Creating Hipsturbia

Ryan Inzana

 

By ALEX WILLIAMS
Published: February 15, 2013

“A yoga studio opened on Main Street that offers lunch-hour vinyasa classes. Nearby is a bicycle store that sells Dutch-style bikes, and a farm-to-table restaurant that sources its edible nasturtiums from its backyard garden.

Across the street is the home-décor shop that purveys monofloral honey produced by nomadic beekeepers in Sicily. And down the street is a retro-chic bakery, where the red-velvet cupcakes are gluten-free and the windows are decorated with bird silhouettes — the universal symbol for “hipsters welcome.”

You no longer have to take the L train to experience this slice of cosmopolitan bohemia. Instead, you’ll find it along the Metro-North Railroad, roughly 25 miles north of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the suburb of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Here, beside the gray-suited salarymen and four-door minivans, it is no longer unusual to see a heritage-clad novelist type with ironic mutton chops sipping shade-grown coffee at the patisserie, or hear 30-somethings in statement sneakers discuss their latest film project as they wait for the 9:06 to Grand Central.

As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs.

But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them.

To ward off the nagging sense that a move to the suburbs is tantamount to becoming like one’s parents, this urban-zen generation is seeking out palatable alternatives — culturally attuned, sprawl-free New York river towns like Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown — and importing the trappings of a twee lifestyle like bearded mixologists, locavore restaurants and antler-laden boutiques.

“I don’t think we need to be in Brooklyn,” said Marie Labropoulos, who recently moved to Westchester County and opened a shop, Kalliste, selling artisanal vegan soap in Dobbs Ferry. “We’re bringing Brooklyn with us.”

Welcome to hipsturbia.

While this colonization is still in its early stages, it is different from the suburban flight of decades earlier, when young parents fled a city consumed by crime and drugs. These days, young creatives are fleeing a city that has become too affluent.

Brooklyn, once the affordable alternative to Manhattan, has since been re-branded as an international style capital. Lofts in Williamsburg formerly filled with baristas and bass players now sell to Goldman bankers in excess of $1 million. The same is true in leafier breeder-magnet neighborhoods like Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill, where young families now compete with moneyed buyers from overseas, real estate agents said.

A stately five-bedroom town house in Cobble Hill, which sold for $750,000 in 2000, was recently listed for nearly $2.9 million, according to public records. Prefer to rent? Even atwo-bedroom duplex in Carroll Gardens with a garden for the little ones can run $5,500 a month.

Patrick McNeil, 37, a painter from Greenpoint, encountered nothing but frustration on a recent Brooklyn house hunt. “We would be going out to open houses, and there would be 80 people going in, and they’d be asking $740,000, and it would suddenly go to $940,000 — all cash,” Mr. McNeil said. “And you’re still two blocks away from the sewer plant in Greenpoint. We just thought, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

What they were doing, it turns out, was slowly rationalizing a move to the suburbs. It was not an easy process.

Mr. McNeil is one half of the lauded street-art duo Faile, known for its explosive swirls of graffiti art, wheat-paste sloganeering and punk rock. He wears his hair in a top bun and bears tattoos with his sons’ names, Denim and Bowie, on his forearms. His wife, Nicole Miziolek, is an acupuncturist.

“We were the we’ll-never-leave-Brooklyn types,” said Ms. Miziolek, 36.

But faced with overpaying for a Brooklyn home that would barely contain a life with two young sons, they decided to look northward. “When we checked towns out,” Ms. Miziolek recalled, “I saw some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos. A little glimmer of Williamsburg!”

He needed more convincing. “Nicole brought me up here kicking and screaming,” Mr. McNeil recalled. But he was won over once he saw a rambling three-story, five-bedroom Victorian with a wraparound porch for $860,000. There was even space for a basement rec room. And it was only a 40-minute drive to his Brooklyn studio.

In fall 2011, they made the jump from their 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint.

Yes, they are the youngest people on their block, they said, and unlike in Williamsburg, they have to expend effort to find like-minded people — or recruit other friends from Brooklyn. So far, they have persuaded one young family to move.

“People get those Brooklyn goggles,” Mr. McNeil said. “They think it’s the center of the earth.”

But that hip-centric view may be shifting, according to real estate agents who speak of a “mass exodus from Brooklyn.”

Alison Bernstein, the founder of the Suburban Jungle Realty Group in Manhattan, which specializes in relocating New Yorkers to the suburbs, said that more than 85 percent of her business is coming from Brooklyn, with a notable spike in just the last year. Most focus on what she calls “the Brooklyn triangle”: the somewhat artsier suburbs between Montclair or Glen Ridge in New Jersey, Larchmont in Westchester and the Hudson River towns.

“It’s all personality driven,” Ms. Bernstein said. “The overall vibe there is very laid back. It’s not very big-box retail-y, not strip-mall-y.”

But for people of a Galapagos Art Space mind-set, the move involves more than dollar-per-square-foot calculations. To abandon Brooklyn is to admit that a certain idea of Brooklyn has died, or that they longer fit into it.

Emily Wardwell Dodziuk, a graphic designer who moved to Hastings in July with her husband, Nicholas Dodziuk, a furniture designer, knew it was time to decamp for the suburbs when they found themselves trying to stay sane raising two young children, as roof parties thumped through the ceiling of their Williamsburg apartment until 3 a.m.

“I’ve worked in fashion, Brooklyn was part of our lifestyle, but it just came time to get real,” she said. “How long could we pretend it was O.K.?”

