It was with some trepidation that I clicked on the story in this morning’s New York Times with the headline: “New Yorkers Are Scrambling to Make Dinner Reservations (90 Miles North of the City).”
The subhead was even more cringe-worthy: “Little Kingston, Exit 19 off the Thruway, is drawing restaurateurs, chefs, brewmasters and the people who love them.”
“Little” Kingston? OK. It’s not a big city, I get it. But that struck me as sort of, I don’t know, patronizing. Like: Isn’t it amazing? Upstate has a foodie scene! This little hayseed community actually has restaurants worth eating in!
I’m a Hudson Valley native. Born and raised in New Paltz. And I am a very big fan – you might even say booster – of the region and all it has to offer, from fabulous and widely varied eateries and cultural sites to a wide range of outdoor pursuits.
As a self-designated upstate cheerleader, I am supportive – in theory – of any and all publicity received by small communities that have been struggling to redefine themselves and rebuild their respective economies.
More often than not, that involves tourism.
There are a lot of people out there with disposable income and a desire to engage in authentic experiences, like eating at farm-to-table restaurants, shopping at quirky, independently-owned boutiques, and visiting craft breweries and wineries.
I totally understand the desire, even need, to attract visitors.
But I have mixed feelings about the idea of a community as a tourist attraction, especially if locals get priced out, or crowded out, of participating in the renaissance of their own home town.
Upstate has a lot to offer. It also has a lot of problems, problems that feel like they’re increasingly going unaddressed, especially at the state level, where the Legislature is now entirely controlled by downstate interests.
While it may have a growing number of great restaurants and organic farms and cideries, upstate also has an aging infrastructure, underfunded schools (in many cases), a lack of access to good jobs, reliable broadband, and affordable healthcare – especially in the more rural areas.
So, while I welcome the uptick in tourism, and the money tourists bring with them, and the sales tax revenue they generate, and the property taxes paid by the new businesses that service them, I just hope people recognize that upstate is a lot more than just a pretty place to visit.
Maybe I’m just being selfish. Maybe I want all the cool places I feel like I have “discovered” to remain a secret so I don’t have to wait in line to get in.
And, for the record, I really love some of the businesses name checked in the Times article on Kingston.
Rough Draft Bar and Books, for example, is one of my favorite haunts. It reminds me of Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, which, as it turns out, inspired the couple that started Rough Draft to launch a similar venue.
And that couple also happen to be former New York City residents who fell in love with Kingston and decided to make it their home. You hear the story a lot from the owners of many of the very businesses that are drawing more downstaters to the Hudson Valley and beyond.
I welcome these new residents. And I guess I also welcome all the new people who are just now finding out what I’ve known all along: Upstate is cool. Upstate is worthy. Upstate has a lot to offer.
I just hope all the attention doesn’t go to its head and change things.
Weigh in…is this just my personal bias, or does anyone else feel the same way?