Renters: Living the Urban Life Upstate

Renters: Living the Urban Life Upstate

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And because they have always lived on Warren Street, Hudson’s main drag, about a half-mile from the Amtrak station, they don’t need a car. Which is fortunate because Ms. Decarmo, who was born in Guyana and raised in Jamaica, Queens, shares with many native New Yorkers an inability to drive.

“As a couple, we’re neither rural nor suburban,” said Ms. Williams, who grew up in Atlanta and moved to New York in 1980. “We wanted another place where we could be urban.” A designer and curator — she had a contemporary design gallery in the East Village in the 1980s and later worked for Design Within Reach and Martha Stewart — Ms. Williams had lived in various Lower East Side apartments and a loft in Dumbo, Brooklyn, before it was gentrified.

She wanted to leave Manhattan after Sept. 11 but settled for Inwood instead, lured to the end of the A train by a 2002 New York Times article that noted how some residents described it as “Upstate Manhattan.”

The kitchen.

Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Renting upstate upstate, along another train line, felt like a natural progression.

But as lifelong city dwellers who count the night a raccoon stared them down from their Inwood fire escape among their closest encounters with nature — after they recovered from their surprise, they called the super — the prospect of buying a rambling house set on several acres never seemed enticing.

Having a view of the backyard from the kitchen window, Ms. Williams insisted, was just about perfect. She is happy to leave its care to their current landlords, who are friends of theirs.

Names: Sherry Jo Williams and Pauline Decarmo

Ages: 64, 51Occupations: Ms. Williams, a designer and curator, is also active on the board of three local nonprofits upstate. Ms. Decarmo is a painter, who does graphic design and odd jobs on the side — “anything as long as it’s legal,” she said. Rent: $1,450 a month. Living upstate without a car: Hudson, N.Y., is about two hours from Pennsylvania Station via Amtrak; Warren Street, the main thoroughfare, is about a half mile from the train station. Between the occasional cab ride to the grocery store and rides from friends, the couple said they haven’t felt any need to own a car. The sleepy town that never sleeps: After initially scoffing at the fact that half of Hudson’s shops and restaurants close by 5 p.m., Ms. Decarmo said she now goes to so many cultural events, gallery openings and social engagements that she has to go back to Manhattan to relax. On renting versus buying: “My friends always said, ‘We’re fools, we should have bought,’” said Ms. Williams. “But renting has never been a problem. When I’ve wanted to move, I find a place to rent. That’s the name of the game.”

They moved last August into a sunny two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath duplex with pretty, old-fashioned windows overlooking Warren Street. Ms. Decarmo claimed the big room with the slanted ceiling on the second floor as her painting studio, somewhat grudgingly agreeing to partition off a space at the back for their bed. The other bedroom serves as Ms. Williams’s office and a guest room.

Recently renovated, the apartment is also far more expensive — $1,450 a month — than their earlier, more ramshackle places. But they spend about half their time in Hudson now and are glad to be finally free of the cold winter drafts that plagued them before.

Initially, they had worried that Ms. Decarmo’s son, now 21, a New Yorker born and raised, might not take to small-town life. During his first visit, he said that the constant greetings they exchanged with neighbors as they strolled around town were “so weird,” according to Ms. Williams. Then he asked what they were going to do that day. “We’re doing it,” Ms. Williams said. “We say hi to people, walk around, maybe have a beer later.”

When they walked him to the train station at the end of the visit, she said, “I’m sorry, I know you’ve probably been bored to tears.”

“No,” he said. “I love it.” He’s been a frequent visitor ever since.

At first it was Ms. Williams who knew everyone, but then it shifted, and Ms. Decarmo became the one introducing Ms. Williams to new people — especially after she discovered the Spotty Dog, a bookstore that serves $5 pints of craft beer.

By the time they started renting in Hudson, Ms. Decarmo said, many of their friends in New York had left the city to raise families or pursue jobs. “Then we came up here and we have lots of friends,” she said. “We’re always going to barbecues.”

Ms. Williams nodded. “I was very lonely in the city. I had been a very social person, but all my friends left,” she said. “I was looking to find a new group of friends, a community I could contribute to. This was like a gift that opened up.”

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