nothing particularly new. It’s just a new generation doing it.

Alecia and Tom: We currently live in Kingston, N.Y., and before that we lived in a little cabin between Saugerties and Woodstock, N.Y. for just over two years—a real-life one-room cabin with a wood burning stove and everything. Kingston is one of the bigger “cities” in the Hudson Valley. It was once the capital of New York and played a big part in the Revolutionary War, which is one of the city’s favorite fun facts about itself. Every fall they re-enact the “Burning of Kingston,” the battle in which the British destroyed the city, for reasons we’ve yet to understand. Some of our friends own a house built in the 1600s that still has char marks from that fire. The city has a lot of history. As The Times loves to say, it’s the “next Brooklyn”—along with Beacon, Newburgh, and every other small city in the Hudson Valley—and as bullshit as that denomination is, there is a pretty cool arts and culture scene here. Lots of our friends here are creatives or “makers” in some sense of the word, and they’re able to actually make a living that way because it’s generally pretty cheap here. We live in the Rondout–West Strand district (also known as “Downtown” Kingston), which is less cool than the bougie Uptown area and less gritty than Midtown. It has one bar, a few restaurants, lots of families, and an inordinate number of churches.

Nick Suarez and Sarah Gaskins Suarez at Gaskins Photo: Jersey Walz

Nick and Sarah Suarez at Gaskins Photo: Jersey Walz

BB: What does a typical day look like for you?

Casey: Steven has a studio in our house, so he works there throughout the day, taking breaks to go fly-fishing or skiing or walk the dogs in the woods. When I’m working at the hotel, I’m at our front desk and bar in the mornings for coffee, and in the afternoon for happy hour. In between I’m answering emails and taking care of the bajillion other things that go into running a hotel. I’ll always try to sneak off with Steven midday into the woods as well. At night we cook dinner together, then depending on the season either hang out in front of the wood stove or maybe have a bonfire in the garden. We often have friends visiting too, since we’re everyone’s country house!

Alecia and Tom: We primarily work out of an office/studio in a wicked old building atop a bookstore in Saugerties, so we go there almost every day and handle our clients’ needs remotely, for the most part. We work a lot, because we’re small business owners and a natural part of that job is that it becomes part of your life, especially when your spouse is your business partner. We cook a lot, and Hudson Valley has tons of local produce and dairy and meat, so food is a huge part of our life. We even joined a CSA last year. We have a little dachshund and he basically runs the show (the show being our lives). We walk him all around our neighborhood, down by the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River. We’re involved in a ton of community events like Write Up and HV Tech and The Hoot. We work on creative projects like Diner Porn and Catskill Made. We live pretty quietly, but well.

Sarah: Most of our days are spent at the restaurant, however, I often find myself spending the better part of the day outside. Sometimes it’s taking my dog for a walk with a friend at one of the nature preserves nearby, going on a hike at Tivoli Bays, or sneaking in a stop at a swimming hole before a busy night’s service. I also run most of the errands for the restaurant, which I look forward to. Lots of our farms deliver, but some don’t and I love making stops at Montgomery Place Orchard farm stand and chatting with everyone there while I pick the most perfect fruit for our menu. Or taking the longer drive to Kinderhook Farm to pick up our grass-fed beef and visiting with Lee and Georgia, two of the most gracious and lovely people I know. It was dinners at their place with new friends that really sold us on Columbia County when we were still circling in on where to settle.

Photo: Megan

Photo: Megan Brenn-White

BB: What is your favorite pastime upstate? What was your favorite pastime in Brooklyn?

Megan: Exploring all of the natural beauty. I’m not a super athlete (really not), but it’s so beautiful and there are so many ways to just be outside. I’m definitely getting more fit as friends drag me out and about, and am actually going to a personal trainer twice a week so I’ll be ready for summer hikes! I have absolutely rediscovered my love of cooking up here as well, thanks to our kitchen being so open and lovely. Plus, since everyone has houses here, I find a lot of the socializing happens in homes, which means that we are making things to bring over or inviting people to our place, which I love. Ok, one more pastime! I freaking love driving up here! I could drive for hours on these windy mountain roads and I have literally done the blinking my eyes comically thing when I see something I can’t believe is really true. My favorite pastime in Brooklyn was absolutely walking around the various neighborhoods! Between the architecture, the people watching, the ways the neighborhoods were changing, and the crazy variety of shops and restaurants, it was always, always interesting and made me feel very alive and connected.

