A bunch of younger, entrepreneurial youngsters are shaking up the agricultural northeast Pennsylvania city of Honesdale and turning it a scorching spot that might very properly be the subsequent Catskills. However with a now-cutthroat actual property market and an inflow of city-weary crowds, how lengthy can this charmingly small city keep … small?
He’s being good about it — actually, very nice — however I can inform Tim Meagher is able to wrap up our time collectively. Carrying grey denims and a crisp paisley button-down, with a touch of salt-and-pepper stubble washed throughout his broad face, he’s dressed for a day of getting issues finished. He’s spent the higher a part of this vivid August morning winding me via Marvel, the complicated of classy Airbnb-style lofts he’s opening in a month. Designed by native artist Samuelle Greene, who’s labored on installations for the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and the Guggenheim, the areas are bona fide Instagram catnip: Cool geometric murals cowl the flooring, and graphic wallpaper is splashed behind the beds. It’s the type of model you’d count on to see in Fishtown, or Williamsburg, or Silver Lake — wherever, actually, apart from the place we truly are: Honesdale, Pennsylvania, a tiny whistle-stop — simply 4 sq. miles — nestled in a woodsy Poconos valley within the northeastern tip of the state, about two and a half hours from each Philly and New York.
Whenever you consider someplace like Honesdale — you recognize, rural small-town America — you most likely don’t consider hustle and bustle, of individuals zipping round in preparation for buzzy loft openings. However maybe you need to.
As a co-owner of RE/MAX Wayne — arguably the most important business and residential actual property agency on this tiny city of simply 4,300 — Meagher has had a front-row seat to quite a lot of Honesdale’s adjustments these days. (He’s truly offered many of the buildings they’re taking place in.) Out on Essential Road, Honesdale’s major business artery, the place American flags dangle on practically each block and the wise sq. brick buildings by no means exceed three tales, once-empty storefronts are filling again up. Meagher has watched a work-boot store develop into an artwork gallery and a dilapidated pharmacy morph right into a craft brewery. Throughout the road from the ironmongery store, the place the out of doors show of driving garden mowers stretches virtually two blocks, there’s now a espresso roastery and espresso bar.
This explicit sort of small-town transformation is nothing new. The story has been instructed many occasions over in Hudson Valley and within the close by Catskills, the place entrepreneurial urbanites on the lookout for recent air (and, let’s be sincere, inexpensive actual property) have turned sleepy cities into nature-wrapped bastions of cozy eating places, high-end home-design boutiques, and magazine-worthy farmhouse retreats.
Lately in Philly, I’d been listening to rumblings of comparable happenings within the Poconos. Sure, these Poconos. The tacky heart-shaped Jacuzzis and fusty wood-shingle ski chalets are nonetheless there, in fact, however a brand new motion is rising. Burnt out on town however too cool for cookie-cutter suburbs, younger persons are shopping for outdated homes out right here, buying and selling barre lessons for lengthy hikes and $15 avocado toasts for farm-fresh cheese, and respiration new life into the area.
For the previous 20 years or so, however particularly for the previous 5 years, Honesdale, the nexus of this motion, has been quietly evolving at an natural tempo. However now, with trip cities out West like Truckee, California, and Missoula, Montana, already seeing rocketing housing costs and being rechristened “Zoom cities” in Bloomberg due to their attraction to distant employees, Honesdale may spin into a brand new stratosphere. One that might change the paradigm between city and rural life right here in Pennsylvania — or, on the very least, deliver them crashing collectively in new methods — but in addition threatens the homespun appeal that makes this city fantastic within the first place.
No matter lies forward, it doesn’t change Meagher’s right here and now. He’s been coping with an inflow of shoppers all summer season, the majority of them flooding in from Philly and New York. Some are fed up with metropolis life and trying to relocate full-time, whereas others are desperately looking for a trip dwelling sufficiently big for all the prolonged household ought to there be a second quarantine. They could be a demanding bunch, so Meagher’s obtained to get again to drumming up new listings and placing the ultimate touches on Marvel so it will possibly begin internet hosting guests.
