- The Catskills, the upstate New York area once home to luxury mountain resorts, are seeing a resurgence as a popular getaway destination.
- The evolution of transportation over the past 200 years has helped the Catskills through periodsof reinvention, the owners of a tiny house resort in the area told Business Insider.
- People used to travel there by boat, but they stopped visiting when airfare became cheap. Now, people are coming back because they’re tired of flying and it’s a quick car ride to escape the city.
- Plus, hip boutique hotels, luxury lodges, and tiny house resorts are attracting a new clientele: millennials.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Catskills are becoming an “it” destination once again. This time, though, things look a little different.
That’s according to Melissa and Margie Juszczak, the mother-daughter duo who run Think Big! A Tiny House Resort in the Catskills. In October, I spent three days at the resort – it was my first time experiencing a tiny houseand visiting the Catskills.
While I was there, the owners gave me a brief history lesson on the area. I realised that looking at the last 200 years of the Catskills explains why people love it now.
The Catskills were a summer destination for the wealthy in the 1800s
The Catskills have long been a summer getaway for New Yorkers. In the 1800s, the wealthy came to the Catskills to stay in houses and resorts at the very top of the mountains to avoid tuberculosis, Margie said. A number of painters also came, making the Catskills the home of American Impressionism, she added. Visitors would travel by boat from New York City be greeted by a stagecoach, and transfer to the Otis Railway.
The Catskills peaked in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to summering Jewish Americans, reported Christina Clusiau for TIME magazine. Borscht Belt resorts, where they often stayed, accommodated up to 150,000 guests a year, she wrote.
Sullivan County, home to part of the Borscht Belt, once housed 538 hotels and 50,000-plus bungalows, according to Brandon Presser of The Daily Beast. But during these peak decades, resorts continued to spend on upgrading their properties to outdo their competitors, striking lending deals with local banks, he reported. This was the beginning of the end for the Catskills.
Around the same time, a variety of factors decreased the appeal of the Catskills, according to Presser and Clusiau’s separate reporting: Jewish-Americans became more accepted in other leisure destinations; the advent of air conditioning meant that sick people in the city didn’t need to escape for fresh air; and railways reduced their services to the area.
When the cost of air travel dropped, people started seeking out other destinations, and, as Melissa said, the “Catskills died.” Large resorts went bankrupt and closed around the 1960s and 1970s. But now, according to Margie, people are coming back.
“As we evolved and modernised, transportation changed and everything shifted,” Margie said. “The Catskills have seen a recycle numerous times.”
Today, people need neither boat nor plane to get to the Catskills. Only two hours away from New York City, the area isn’t “a far push” via car, Melissa said. “Getting to the Hamptons isn’t fun,” Margie added. “No one wants to spend four hours on a trip. This is the place to be right now.”
The Catskills have evolved to cater to millennials
But it’s not just transportation that has changed the hospitality industry in the Catskills. “People have stopped vacationing in the same way,” Margie said. “Now, it’s the era of vacation rentals.”
The luxury resorts of Catskills past have been replaced with hip boutique hotels, luxury lodges, and Airbnbs, Business Insider’s Katie Warren previously reported. “[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 Warren.
Consider the tiny house resort, which was just established in 2017. Complete with a wellness area, hiking trails, farm animals, water activities, and eight tiny houses, the resort is a new kind of luxury experience for the modern traveller.
Many of those modern travellers are millennials who want to escape the bustle of New York City and turn off the stress, Melissa told me. Chodock, too, told Warren most of their guests are “urban young professionals.”
Chodock reopened and renovated the 1960s hotel in 2016 with a former business partner. Its guests “are 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. This is a much more relaxed, much more laid-back type of connection.”
Its physical beauty also has a clear bonus: The wilderness and tranquility of the Catskills make it Instagrammable. Both Chodock and the Juszczaks said they have had social media influencers visit their resorts.
But, at the end of the day, the Catskills still holds the appeal it always has: A destination for families to get away. Margie said that younger people from Brooklyn who bought homes and condos with equity are now coming up with families and refocusing their lives because they can work remotely. “It’s opened up the doors tremendously,” she said.