What’s There To Love About Upstate New York?
by Chris Clemens
As you may have read recently, the overall population in New York State is decreasing. Between July 2017 and July 2018, the Empire State lost almost 50,000 people. The report prompted a bunch of discussions all over Upstate New York, and I couldn’t help but join the fun.
I wrote this post about the reasons people most often give for leaving New York and moving elsewhere. But, so many of these discussions gloss over the reasons why people stay. Even more absent is discussions about why people come back.
To kickoff this year of Upstate New York adventures, I wanted to talk a bit about the reasons I do what I do, and why so many people choose to continue to live and work in the Empire State.
The Diverse Geography
The Grand Canyon is about a three hour drive from Phoenix, Arizona. We all know that three hours one way is well within the borders of a doable day trip. But now consider Letchworth State Park, known as the Grand Canyon of the East. Getting there takes only about an hour from Corning, Buffalo, or Rochester. You could visit the Corning Museum of Glass and Letchworth State Park and still be home before dinner!
And, a lot of Upstate New York is similar.
Utica is in Central New York, but depending on who you talk to, it’s also in the Mohawk Valley. You could be in a city known for one of the most diverse refugee populations in the nation, and within an hour be surrounded by natural wilderness.
When you talk to people who love living in Upstate, you’ll hear them talk about the diversity in landscapes. It’s easy to find small town Main Street diners and big cities with fancy dining. You can find downtown city lights or natural landscapes. Most importantly, you can find them right near each other.
One of the complaints you’ll hear about Upstate New York is our weather. It’s tough to deny that we have a unique climate. As I write this, it’s 26 degrees outside, and only twenty-four hours earlier it was 56. But, some argue that kind of swing is a benefit.
A friend of mine once proposed that people who live in warmer states don’t truly understand the concept of “cozy”. I thought it was a bit unfair, but I kept pondering it over the course of a full year. Cozy for me is defined by January wearing flannel pajamas, a big couch covered in blankets, and hot coffee with a book. I don’t want it all year round, but teen-level temperatures part of the year help me appreciate our Augusts.
If you’re from Upstate, spend some time thinking about what “cozy” means to you. Would it mean the same if you grew up in Dallas, Texas?
Sure, our climate means having a snowblower and a lawn mower. For some, it means having a winter wardrobe and a summer wardrobe, and sometimes needing both in the same week. But, as much as a winter cold can be daunting or a July sun can be overbearing, it’s always changing, and that means getting the best of everything.
Ever heard of someone who has to ship white dogs to a family member who moved out of state? That’s because they can’t get them in other states. In fact, most other states have no idea what you’re talking about when you say, “white hot”.
Our comfort food scene in Upstate is simply unprecedented! We invented the Spiedies in Binghamton, chicken wings and beef on weck in Buffalo, and Chicken French in Rochester. Utica’s Italian foods like Chicken Riggies and Utica Greens can’t be matched in other states. The list is kind of endless.
But at the same time, the Finger Lakes Region has become one of the nation’s best known wine producing markets. Our Niagara Wine Trail and the Hudson Valley area winemakers are also planted firmly on that culinary map. Closer to Rochester, this area is becoming known for a craft beer scene that’s unlike any other.
In fact, our elevated food scene is becoming so important, the big guys from New York City are now migrating to Upstate. Other Half Brewery out of Brooklyn is taking over a former brewery in the Finger Lakes and expanding here. A Michelin-star chef, Richard Reddington, will be opening a restaurant in Rochester this year. FLX Table in Geneva was ranked in 2017 as the country’s best new restaurant. It’s owned by Christopher Bates, an award winning chef that decided to leave NYC and move Upstate.
We’ve known for years now that our food scene is great, but now other people are starting to take notice.
I visited a particular city in Colorado a few years ago. Before all my trips, I research and lay out an itinerary, and this place was no different. I was there a week and saw everything I wanted to see in this city, and the neighboring city, including some very obscure stuff.
I’m a few months shy of turning 40, and I’ve lived all four of those decades in Upstate. Starting with family vacations as a kid, I’ve covered a lot of miles in New York and I still haven’t even come close to discovering it all.
We all know that New York City brings international tourists, but did you know that a lot of those tourists then take a bus to the Corning Museum of Glass? There are so many international tourists that visit CMoG that they provide a Chinese translator during many of their live shows.
We tend to take the things that in our own back yard for granted and assume we can visit them some other day. But, when you add it up, from Lily Dale in Western New York to Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands, down to the first President Library ever to exist in Hyde Park, what we have is endless.
