Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hard times in the Catskills

Jennifer Mascia reports in today's New York Times from Monticello, New York, population 6,512. The headline, "Few Laughs Left in a Catskill Town Struggling to Revive," pretty much sums up the story, which put in historical perspective the struggles of the so-called borscht belt. Here's the history part:
In the 19th century, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties developed a robust farming economy, and farmers in search of extra income opened small boarding houses. Businessmen who passed through the area took notice of this nascent hospitality industry and purchased and expanded the rooming houses, giving birth to behemoths like Grossinger’s in Liberty and the Concord in Kiamesha Lake.
But the Catskill resorts lost business in the mid 20th century as air travel became less expensive, enabling New York City residents could travel elsewhere. The following experts convey the long-term consequences of that decline and the region's failure to establish a new economic base.

“Those who want a good job have nothing to choose from,” said Mr. Edwards, a former copier technician at Xerox, whose ancestors settled the area after the Revolutionary War. The best chances for employment, he added, lie in the sprawling prison system, government agencies, hospitals and schools, “and there’s nothing in between.”

That brain drain takes a toll on teachers-in-waiting, too, like Laura Privitera. A server at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Middletown, Ms. Privitera, 30, is biding her time until a teaching position materializes.

While Ms. Privitera is willing to re-locate and recently applied for a public school job in nearby Liberty, she was one of more than 600 applicants.

Interestingly, according to the Assemblywoman for the district that includes Sullivan and Orange counties, dairy farming holds the greatest promise for the area.

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