Diary of a Transplant: Upstate Employment

Photo from Flickr/gottgraphicsdesign/creative commons

Photo from Flickr/gottgraphicsdesign/creative commons

When you first move upstate, you’re all, wow we have so much money!  And, stuff’s so cheap! The economy up here is just so different than it is in the city.

Then you start to adjust, and start having to pay for all the extra things you need up here. Another car. Property taxes. Garbage pick up. 100 bales of hay. Full fuel tanks (for the car and the house). Hay. Firewood. A new horse. Animal feed. Another 100 bales of  hay. Lumber for your many building projects. The vet bill for the sick goat. You get the idea.

Sure, real estate is cheap compared to the city. But taxes and fuel aren’t (and neither is farming). These unavoidable expenses cast a pall on the economy up here. Add that to the fact that abundance of jobs that exist in the city just isn’t happening up here, and you start to understand why there is so much poverty upstate.

Now, when I go down to the city for work every week, I am amazed by the bustling economy that once seemed normal to me. Restaurants packed on Monday nights! Luxury foods stacked high in boutique grocery stores like Union Market. Boutique grocery stores! Groovy clothing stores with $300 purses. Park Slopers everywhere in new clothes and expensive shoes. After the jump, what former downstaters are doing for work up here.

Given the vast disparity between these two neighboring economies, I am always interested in seeing how other transplanters have managed to carve out a comfortable existence, either by finding a niche up here, commuting downstate (like I do), or bringing city money upstate (like we do with our rental cottage).

Our friend Will Pflaum is a perfect example. In Brooklyn, Will and his wife Aenne lived two blocks away from us in Park Slope, although we didn’t know each other then. Now they live in Stuyvesant Falls and are good friends of ours. Aenne is a psychologist who works for the state, making home visits to evaluate children for learning disabilities. Will runs Glencadia Dog Camp, something I wish I’d thought of first. Every Thursday he drives down to the city and picks up dogs who are need of a little country time (okay, or whose owners are going away). Dogs spend the weekend at the dog camp, and on Sunday night he drives them back home. Will’s house is one of my kids’ favorite homes to visit, because he has sheep, horses, chickens and goats. And we always like peeking into the dog camp and seeing the cute visiting dogs hanging out in the play area.

Our friends Ruth and Tom, both artists, are also from the city, and still live part-time in Long Island City. Tom works as a carpenter for an art-transport firm, and Ruth is the director of Art Omi, an artist-residency foundation in Ghent.

Erica was a graphic designer in the city for many years. Now she runs a goat farm, Squill Hill Farm, and makes cheese and soap.

Shelly teaches music to children and is the education coordinator at Olana; Eric is a writer.

Brian and Allison opened Tortillaville, a food truck in Hudson, which was a factor in us falling for Hudson. They spend the winters in the Keys, and churn out tacos in the summer. They have a book coming out, too.

David and Laura own applewood, one of Park Slope’s best restaurants, and now they run applewood farm, in Chatham.

Andrew is an artist and carpenter; Christina is a professor at SUNY Albany.

Another Erica we know runs Dogs of Hudson, a boutique dog store and training venue.

Other people I know: an acupuncturist who commutes every week to her clientele in Williamsburg; a Bushwick restauranteur who commutes down on weekends while his artist wife holds down the upstate fort (3 kids!) during the week; a health counselor in Albany; ice cream shop-owners; and an environmental lobbyist in Albany…

I sort of wish I could stop commuting, but first I’d have to come up with a solid occupation up here to take my job’s place. Pancake restaurant? Ramen shop? Batik-shirt company? Food truck?  Knitting shop? Brewery owner? Coffee roaster? The list is endless, but …daunting.

I just wish I’d thought of the dog camp before Will!


Category: Employment, Finances, Top Stories, upstate new york

By: larissa | 25 April 2013 02:00 PM | 6 Comments

6 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    You might want to think about doing the opposite: people who come up from the city with their dogs, but don’t want to bring them back. Friends of ours have a dog that hates being in the city, so they sometimes leave him with a ‘dog sitter’ here upstate rather than bring him back to the city with them. They don’t do it often (because they miss him!) and it’s expensive – the person they leave him with charges $45 a day. But, if there are city people near you, you might be able to start a country dog sitting biz.

  2. Leslie S. - Old Bridge, NJ says:

    Tear down an old dilapidated bungalow colony up there, and build an eco- friendly “yurt” colony. The possibilities are endless.

    • lisa says:

      Leslie, this has always been my dream, and in large part why I helped start Upstater! Only thing we need is…financing!

  3. larissa says:

    I’d like it to be known that anyone who wants to leave their dog with me should PM me!

  4. Beware of the upstate business idealism. Many more folks fail than succeed, and are left with not just the house they bought but the business investment that can’t be recouped. I’ve seen many more folks close up shop than survive 5 years.

    They fail because it can be boring, with low foot traffic.
    They fail because the profits and revenues were mis-estimated.
    Mostly they fail because for some reason folks think that if you do business upstate you don’t have to apply the same rules as downstate – super hard work, super commitment, super aggressive – all these things may be uncouth and ill-fitting in the laid back upstate environment, but business is business and there is no lackadasical way to get the bills paid that add up endlessly – taxes, insurance, licenses, etc….

    But for those who do apply the same hardwork and creative energies to their upstate enterprises – who find a niche, who market well, who reinvest their profits – there are definitely lives to be lived up here.

    A few examples I’ve always been impressed with (meaning updated fresh inventory, compelling websites, correct market analysis, longetivity) –

    Dog Mountain Lodge in Cochecton NY –

    Catskill4sale –

    The River Gallery in Narrowsburg

    Golden Guernsey Barn and Breakfast (and now catering)

    River Reporter Newspaper (their business model is good, their righteous editorializing is tiresome, however)

    River Mart in Barryville.

    Tough plays that through a combination of niche identification, perseverance, hard work, creativity and paying attention to the fundamentals of business have provided great products and services to Sullivan County (and yes, you actually can count them on one or two hands).

  5. Eric says:

    I vote for pancake restaurant (and Shelly has an amazing recipe…)!

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