As a result of, prefer it or not, Honesdale is on the rise. And proper now, on this period of COVID cabin fever and seemingly countless unhealthy information, everybody needs in.
Ask anyone who’s been to Honesdale what’s cool about Honesdale, and so they’ll most likely let you know about Native. House owners Alex and Caleb Johnson met via the Safran Turney restaurant empire in Midtown Village — she was a front-of-house supervisor at Lolita and Little Nonna’s; he was the chef de delicacies at Barbuzzo. They married, had a child, and dreamed of opening their very own place. Simply not in Philly.
“The town was already so glutted with eating places,” says Alex. “We needed to deliver one thing new to the place it will be wanted.”
So that they headed to Alex’s hometown, the place, they’d heard, cool issues had been occurring. It appeared completely different from the Honesdale she grew up in — the place everybody was the identical, the place there was nothing to do — however not completely different sufficient to cease the small-town gossip mill. By the grapevine, the couple discovered that Meagher was on the lookout for somebody to create a restaurant on the underside flooring of Marvel. Lengthy and slim, with loads of uncovered brick, the area reminded Alex and Caleb of the locations they’d come up via in Philly. So that they turned it into one thing you would pluck proper off East Passyunk: uncovered Edison bulbs, an open kitchen, an abundance of vegetation, and farm-to-table small plates — smoked duck rillette, broccolini Caesar — made with elements sourced virtually solely from close by purveyors.
Life in Honesdale is a pleasant change of tempo for Caleb and Alex. Positive, their home will be the similar dimension because the one that they had in Level Breeze — two bedrooms, one and a half baths — however right here, it comes with three and a half acres of land.
“We’ve a ravishing backyard. We’ve 16 chickens. We’ve berry patches. Our youngsters go foraging with us,” says Alex. “In Philly, we’d should drive two hours to go climbing or out on the river. Right here, it’s in our yard.”
The Johnsons aren’t the primary of the so-called “comeback youngsters,” a moniker bestowed by a regional newspaper to a crew of Honesdale natives who left after highschool however boomeranged again as younger adults to place their stamp on Essential Road.
“I by no means needed to reside right here rising up,” Allaina Propst says of her hometown. “It was extra monolithic — everybody talked the identical, had the identical path.”
After stints at Goldman Sachs and a enterprise capital agency in New York, Propst returned dwelling after her father’s demise to assist her mom — and determined to stay round. At age 23, she purchased a run-down Woolworth 5 & Dime with a mix of financial savings and a mortgage from an area financial institution. (“The mortgage course of is 100% simpler in a small city,” she says.) With the assistance of her cousin Steven Propst and brewer Karl Schloesser, she remodeled it into a cool brewery and restaurant known as Here & Now Brewing Company, which opened in 2017. Pre-pandemic, the scene was full-on Cheers: Each weekend evening, Honesdalians — some dressed up, some wearing camo — swept in to sip on small-batch saisons and IPAs. (As Propst will inform anybody who listens, it’s simply not true that rural Pennsylvanians solely drink Miller and Bud Mild.)
“It grew to become cool type of on accident. It’s low-cost sufficient you can nonetheless make one thing, and a group occurred round that.”
“This isn’t like upstate, the place there’s all these New York expats that had been style individuals or super-rich,” says Caitlin Cowger, who runs a collection of native cabin leases — one among which Condé Nast Traveler simply named probably the greatest Airbnbs outdoors of NYC. “It grew to become cool type of on accident. It’s low-cost sufficient you can nonetheless make one thing, and a group occurred round that.”
