New York City dwellers fled to the safety of Connecticut’s countryside as the pandemic took a mighty toll, sending home sales market in Litchfield County into the stratosphere and turning what for a century was a weekend getaway into a permanent address.
But now, as coronavirus vaccinations accelerate and restrictions start to ease, will the draw back to the excitement and accessibility of urban life be too strong to resist?
Jesse Liebman and his wife Kimiye bought a house in Roxbury in August, more than doubling the size of their Brooklyn apartment. They’ve settled in on four acres with their two daughters. The couple got a crash course in foundations, a beam versus a joist and calluses.
“We’re definitely staying next year,” Jesse Liebman said, in the backyard of the couple’s 1790 Colonial recently — his daughters, Ruby 5, and Maxine, 3, climbing on logs cut from trees left leaning in a wind storm last year.
“Every day that goes by Kimiye becomes an eighth of a percent more certain that this is the place,” Jesse Liebman said, but the couple is keeping their options open.
For Litchfield County, the decision to put down roots or return to New York for transplants like the Liebmans could mark a turning point for a picturesque part of Connecticut that has nonetheless struggled with particularly steep population declines and few families with young children moving in.
The high stakes extend well beyond Litchfield County to the rest of Connecticut. For a decade or more, Connecticut has struggled to stabilize its population and grow its employment base.
In 2020, there was some good news despite the pain and suffering of the pandemic: the U.S. Postal Service recorded 16,500 relocations into the state based on change of address requests — most from New York — compared with more than 7,000 moves out in 2019.
The signs of long-term change are obvious. With offices closed and with the right broadband access, working in the Litchfield Hills has proven an easy and affordable transition for wealthy transplants. Private schools are reporting growing enrollment and local businesses, from bookstores to contractors, say there’s a different feeling in the air.
“This is an area — the whole Northwest corner — is an area of declining population over the last 10 years, mostly through demographics, old age, retirement and people moving out, not a lot of young families moving in,” said George Verrastro, owner of the the Washington Food Market, a short drive from Roxbury. “So actually, this is an opportunity to stabilize the business community, stabilize the school system.”