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The New Catskills: Another Generation of New Yorkers Makes It Their Own
New York Daily News
April 30, 2006
Subtitle: REINVENTING THE CATSKILLS
It seemed like its heyday had come and gone, but today, this old-time resort area’s still evolving
In the old days, a typical Catskills vacation included a few standard elements: family-friendly activities, heaping portions of decidedly mediocre food and Saturday-night Borscht Belt entertainment. "There were two periods of great prosperity in terms of tourism," says Sullivan County historian John Conway. One was from 1890 to 1915, when the emphasis was on destinations built around the railroads; the other lasted from about 1915 to 1965, druing which the Borscht Belt came to be and hit its heyday. After that, the allure of the great Catskills resorts began to fade. "The typical reasons are air conditioning, the growth of suburbia, low airfares and, most important, assimilation, " Conway says.
Today, there ar e just a handful of "Jewish Alps" resorts left over from the more than 500 that filled the Sullivan county hills in the 40s and 50s. At Kutsher’s, an old stalwart that has been standing since 1907, third-generation owner Mark Kutsher says he still does well with families and special-interest groups. He’s also continuinally updating the hotel’s activities (mountain bikes in, paddle boating out), but still, the old hotels just aren’t the attraction they once were. And as they’ve faded, a different kind of Catskills vacation has been emerging -- one that trades Simon Says and Ping-Pong tournaments for upscale spas, urbane boutiques and gourmet restaurants.
Ever since 9/11, a new breed of vacationers and second-home-owner residents (like Moby and Debbie Harry) has been transforming the four counties of the Catskills region -- Sullivan, Ulster, Green and Delaware -- from old-fashioned to all the rage.
RETURN OF THE NATIVES: All over the four counties, towns are experiencing a small boom of businesses opened by natives who left as soon as they were old enough but then returned to settle down and raise their families.
In Livingston Manor, Sims Foster came back in 2002 to open the cozy coffeehouse Peez Leweez with his brogher, Ryan. Sensing an energy rising in their formerly sleepy town, the Fosters last spring also opened Resort, a gourmet restaurant that serves "contemporary Catskill farm food."
Daisy Dramer, whose parents have owned the Woodstock Trading Post since she was a kid, was living in L.A. with her husband and working as a stylist. But by opening the door to Dig, a clothing boutique that has brought a cosmopolitan flash to the village’s small-town charm with fashionista brands as well as jewelry designed by local artists.
Down the street, you can find a similar story at the tiny but chic Cafe With Love, run by Pierre-Luc Moeys and Nina Paturel, who, like Daisy, has family in Woodstock, and the Prosperity Room, a Tibetan textile shop owned by Woodstock-raised Esme Garfield and Corey Breitenstein.
Another big source of new businesses in the Catskills comes from the influx of city folk buying second homes. Many of them have snatched up entrepreneurial endeavors as well, which has led to an overall swankifying of small-town streets, especially in Ulster and Delaware Counties.
In the quaint village of Andes, interior designer Nini Ordoubadi teamed up with artist Sean Scherer to open Tay Home, an artisanl tea and antiques store, last summer
There’s buzz in Roxbury, too, another Delaware County hamlet, where Public Lounge is drawing locals and city folk with its big couches, colorful bar and hypnotizing music and video screen. Pulic’s country-meets-cool vibe pairs well with its year-old neighbor, The Roxbury, a fun, bright, funky boutique-motel.
In Sullivan County’s Jeffersonville, former New Yorkers Vivian Hune and Joseph Giamarese opened Global Home in 2004; in Livingston Manor, Sue Barnett and Jeff Christensen run Hamish & Henry Booksellers.
Cover Story Photo: The Roxbury exterior facade. Photo Inset: the Austin Powers Suite.
Photo Caption: FUNKY TOWN: The Roxury motel in the town of the same name. Owners Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa went for country chic on the outside and retro cool for the rooms.