That group is made up of individuals like Ryanne Jennings, 33, who returned to Honesdale after a few decade in Philly, the place her household was busting on the seams of their Pennsport rowhome and prepared for a break from the grind. She took over the Cooperage Mission, a nonprofit that, pre-COVID, fueled the city’s packed roster of occasions, from farmers’ markets and concert events to after-school applications. (There have been greater than 350 listings in 2019 alone.) And there’s Travis Rivera, 38, who grew up in L.A. however headed to Honesdale in 2005 after his mom remarried a fellow with land right here. A decade later, there nonetheless wasn’t an amazing espresso store on the town, so he constructed one. Black & Brass now has two areas: the unique at fifth and Essential, and a second, bigger spot — one with a friggin’ waterfall within the again — that opened final October. Two extra are within the works.
Scotty Kurtain, in the meantime, was lured to Honesdale by Philly actual property developer John Longacre, who owns American Sardine Bar, South Philly Faucet Room, and Second District Brewing. Longacre is maybe finest recognized for investing in Level Breeze and Newbold when most of his friends had been staying distant, so it most likely bodes properly for Honesdale that his newest enterprise is a spot known as Second District Vineyard, situated simply 20 minutes outdoors of city. Longacre purchased the place in 2014 and ultimately recruited Kurtain, a former barback at South Philly Taproom, to rework it right into a farm for his eating places. Kurtain didn’t know a lot about agriculture when he arrived, however he’s turned the place right into a factor of magnificence. After I swing by on the suggestion of his spouse, Arrah Fisher, who succeeded Ryanne Jennings on the Cooperage final October, tidy strains of Chinook hops develop up coconut twine hung from sturdy wooden beams. Chickens cluck out and in of a coop located just under a patch of grapevines. Pumpkins the scale of seaside balls sprout subsequent to leafy stalks of kale within the vegetable backyard, and apple timber — their fruit will likely be fermented for arduous cider — develop within the on-property orchard. Full with a barn, a personal pond and a wine cellar, plus a couple of in a single day cottages which can be within the works, the property is the right backdrop for occasions just like the weekend wine tastings and local-maker markets that Longacre plans to run as soon as the world returns to a semblance of regular.
“It isn’t in any respect what I assumed it will be,” Longacre says of the area. “It’s a lot, a lot cooler. And whenever you mix the truth that you’re proper on the New York border to Narrowsburg and Callicoon, that are their very own ridiculously cool little cities, and also you take a look at the inhabitants that comes up right here in the summertime — plenty of individuals from NYC, plenty of individuals from Philly — it simply appeared like a really untapped space that was able to go.”
The record continues. There’s Gather, a trendy clothes and present store from Olivia Santo, a former company merchandise planner at Macy’s. Jeff Abella and Ishan Tigunait run Moka Origins, a bean-to-bar chocolate and occasional firm that was spotlighted earlier this year within the New York Occasions, and other people come from so far as South Korea to get inked by Dan Santoro, the NYC-famous tattoo artist who runs a store in close by Hawley. (There’d be much more to debate — like sandwich store Alley Whey and occasions at artwork gallery Basin and Essential — however, you recognize, coronavirus.)
These new additions, sprinkled in among the many equipment retailers and thrift shops of outdated Honesdale, create somewhat melting pot of city facilities and small-town appeal, sandwiched by resplendent greenery on both aspect. Even on a brief go to, it’s simple to see the attraction.
In some ways, Honesdale was primed for this latest evolution. Entrepreneurialism is, in spite of everything, baked into its very beginnings, when, within the early 1800s, Philadelphia businessman William Wurts started shopping for parcels of land within the space to mine anthracite coal. Wurts needed to ship the stuff again to his dwelling metropolis, however Lehigh Valley beat him to the punch. So he about-faced to New York, the place the coal provide had been quick because the Conflict of 1812. To get it there, he’d want a canal — and a reasonably large one at that. However he made it occur. Along with brothers Maurice and Charles and traders together with future firm president and Honesdale namesake Philip Hone, Wurts based the Delaware & Hudson Canal Firm in 1823. Their mission — one among America’s first million-dollar non-public enterprises — was a 108-mile waterway that started at firm headquarters in Honesdale, the place coal arrived from the close by mines of Carbondale by way of gravity prepare, then stretched alongside the Lackawaxen and up the Delaware, ultimately streaming into New York’s Ulster County, the place the rocks had been loaded onto Hudson River steamships, floated south to Manhattan, and actually fueled the Industrial Revolution. (Philip Hone, by the best way, went on to develop into the mayor of New York.)