Alecia and Tom: One of our favorite pastimes in Brooklyn was just walking around the city, observing its rhythm. We have matching tattoos (ugh, right?) that say “flâneur” and “flâneuse.” A flâneur is a “stroller” or an urban explorer, a person who walks around a city aimlessly.
We do miss that sometimes, here. We still do a lot of walking, but it’s more like, walking in nature or hiking to a waterfall, and less observing humanity. Our favorite pastime here is just our quiet lifestyle: cooking and eating and drinking with friends, working on creative projects, hanging with our dog.

Casey: Upstate we spend so much time outside. In the garden, in the woods, out in the creek, even just reading on the hammock. In Brooklyn we tried to spend time outside too… but it was mostly at beer gardens! I probably miss bookstores the most.

BB: How would you describe the pace of life and the people upstate versus Brooklyn?

Alecia and Tom: The pace is what you make it. Our “pace of life” might even be faster here than it was in Brooklyn, since we’re small business owners now and constantly hustling. But the people are definitely different: more enthusiastic, less competitive, less pretentious/elitist, more willing to talk and collaborate. That’s really nice.

Sarah: Everything feels less stressful here because there is more space. Space to breath, move, and relax. There is not the same pressure in the air. I miss that sometimes, but mostly it’s nice to slow down.

Megan: I’d honestly say that life up here is about 95% less stressful than in Brooklyn, and I didn’t really perceive life in Brooklyn as being stressful! I think there were a lot of stresses that I just didn’t realize were there, like the fact that your brain is just processing so much and you have to make so many decisions all the time. I notice it now when I go down to the city. Plus, living in a relatively small apartment with another person and a cat can be tough, no matter how much you love them both–and knowing how much everything costs means you have to really hustle for work. Up here, our house costs about 1/3 of our apartment in Brooklyn and is absolutely beautiful–that means we have less stress around money and a constant stress-reliever of being surrounded by nature. I thought having a house could be stressful, but we sort of just deal with it, although there is a big learning curve to figure out what you do with gutters in the fall or how much wood to order for winter. I guess the one thing that’s certainly a bummer, if not exactly stressful, were the Trump signs up here that really were a reminder that we couldn’t assume our neighbors’ political leanings the way we could in Brooklyn.

The Brenn-White homestead.

The Brenn-White homestead.

BB: How would you compare your living quarters upstate to those in Brooklyn

Sarah: Well it’s funny, up until recently we downsized when we moved upstate! We were living in this little one bedroom above the restaurant. It felt more like living in a hotel room—we really spent our days and time in Gaskins. We cooked breakfast there and entertained friends on days off in the dining room. But now we have a small house on nine acres of land, so it’s drastically different. Having outdoor space is incredible. Our dog can run around for hours and the view out of every window is green.

Alecia and Tom: It’s not even comparable. In Brooklyn Alecia lived in a three-bedroom apartment where her bedroom was barely larger than the bed. She paid $800, which is very cheap for NYC. Here, our rent is just slightly more expensive for a huge one-bedroom apartment with a dining room, laundry, and a backyard.

Megan: We loved our apartment in Brooklyn, and it was one of the reasons we thought we’d never leave. We bought our house up here as a weekend house, so our criteria was different than it would’ve been if we’d known we were going to be here full time. We have a cabin that was built in the 1970s with small room that was extended with a big A-frame living room that’s honestly bigger than our old apartment, and has all skylights and windows looking out at trees. We are going to do some renovations this spring to make it work a little better for a full-time residence, particularly cause we get so many visitors from Brooklyn (and elsewhere!) and want a second bathroom. That said, those are small complaints. We love our house and I think about how ridiculously beautiful it is several times a day!

BB: How did you and your family make friends upstate?

Casey: The fact that we were opening a business made making friends out here significantly easier. We would introduce ourselves to anyone and everyone, and some folks had already heard about us so we had an immediate and easy topic of conversation. We also found some friends via Instagram! It can be tough because we all live so far apart from each other, but you just get good at making plans and sticking to them, and we have lots of slumber parties!

Alecia: In Brooklyn, it was easy to make friends because I spent the majority of my time in an office full of women. Here, I work pretty much on my own, so there’s no built-in connection for friendship. That was actually the impetus behind groups like Write Up; to create a little network of people (professionally and socially) in a place, and a field, where we usually work alone.