I Love Upstate New York
This website isn’t something I manage because the state pays me to. It’s something I do because I love discovering places, the people who live in them, and all they have to offer. I’m excited to discover these things in my backyard, and I think others should know about them, too.
I know paying taxes is tough. Our weather can be fickle and unrelenting. The politics isn’t always easy to deal with. I know that the job scene isn’t bustling for everyone corner to corner.
But, I’m committed to believing there’s still plenty to love about Upstate.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens
January 27, 2019 @ 9:05 am
Thanks for all the upstate love! I love living here and it’s great to read about all the positive things and gives me great ideas for places to explore with my boys.
January 27, 2019 @ 11:26 am
Great article. You hit on so many pluses of living in our area. And we do tend to take things for granted.
I was 20 before I saw Niagara Falls and over 30 seeing Letchworth for the first time. We don’t have any hurricanes that leave people without power for days or weeks. And we do have the garbage plate. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for your desire to travel around the state and tell us lazy ones what’s out there.
January 27, 2019 @ 9:23 pm
Thank you for this post! I am one of the people who left many years ago. I left to attend a great graduate school program in Texas, and I didn’t go back, because I got a good job here a long time ago. Upstate New York has always been home, though, and I talk about it frequently.
I LOVE your sentence, “If you’re from Upstate, spend some time thinking about what “cozy” means to you. Would it mean the same if you grew up in Dallas, Texas?” No, it definitely wouldn’t mean the same. Here in Texas, the summers are like the winters in Upstate, because it’s very hot here, and people stay indoors in the air conditioning as much as possible. Air conditioning is wonderful, but cozy is MUCH better.
I remember a time when I lived in Upstate and the population was growing. I was concerned about the growing number of people, houses, businesses, and roads then, because it seemed like important and beautiful farm land was being paved over. The same thing is happening here in Texas now. Beautiful land is being taken over by housing developments, highways, and businesses, and traffic is horrendous. Fewer people isn’t a bad thing.
You also said, “The politics isn’t always easy to deal with.” That is so true all over the world, especially in Texas right now.
Thank you, Chris, for sharing Upstate with those of us who miss it, and can’t get there easily. When I think of the history and the culture of Upstate New York, it makes me very proud to be from there.
January 27, 2019 @ 10:48 pm
Great post! I agree completely and share your NYS pride 🙂
January 27, 2019 @ 11:08 pm
Thank you for this blog, and others, that you have written about the qualities of Upstate New York. So many New Yorkers think that the “grass is greener” elsewhere, when in fact, it is greenest right here. Your point that out with very compelling writing and photography. Please keep it up!
January 28, 2019 @ 4:55 pm
Another terrific read! You inspire me to explore more places I’ve never seen in New York State and I too have lived here my whole life! Thanks Chris, keep up the great writing!!
February 23, 2019 @ 7:48 pm
Love reading your post. I love upstate NY. Born, raised and 5 generations of my family relatives. I have lived in NC and SD. And After 10 years away, I came back home to NY. This is home. I spend my weekends doing exactly what you do, finding a new place to explore. It’s smaller and not traveled by the public. Mostly the woods and locally owned property. There is nothing compared to growing up in a small town and being able to trace family members in the same place after generations. Knowing who is realated to who. And not having to worry about any violent crime. And to be able to take a walk i the summer at 2am and worry about nothing. It’s amazing to watch childhood friend marry and have kids and watch them grow. Its amazing to just know, that guy next door is an old class mate. Or to know that the whole town is actually a large family.
This, is why I am home in NY. Fresh air, long drives on dirt roads. Knowing nothing but space and quiet with only the sound of nature.
April 7, 2019 @ 3:34 pm
Thank you so much for your comments on upstate NY. I love upstate NY. A beautiful place to live and raise family. Four seasons weather, mountains, streams, forests and wonderful little cities and towns.
I am moving my family to our new home and farm in Sterling NY, from manhattan and a little one bedroom.
I love upstate with my heart and soul.
April 9, 2019 @ 11:27 am
I left upstate NY because of family reasons. That being said, I moved to western Virginia. Property tax on my house here in VA is half of what I was paying for in NY. My house in VA is also worth twice as much as the one in NY. Sales tax is currently 5% in VA while NY was 8.5% when I left. A gallon of gas is always 20 to 25 cents less in VA as NY. Sometimes I miss the winters and summers of upstate NY but enjoy not buying new studded snow tires every year. I do miss the summers and fall up there.
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I enjoyed reading this, on what is great about living in upstate NY. I am a native of upstate NY, but I have been living in Virginia for about 13 years. I have been thinking about moving back, and your blog post has made me think about that even more seriously.
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