Because the seat of Wayne County, Honesdale additionally already had quite a lot of the infrastructure needed for a renaissance: decent-size hospital, authorities buildings with white-collar authorities jobs, three regional financial institution headquarters, a close-by Walmart. There have been even a couple of pre-existing doses of quirk and funky: Highlights, as soon as America’s hottest kids’s journal, was based right here in 1946 (the editorial workplaces are nonetheless on the town), and the Himalayan Institute, an enormous yoga retreat, sits on the outskirts of the borough.
The entrepreneurial spirit remains to be alive and properly, and even native authorities is getting in on the momentum. In 2015, Wayne County partnered with an area financial improvement org to launch the Stourbridge Project, a free co-working area and small-business incubator housed in a repurposed Honesdale elementary college. It’s obtained good web (the best bandwidth within the county; extra on that later), digital media studios, non-public convention rooms, and 3-D printers and laser cutters for prototyping. (It’s even obtained a “Maker in Residence,” Lisa Glover, who will train you tips on how to use all of it.)
Encouraging entrepreneurialism, particularly in tech, is the entire purpose of this place. Director Susan Shaffer needs Honesdalians to construct their companies right here, and he or she needs different companies to relocate right here. (A printing companies firm and a health-care staffing brokerage have already got.) It’s a street map for what may occur in different rural cities within the state, so forward-thinking that it was named the Pennsylvania Financial Growth Affiliation’s Mission of the Yr in 2018.
Nonetheless, this isn’t totally some hidden little utopia within the making. Issues do exist. Just like the winters, that are brutal (until you’re into that type of factor). Just like the homogeneity. (Wayne County is predominately white.) Like poverty and habit, points that a lot of rural America (and Philly, for that matter) grapples with. Just like the Web, which might be gradual. (This would possibly look like a paltry criticism, but it surely’s truly a well-documented roadblock to rural improvement. Because the financial system globalizes and we proceed to buy, work and, actually, reside on-line, extra distant cities could possibly be neglected totally with out correct wiring.)
What’s extra, some easy-to-take-for-granted elements of extra densely populated areas might be arduous to return by. (“You possibly can’t essentially be nameless right here,” says Propst. “I can’t get drunk and dance on the desk, as a result of everybody is aware of me.”)
“You possibly can’t essentially be nameless right here. I can’t get drunk and dance on the desk, as a result of everybody is aware of me.”
The inhabitants additionally skews older — per the newest census estimates, 1 / 4 of the residents are 65 and above, and sure, a bulk of them voted for Trump the primary time round. However when you would possibly assume the interaction of outdated Honesdale and new (extra liberal) Honesdale would throw off sparks, that isn’t actually the case. Positive, some older people don’t perceive all the things about what the younger ’uns are constructing — Native, for instance, confronted some resistance over its portion sizes as a result of individuals weren’t used to sharing small plates — however the place doesn’t that occur? The truth is, once I ask Carol Dunn, the 70-year-old director of the Wayne County Historic Society — the very keeper of Honesdale’s previous — what she thinks in regards to the future, she’s excited.
“I see Honesdale as hustling and bustling,” she says. “I see an financial system created by a youthful technology that far surpasses the retirees. They’ve taken it and run with it. Made it their very own. I see Honesdale capably within the fingers of one other group of individuals, and so they’re not hankering for what was once.”
