Young city-dwellers are flocking to an unexpected vacation hotspot with a rich history: The Catskills in upstate New York.
The Catskills used to be a favorite summer getaway, full of luxury resorts, bungalows, and “palatial getaways for wealthy New Yorkers escaping the city for health or for the views,” as Curbed reported. The area, only about a 2.5-hour drive from the city, was nicknamed the “Borscht Belt” because many Catskills vacationers were of Jewish origin, seeking a place of their own where they’d feel welcome. But as airfares got cheaper, beach vacations became more popular, and anti-Semitism declined, the resorts lost business and most of them closed down by the 1970s, according to Reuters.
In recent years, they’ve been replaced by tiny house resorts, hip boutique hotels, and luxury lodges that are drawing city-dwelling millennials back in to the area.
“[The area] has always been a destination; it’s just been a long time since anybody has reinvested there,” Marc Chodock, founder of Scribner’s Catskill Lodge near Hunter Mountain ski resort, told Business Insider.
The target guests at Scribner’s, a 1960s hotel renovated and reopened by Chodock and his business partner Glennon Travis in 2016, are “urban young professionals,” Chodock said. The lodge, with its minimalist, Instagrammable aesthetic, has become a hotspot for millennial city-dwellers from New York City and other nearby urban areas such as Philadelphia and Boston, or “a new generation of urban explorers,” as Scribner’s calls them. Rooms start at about $180 per night.
One way Scribner’s appeals to this new generation is by selectively working with social media influencers, such as the blog Escape Brooklyn, as well as brands popular with millennials, including Allbirds, Madewell, Hunter Boots, and Veuve Clicquot. The lodge has hosted a pop-up event with shoe company Superga and partnered with BMW to lend out a pair of free vehicles to guests.
“I think people that are coming to Scribner’s, they’re wanting to get away in the woods but also be around people,” Chodock said. “It’s a very different setting than what is going on in Montauk, where it’s just throes of people all trying to fill into various small areas. This is a much more relaxed, much more laid-back type of connection.”
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It’s not just Scribner’s drawing young cityfolk to the Catskills.
“The Catskills are experiencing an incredible renaissance in the travel and tourism market,” Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president of the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association, told Curbed.
Graham & Co. and Phoenicia Diner are two businesses that paved the way for Scribner’s, Chodock said.
Graham & Co., a refurbished 1940s hotel that reopened as a stylish boutique hotel in 2013, lists among its amenities “free bikes,” bonfires,” and “togetherness.” Rooms start at about $200 a night, according to the website.
Then there’s Phoenicia Diner, which was built in 1962 and moved to its current location in the early 80s. It closed down in 2011 only to be bought by a former film set builder and Brooklyn resident, Mike Cioffi, according to the Guardian. Cioffi reopened the diner in 2012. It soon “earned a reputation as an Instagram-friendly ‘hickster’ eatery,” according to Forbes.
Tiny homes have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and of course you can find them in the Catskills — at the Tiny House Resort, with its nine simple yet luxurious vacation rentals in the woods, each equipped with Wi-Fi, Cable TV, and Netflix, where guests can also kayak, hike near creeks and waterfalls, and enjoy fresh eggs from the resort’s chickens and ducks.
The Catskills hospitality industry has also kept in mind that millennials have been called the “wellness generation.”
The YO1 Wellness Center, which opened in the summer of 2018, offers yoga and acupuncture, in addition to treatments that include underwater massages and herbal oil baths.
Part of the allure of the Catskills for city-dwellers — apart from access to nature — is the feeling of exploration and authenticity.
“There’s a sense of discovery in visiting this area. It’s out of the way. And it’s not the Hamptons, lined with stores you see on Fifth Avenue,” Cioffi, owner of the Phoenicia Diner, told CNN last year. “If you spend a dollar in a store on Main Street, it stays in this community. I think people appreciate that.”