Transitions

From Crown Heights to rural NJ—Trading the shuttered city for wide-open spaces (and Trump signs)

"I’m not really sure what the social activity is like here yet, although we did go to a really awesome tractor parade last month," says a New Yorker of her new rural New Jersey area.

 

Victor Reynolds/Flickr

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When the pandemic hit, a very liberal native New Yorker and her family decided to ditch the city and head to rural New Jersey. She and her family were excited for a change and find themselves falling in love with the wide-open landscape and access to nature. The Trump signs, not so much. As a New Yorker in an area where there is animosity toward city people, she is trying to keep a low profile, and asked for her family and location not to be identified. Here’s her story.

I was born in Lenox Hill Hospital and raised in Morningside Heights. Aside from attending high school in upstate New York, I have pretty much lived my whole life in New York City.

Most recently I lived in an apartment in Crown Heights. I moved there in 2013 with my boyfriend. We got married and now have a young son. We converted our dining room into a bedroom for him. Our rent was originally $1,895 but over the years rose to $2,295. Even with the gradual increases, we were still comfortable. We installed a washer, dryer, and dishwasher with our landlord’s permission—all things that seem quite luxurious in NYC rentals.


[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another—or outside the city. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]


When we first arrived in Crown Heights, it was super residential and was pretty much a food desert. The neighborhood almost felt suburban compared to where I grew up in Manhattan, but over the years it became more gentrified, with a lot of cool, new businesses and eateries nearby.

Now we have a broad array of cuisine in the area. We loved Art Café + Bar in Prospect Heights, Colina Cuervo, Catfish, and Marché Rue Dix, in Crown Heights. I also love UrbanAsanas yoga studio in Crown Heights. (The design and contracting firm my husband and I own built their wellness studio.) Thankfully they are doing all their classes online so I can still participate.

We owned a car, and there was ample public transportation and anything we needed was within walking distance. My husband and I both commuted to Manhattan by subway or bus for work and errands. Our son was in daycare in Brooklyn until early March when we pulled him out due to the pandemic. I have been full-time, stay-at-home mom since then.

After being quarantined in our apartment for about six weeks, we decided we were ready to leave the city for greener pastures. We had been considering places to move over the last two years and the pandemic really gave us the push to do it. Originally, we wanted to move to eastern Pennsylvania, but a friend of ours who grew up in this rural area of New Jersey—where New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey meet—took a peek at listings, and found this rental house for us.

It’s a three-bedroom, cedar shingle cottage built in the 1940s on 27 acres of wilderness surrounded by state forest. It is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. It is serene and surrounded by farmland and wilderness. When we first went to see it, we fell in love, despite the Trump sign on the lawn.

Many Trump signs, and a few Biden ones

It wasn’t the only house with one. There are a lot of houses with Trump signs all over, but thankfully we have found a few Biden/Harris ones here and there. Every now and then you will see a lawn that is fully covered in hand-painted Trump signs—completely covered. But this is our view on moving here: I have been in the liberal bubble of NYC for basically my whole life, and I felt that a change could do us good. My goal is to become more understanding of what the rest of this country is like, because NYC is so insular.

We also are a white hetero-normative family, so we have this privilege that allows us to go be here, without any eyebrows being raised from the locals. And with that being said, we’re not trying to ruffle feathers; we’re trying to be low profile, and be good representatives of what people who are left of center are like. Things have gotten so polarized that we want to try to soften those edges. Moving here—a place so different from anywhere I’ve lived—has been totally eye-opening for me. I’ve had to learn how to be a little humbler, and not so dismissive of people who look at the world differently than me.  

There’s a local Facebook group I found which has a lot of animosity towards New Yorkers, and city people in general. That’s why I am trying to keep a low profile. I even quit Facebook. I don’t want people here to judge me. But that makes things tough as well because Facebook is helpful in finding out about local events. The NextDoor app here is pretty empty, yet there are about 500 different groups for car shows in New Jersey.

Politics aside and prejudices aside, there is a lot of love—and also a lot to get used to.

The house was partially furnished with a lot of really lovely antiques, so we didn’t have to even bring a lot of our furniture. Our modern stuff would have looked out of place in this little quaint country cottage anyway.