If Honesdale’s renaissance comes as a shock to you, it shouldn’t. At the very least, not in response to College of Minnesota rural sociologist Benjamin Winchester, who has spent his practically 25-year profession telling everybody how outdated the agricultural narrative — struggling farms, emptying cities, retirees on the VFW — actually is. In actuality, America’s rural inhabitants is rising (up 11 % since 1970), with a diversifying financial system. (Ag, extraction and manufacturing used to dominate, however right now it’s schooling and well being companies.) What’s taking place in Honesdale proper now is definitely a lot nearer to the rule than the exception.
And whereas speak of “mind drain” — high-school and post-high-school-age youngsters leaving in quest of alternatives in city areas — nonetheless holds up, Winchester is way more involved with the actions of 30- and 40-year-olds, like those reshaping Honesdale, who’re of their prime incomes years. The mind acquire, as he calls them. On a nationwide stage, this age group is rising in rural communities. (In Wayne County, the % cohort change — the expansion of a particular age vary over time — for these teams was up a median of 30 % between 2000 and 2010.)
Some alarmists are already predicting the pandemic will velocity up this development — that these with means and jobs that may be finished remotely will abandon city facilities for small cities and produce in regards to the demise of cities within the course of. However what’s extra probably, at the very least within the close to time period, is that these with means will simply begin splitting their time extra evenly. With fewer causes to really be wherever apart from in entrance of their computer systems, urbanites will spool out weekend visits to the nation into month-long stints. Which means they’ll want a cushty place to remain.
Which brings us again to Tim Meagher’s busy summer season. As we stroll the 2 blocks from Marvel to his workplace, he tells me extra in regards to the deluge of emails and telephone calls he’s been fielding. They’re from individuals of their 30s, 40s and 50s. They’re largely on the hunt for second properties, and so they know they’ll snag an entire lot of sq. footage up right here for between $200,000 and $500,000. In the event that they’re from Philly, they’ve sometimes vacationed on the Shore, however they’re fearful in regards to the Shore closing down once more. In Northeastern PA, the place you usually have lake entry rights or personal your lake frontage and plenty of properties include ponds, you’ll by no means be shut out of the water.
It’s a cutthroat market — one thing Northern Liberties dwelling stager Kendall Quigley is aware of firsthand. Initially taken with a Catskills retreat, she turned her consideration to NEPA in March due to its proximity to Philly, low property taxes and even decrease costs ($70K for an A-frame! $90K for a ski chalet!). However these costs have been steadily climbing this 12 months — per knowledge from Redfin, the median sale costs for properties in rural areas nationwide elevated 11.3 % year-over-year for July — and he or she misplaced out on eight bids earlier than lastly securing the keys to a cabin on Hawley’s Paupackan Lake in September.
“It’s so aggressive, it’s insane,” she says. “It’s not solely us Philadelphians who’re like, Let’s deliver again the Poconos! All these New Yorkers are additionally seeing the potential. And so much are shopping for with money.”
It’s too quickly to inform what this all means for Honesdale. Can it proceed to develop by itself, for itself, with out succumbing to the needs of part-time inhabitants? Or does it develop into the subsequent scorching upstate-adjacent escape, one the place the hearing-care middle is changed with a Pilates studio and the music tools retailer turns into a juice bar? Or is a brand new mannequin so as, one through which metropolis people and rural people lastly, truly take part in the identical group and eventually, truly begin speaking to 1 one other, as a substitute of yelling into the echo chambers of Fb and Instagram?
That’s what’s so thrilling about Honesdale proper now: chance. We’re nonetheless early sufficient to be asking these questions, ready to see the way it all unravels. Nonetheless, all the things has its tipping factors.
“I simply hope it’s good change,” says tattoo artist Dan Santoro once I ask him about what comes subsequent. “I lived in New York for many of my grownup life. Now that I’ve skilled this way of life, I actually don’t wish to return to that. So if it will get to the purpose the place persons are demanding their Starbucks and it’s simply strip malls and condos right here, I’ve to maintain shifting.”
Revealed as “The Little Poconos City That May” within the November 2020 situation of Philadelphia journal.