“The Catskills Is the New Williamsburg,” or So Says Half of They Might Be Giants

  |  July 18, 2011

I know some of you take umbrage when we compare Upstate towns to NYC neighborhoods, but I’d be a sorry excuse of an Upstate real estate blogger if ignored this one. In an interview with Gothamist, They Might Be Giants co-founder and Catskiller John Flansburgh sang the praises of Upstate living, declaring, “The Catskills is the New Williamsburg.”

Such comparisons clearly have their limitations and can seem parochial to boot, but they’re helpful when you’re explaining Upstate locations to New York City folks who might not know a Phoenicia from a Saugerties—and particularly when you’re trying to address how expensive or discovered an Upstate town might be. (For example, I’m definitely priced out of Rhinebeck, a town I love but I’d probably find a little too polished and touristed for day-to-day living, just like I’d never want to live in, or be able to afford, the West Village. Yet there are surely tons people for whom anything less than the shops, services and reputation of Rhinebeck wouldn’t appeal.)

The price and accessibility question is in fact exactly why the Catskills seem so exciting to me now, just as Williamsburg might have,  say, in the early ’90s. Given how depressed the Upstate real estate market has been, house hunting north of the city also delivers a pleasant sense of discovery, much like finding a cool, relatively unsung neighborhood where the food is good and the rents still cheap.  But at the end of the day, Upstate living, unlike city living, isn’t so much about what you spend your money on when you’re not at home. Of course, I like when a new business opens up within an easy drive of my place in East Jewett, but what I really love about Greene County (aside from the natural beauty and the fainting goats at Catskill Mountain Country Store) is feeling there’s a place for me there. I could afford to buy a home, which had long been a dream of mine and was simply not a possibility in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

And perhaps that’s why the NYC neighborhood/Upstate town comps can feel a little icky. I don’t want East Jewett (or Cornwallsville or even Saugerties) to become the next Williamsburg. The lack of pretension and the low density and the low pricing are the things that make being Upstate feel so good, especially when you live and work in a big city. And trust me: if I really believed the Catskills were going to become Williamsburg, I wouldn’t be broadcasting my love for them here. I’m guessing John Flansburgh feels the same.

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