Plenty of breathing room

Compared to living on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, which was constantly loud and full of people 24 hours a day, here all of our neighbors are quite far away. We can play music as loud as we want, and it gives us so much breathing room. We moved to the fifth-least populated town in New Jersey, so for us that is a huge plus. After living in New York City for so long, it’s so refreshing to never see a soul unless I choose to. And then there’s the thrill of stepping outside and encountering wildlife within a few feet of you!

Of course, I miss family and friends but we are really only about an hour away, although it feels more like three. Our family visited and helped with settling in, but the pandemic put a damper on hosting parties right now. However, when things settle down and we get a guestroom set up, we can certainly have city friends visit. I really miss was our upstairs neighbors, but about a month after we moved to the country, they did the same.

We are trying to make new friends here as well. All of our neighbors have been really friendly and have come over to introduce themselves. Our immediate neighbors—which are still quite a distance away in the woods—turned out to be really cool. They are a couple that are about our age (late 30s/early 40s) and have two daughters basically the same age as our son. They live on a farm with every kind of animal, including a potbelly pig who lives inside the house. Aside from that I’m not really sure what the social activity is like here yet, although we did go to a really awesome tractor parade last month. There are some bars that look like roadhouse-type places, but we don’t go to bars at all anymore because we’re parents. It costs more to hire a babysitter for the night than it does to get me drunk.

Paying for garbage pick up

Speaking of saving money, we are paying $500 less in rent, but there were a lot of expenses at the beginning that we needed to lay out, like buying a generator for when the power inevitably goes out, which was not cheap. Also, there’s no public garbage pickup, so we have to pay for garbage service. And you absolutely cannot leave garbage outside because there’s bears and other wild animals!

Internet service is so much cheaper and there’s actually more options than just Verizon or Optimum which was nice. We haven’t gotten our first electric bill yet, and I’m a little scared about that. But we don’t have to pay for water; we have well water that tastes amazing, and I am a diehard NYC water purist.

No food delivery

While we can’t get Instacart out here—and no one delivers, not even Dominoes—there are wonderful farmers markets everywhere. We have fresh eggs, flowers, and vegetables. There’s also an amazing ShopRite that I find exhilarating because it is so big and has everything. The grocery stores in Crown Heights left a lot to be desired, and I ended up using FreshDirect a lot, which is expensive. Also, the cost of everything out here is 50 percent cheaper than in NYC.  There are a lot of diners out here, which I absolutely love. I noticed a Greek place and Mexican place within driving distance as well, but because of the pandemic have been reticent to visit. We realize we won’t have the vast variety of cuisines at our fingertips we did in Brooklyn, but I’ve been doing a ton of cooking here because the kitchen is so big and we have so much storage for food. One other weird expense we will incur soon: We need to get a deep freezer.

We also had to buy a new washing machine, and we haven’t found a dryer yet, so we have been doing our laundry at the laundromat a couple towns over.  Even though it is a brand new place, it doesn’t compare to having a washer dryer in your apartment, like we used to have in Crown Heights. It feels kind of like we’re doing the reverse here going to a laundromat in the country. But we should be better set up in a month.

I still don’t have my driver’s license. I never got it when I was a teenager because I figured I wouldn’t need one in the city. I’m taking driving lessons, but my husband works all week and I’m home alone with our son. I wish I could go exploring with him, but hopefully soon that will be possible. I plan to get my bike set up so I can go for some rides with my son on some local bike trails.

My husband commutes to the city a few days a week because we have some ongoing contracting projects there. Our commercial and residential projects are still mostly in Brooklyn, but he is also starting to get work here locally.

We opted to rent because we didn’t want to commit to anything yet. Since our son is not in school, we figured we still have a little freedom. Our lease is just one year and so far, we are liking it enough to consider a second year.

Yet, I am planning to come back to the city at some point, to the apartment in Harlem where I grew up. It’s currently being rented out to two roommates at Columbia University. I always envisioned my kid going to school in Manhattan. At this rate we might be back in time for him to go to first grade. Only time will tell.