Every community that goes through shifts in its demographic
composition also goes through its share of resentment and
conflict, and ours is no different from any other in that
respect. Normally these kind of issues move below the radar
of public dialogue but once in a while they do show up there.
When they do, it’s our job to give voice to them.
Recently our other newspaper The Olive Press was named in
an anonymous letter circulated to some business owners in
that town, threatening their economic boycott for “perpetuating
the influx of New York City people to the area and driving
out the locals.” We all have our own ways of interpreting
what we see happening in our community and everybody’s
emotional response is legitimate and they’re entitled
Our first take was that’s sort of like blaming the rainbow
trout for high water in the Esopus because they’re not
native, while holding the brook trout faultless because they
are. Neither species seems to have much control over the rain
or the City’s water releases. But then we thought,
well okay, what if there’s truth in it? Are all
the local businesses that try to accommodate our community’s
economic changes actually undermining the authenticity of
We don’t presume to know the answer but we think it’s
a legitimate question. There’s hardly a business in
the region that hasn’t changed the goods or services
it’s offered over the years to reflect the changing
needs of our full and part-time residents and the visitors
our area draws. That’s a straightforward matter of survival
for any small business, and most of us are grateful that much
of what we need or want is available pretty close to home.
So what’s the real beef? We think for some people it’s
about change, any kind of change, and their emotional reaction
Those of us who grew up somewhere else hardly ever find a
return visit very satisfying. Few of us like finding new things
where there weren’t any, places that don’t strike
us the way we remember them, or families who may or may not
remind us of our own. Of course these are normal reactions,
and telling ourselves that change is inevitable doesn’t
alter the way we feel. Insofar as our own sense of connection
with those places is concerned, probably the best we could
hope for is that our feelings might be respected.
And it’s no different for people who grew up here.
Our communities are of course changing, but they aren’t
changing in a vacuum. Much as some are pleased by a lot of
what they’re seeing, others aren’t. But just as
we are most definitely our own place with our own sense of
place, we’re also a part of a region and a country and
a world, all of which are undergoing the same kinds of change
at a similar pace. And everywhere, the same emotional issues
come up as people try to make sense of their relationship
to their changing communities.
Nobel Prize winner Gregory Bateson used to say that evolution
is what happens when something keeps trying to do the same
dance it always has, as the world around it changes. What
really “evolves” isn’t say, a horse, but
a relationship between the horse and the grasses it lives
on. Over time, both are changed by the relationship
so that both can flourish. An anthropologist, Bateson wasn’t
just talking about species but about communities too.
And what’s evolving here in Shandaken isn’t one
animal that was born here and another that wasn’t, but
a relationship between both and the cultural environment they
share. And that’s changing largely from the big world
beyond, not because some local storeowners are trying to make
a living by appealing to our region’s visitors and the
45 percent of our homeowners who aren’t full-time residents.
Boycott local businesses to try and stop the rise in our property
values? If that’s a solution to anything, then what
exactly is the problem? We asked Dan Leader who owns Bread
Alone what he thought of the boycott threat he received. “We
have 70 people on our payroll” he said. “All locals.
I don’t get it”
It’s true Shandaken is changing, and so’s just
about everywhere else. In some measure it’s changing
because people like what they find here and want to stay.
Of those who’ve started businesses, often investing
their life’s savings, few have done so with any expectation
of making more than a modest living. Nobody’s
moved to the neighborhood to get rich, and nobody’s
likely to anytime soon. But Shandaken is the fastest-growing
town in the county in terms of personal income and educational
attainment of its full-time residents, and it’s not
surprising that our local businesses are responding to that.
We don’t however, think it’s something people
should get bent out of shape about.
Here at this paper against whom charges of citified sensibilities
have been made, it’s always been our practice to run
everything that comes to us from the community. In our columns
and regular features, we tend to go with voices which are
consistent and show up on deadline. We try in our coverage
to anticipate what’s happening, to give people time
to think about things and respond and maybe make a difference
in what happens. We welcome change, just as we welcome
a full and open dialogue on everything of importance here.
Yeah, some amount of change is inevitable. A community’s
not a time capsule or a controlled experiment in nostalgia.
But how we change and grow responsibly is still, by and large,
up to us. Let’s hope we can approach it as one community
with many voices, as the alternatives are, well, bleak by