Noisy trustafarians were not the only problem. The couple had enrolled their oldest son into the gifted and talented kindergarten program in the local public school, but they were disappointed by the school’s overcrowding, unruly students and bureaucracy.

Not wanting to shoulder $20,000 a year or more for private schools, the suburbs seemed like the best option, she said.

With an increase both in density and in the atmosphere of busy professionalism, Brooklyn no longer feels as carefree as it did, said Ari Wallach, a futurism consultant, who recently cut short a Brooklyn real estate search.

“There is more looking down, less eye contact,” said Mr. Wallach, 38. “The difference is between the first three days of Burning Man, when everyone is ‘Hey, what’s up?’ to the final three days of Burning Man, when the tent flaps are down. Brooklyn is turning out to be the last three days of Burning Man.”

He conducted a Google Maps street-view search of Westchester, and settled on Hastings for his family when he saw Subarus parked on the streets, not Lexus SUVs.

He is not the only one. Mitchell Moss, an urban-planning professor at New York University, said that funkier suburbs like the river towns are getting a new look from “overeducated hipsters,” not just because they have good schools, spacious housing and good transit, but because lately the restaurants are good enough to keep them in the suburbs on a Saturday night. “The creative class is trying to replicate urban life in the suburbs,” he said.

To finally pull up stakes in Brooklyn, however, one has to make peace with the idea that a certain New York adventure is over, said Cass Ghiorse, 32, a dancer who recently had her first child and moved, with her husband, Joe McCarthy, from Williamsburg to Irvington. She now teaches yoga at Hastings Yoga, a new studio.

“You’re not a failure if you decide to leave Brooklyn,” Ms. Ghiorse said. “People move to New York with a plan, a dream, and sometimes it doesn’t work out that you can live that lifestyle. It takes a lot of money.”

As a server at Marlow & Sons, the nose-to-tail temple in Williamsburg, Ms. Ghiorse said she loved being surrounded by “that unbelievably saturated population” of creative influencers, like James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem.

While she savors the space and mental calm of the suburbs, she finds herself looking hopefully for signs of creative ferment. “We’ve found it in pockets,” Ms. Ghiorse said. “Once in a while, you’ll think, ‘This place gets it,’ because they have a Fernet Branca cocktail on their menu.”

The signs are there, if you know where to look.

On a visit to Hastings on a recent gray Tuesday, a stroll down the snow-flecked sidewalks of Warburton Avenue, a main drag, revealed more than a few glimpses of “Portlandia” popping up in an otherwise “Mayberry R.F.D.” tableau.

The gluten-free bakery, By the Way, sits across the street from Juniper, the farm-to-table restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place on Smith Street, the restaurant row that cuts through Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Nearby isMaisonette, a home-décor shop that sells felted-wool gazelle heads, for those who prefer their antlers cruelty-free. The owners are Maria Churchill and Kevin McCarthy, recent refugees from the East Village.

The fact that there is a main street to stroll is a big draw for former Brooklynites who find sprawling, car-culture suburbs alienating. These pedestrian-friendly towns, filled with low-rise 19th century brick buildings and non-chain shops, offer a version of village-style living that Jane Jacobs, the Greenwich Village urbanist, would have approved of.

“Walking to pick up milk, to nip over to the farmers’ market, is priceless,” said Helen Steed, a creative director in fashion in her early 40s whose family moved from Brooklyn to Irvington four years ago. “It’s more familiar, less suburban.”

Indeed, the sturdy, retro, all-American character of the river towns fits well with the whole Filson/Woolrich heritage-brand aesthetic. People who set their cultural compass to the Brooklyn Flea appreciate the authenticity.

“Hastings-on-Hudson is a village, in a Wittgensteinian sort of way,” Mr. Wallach said. He added, “We are constantly hearing about the slow-food movement, the slow-learning movement and the slow-everything-else. So why not just go avant-garde into a slow-village movement?”

Indeed, in the era of artisanal chic, a move up the Hudson feels like Back to the Land Lite. Brooklyn locavores settle in comfortably at The Village Dog in Tarrytown, which serves a salmon boudin hot dog, with sustainable fish sourced from Pierless Fish in Brooklyn; or at Harper’s, a bar and restaurant in Dobbs Ferry, where Clark Moore, the bartender, barrel-ages cocktails on the premises.

No wonder Marco Arment, the former lead developer for Tumblr who recently moved to Hastings from Park Slope, said he no longer needs to run off to the country every three-day weekend.

“I have that balance already,” said Mr. Arment, 30. “From my window, I can see the George Washington Bridge, but there’s a deer in my front yard.”

The slower pace and cheaper space also make it easier to pursue the D.I.Y. hobbies and maker-culture businesses that Brooklyn has become famous for.

This is not to say the river towns are Brooklyn North. The mood is still sleepy and commuter-oriented, and real estate, while cheaper than Cobble Hill, is expensive by national standards (don’t even get the locals started on property taxes). Furthermore, the relative lack of racial diversity is striking to newcomers.

Marie Labropolous recently moved from a one-bedroom rental in Brooklyn to a four-bedroom 1970s split-level in Hartsdale, about 10 minutes from her shop in Dobbs Ferry. She and her husband, Simeon Papacostas, now have space for a music studio in their basement, where they enjoy regular “pajama jams,” she said.

There are some things, however, that she refuses to let go. “I still have my Brooklyn phone number,” Ms. Labropolous said. “I’m not giving it up.””

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by | February 18, 2013 · 7:54 pm

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