Megan: I have to say that social media was hugely helpful in making friends up here. As soon as I posted on Facebook that we were moving up here, friends and friends of friends started connecting us to people in the area. We met new friends through our neighbors in Brooklyn, through someone I’d studied in Germany with decades ago, through my sister and her wife out in California…and the list goes on! And then we began to meet their friends. And now we are about 100 times more social than we were in Brooklyn, which we really didn’t anticipate. One thing that I finally realized is that people who move up here almost always are doing so because they want a certain kind of life–and that life is almost never centered around career or financial success. That doesn’t mean at all that the people I’ve met up here aren’t super passionate about what they do or even financially successful. It’s just that they also want to have more time for other things, to spend time in nature, to give back to the local communities, to pursue various passions.

Sarah in front of Gaskins.

Sarah in front of Gaskins.

BB: Would you say you’ve changed since moving upstate?

Casey: It’s easier for us to identify our own priorities living out here. In the city you’re constantly surrounded by other people and it’s hard to not compare yourself. Out here, you can take a real look at your time and your priorities and ask, “What is it that I’d really and truly like to do with my life?” You have the space and quiet and independence to come up with your own answer.

Tom: I think I’ve become what I always wanted to be without knowing it—a regular ol’ fellow who appreciates a small town, a glass of whiskey and a good burger. I’ve learned that living in the Hudson Valley you can be whatever you want without worrying about putting on a show or creating an image. Doing that in the city was exhausting—I never worry anymore about what to wear or what people think of me.

BB: What surprised you most about your move?

Megan: The whole thing has been surprising to me! I was really prepared for a major adjustment period because, as I said, we weren’t fleeing Brooklyn at all–we loved living in Brooklyn! But I immediately felt at home and continue to feel incredibly grateful and excited to live up here. Everyone warned us about the winter and how that would be hard because a lot of the fun things aren’t open and the weather can be so bleak. But I’ve loved the fact that I’ve naturally wanted to just hang out at home more and cuddle up by the fire–or have long dinners with friends and just talk. One other surprising thing: we have met so many Europeans up here! My husband is British and we know three half-British couples in Kerhonkson alone–plus a smattering of Dutch people, Italians, Swedish, and more. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, so that has been a fun discovery.

BB: Do you think you’ll ever move back to Brooklyn?

Casey: Never say never! In the past ten years we’ve lived in Beijing, Timbukutu, Rabat, and San Francisco to name a few. That said, I think we’re happier out here than we ever dared dream we’d be!

Sarah: No.

Megan: It’s honestly so easy to get back to Brooklyn from here that I can’t imagine giving up the constant natural beauty, the amazing sense of community, and having a beautiful house and land with a relatively tiny mortgage! We are renting out our condo to a lovely couple now and there’s always a chance we’d move back someday, but I sort of don’t think so.

Alecia and Tom: Probably not, unless we became billionaires or Brooklyn suddenly became reasonable. It’s just not a sustainable life. Constantly struggling to make ends meet, to pay higher and higher rent and expenses, distracts from all the cool shit you could be doing with your time.

—————–

Our Life After Brooklyn series is one of our favorite original features that we enjoy researching, writing and editing, but global platforms like Facebook have translated into fewer ad dollars to support local media outlets like ours. If you enjoy this story, we hope you’ll consider supporting Brooklyn Based through a one-time donation of any amount using PayPal or Venmo. Think of it as a tip for content you appreciate, to help local independent media thrive.

3 Responses

  1. Jim -

    Upstate New York is filled with confederate flag waivers. It’s not all bonfires and farmers markets. It is legitimate hillbilly country I guess it’s cool if you’re some Brooklyn transplant from some other hillbilly state. As a native New Yorker beware. Oh and forget any sort of ethnic food

    Reply
  2. Lisa -

    First of all I’d like to say good for them! NYC has its charm but what a rat race to live in. And they are so right about the rents being huge and going up all the time. Unless you are making over $200,000 a year how does anyone even with roommates make it there? Secondly though…I think it’s a little funny that all of these couples you interviewed have no kids. I don’t know why that strikes me as funny but it does. And they are all “couples.” I’m single and don’t want to be…and have always thought about moving to a small town (aka Walton’s Mountain…anyone remember the Waltons? I’m dating myself!) but I feel to do so (I’m in San Diego) I will probably be sentencing myself to being alone forever as the prospects are just not there. It seems (just like with who you interviewed) people are all coupled up who move to these places and unless a spouse dies…I guess it’s basically “good luck” in meeting someone! (sigh!)

    Reply
  3. Lola Torres -

    Wow. That’s a lot of white people. I’d expect more diversity from a site about Brooklyn.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)