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Suffolk Closeup: Moving away, moving out

Is Suffolk County to become a sanctuary for some New York City people because of the COVID-19 pandemic? There are indications that this is happening.

“It’s Time To Get Out Of Dodge” was the recent headline in The New York Times. “Cooped up and concerned about the post-COVID future, renters and owners are making moves to leave the city,” said the piece. It spoke of “a sense that in today’s era of social distancing, one-person-at-a-time elevator rides to get home and looping routes to avoid passers-by on city streets have fundamentally changed New York City.”

The article, the lead of the Times’ real estate section, continued to a full page which stated: “Although tracking regionwide relocations is difficult, existing data and anecdotal evidence suggest a clear COVID effect.” It spoke of city folks moving to Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island, with moves to the island between March 15 and April 28, “up 48 percent.”

Suffolk wasn’t singled out but the piece declared: “If people do head for greener pastures, residents and brokers suggest, it may be because the city can seem, at least for the time being, like a shell of its former self. Indeed, they say, activities people once took for granted, like strolling in parks … have become difficult or impossible.”

Of all areas neighboring New York City, Suffolk County is especially green.

The Express News Group newspapers also had a lead piece, in their “Residence” section, speaking of a “mass exodus from New York.” It spoke of how, “Across the East End, what were once seasonal neighborhoods are now bursting with life, evidence of a recent exodus out of New York City by second homeowners and renters desperate to live more comfortably and simultaneously escape the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis …”

The continuation, also to a full page, noted that after the September 11 “terrorist attacks … [the influx] from New York to the Hamptons was urgent. Schools rapidly accepted new students. And the region was noticeably busier — until it wasn’t. Little by little, some families did trickle back to the city, while others established new homes for themselves. Whether the same will happen post-COVID-19 is impossible to say …”

This piece quoted East Hampton broker Diane Saatchi saying about the real estate scene now: “I keep feeling like I’m looking for a parking space in New York. If you look really carefully you could see somebody pulling out and be right there and get it. When a house becomes available, you have to be the person right behind it to get it.”

Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy commented: “Just as we had families move out at 9/11, I think we’re gonna see a lot of people moving out here because they’re finding they can do their work from afar and they have a backyard and a nice life. Our secret is out.”

“At some point, life has to get back to normal,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, “and we’re going to have a real challenging time economically, but maybe having the influx of capital that these people” will provide “will help our restaurants and retail businesses. It may be a positive thing to the local economy.”

Suffolk County has, since the late 19th century, been a get-away place for New York City people. Historic, centuries-old communities became, in part, also summer communities as the Long Island Rail Road extended eastward.

Growing up in New York City, my family first came to Suffolk as an escape from the summer heat in the city in the mid-1950s. Every summer we reserved a tent site at Wildwood State Park in Wading River. My father would come out on weekends. It’s where my brother and I became adept at swimming in Long Island Sound and had our feet adjusted to a shoreline of pebbles.

I ended up as a journalist in Suffolk in the early 1960s, and although there was the possibility of getting a TV journalism gig in the city as the years went by, and knowing I could live in the city, I’m glad it’s been Suffolk for more than a half-century. I appreciate what the folks seeking shelter here now want.

I vividly recall attorney Nancy Carley of Westhampton Beach telling me, when early on I covered cops-and-courts, how she moved here from the city and never regretted it. Girlfriends had become judges and held other important positions in New York City, she related, but living and working in Suffolk had been “sweet and easy.”

Now not all city folks seeking sanctuary will settle in Suffolk. As the New York Post’s “Page Six” last week quoted a Corcoran realtor, Dana Koch, out of Palm Beach, Fla., saying: “People who were down for spring break have decided to stay here. Over the last 30 days there are a lot of New York license plates showing up here. We’ve had an influx of people trying to find the right situation.”

And, “Page Six” added: “We’re told one couple forwent traveling to their Hamptons house and instead booked a Palm Beach rental for an entire year.”