It doesn't take a genius to see that the Berkshires are not the big city. And for a young professional looking to make a name for himself or herself, the Berkshires may seem like a sleepy place to do so. But many young people are finding successful new roles in the Berkshires. Events like Word x Word and the Solid Sound Festival invite a new cultural scene to the sleepy rural hills, and a phenomenon known as the "Brooklyn-Berkshires shuffle" is drawing a new crowd.
Here are the stories of some of those changing the Berkshire cultural scene.
Jessica Lamb opened Dottie's Coffee Lounge on North St. in Pittsfield in 2007. Her story is one of determination and optimism and caffeine.
Lamb, née Conzo, had been living in New York City for several years, working as a barista and then as a coffee shop manager. She wanted to open her own cafe in Brooklyn but was deterred by the high cost.
As she was growing up, her dad lived in Lee and her mom lived in Pittsfield. And during a visit with family in Pittsfield, she noticed a yoga studio on North Street, and thought that maybe a change was happening to the downtown she had been so bored with as a teenager.
One day, Lamb walked up and down the street asking residents questions about their downtown -- she had trained to be a photojournalist, after all -- and then she decided to open a coffee shop.
"Moving back here was really hard," she said. She said she kept running into the past; people didn't necessarily see her as the professional adult she had become.
"I'm choosing to be in Pittsfield," she kept reminding herself.
"It was a move back to what I was depressed about as a teenager," she said, when there wasn't much to do downtown.
Now, she's trying to brighten the community by giving residents coffee and a place to meet.
"It's an incubator for creating, for ideas, for dreams and love," she said.
And now, married with two young daughters, she wouldn't move Dottie's any place else.
"This coffee shop somewhere else is not going to be this coffee shop," she said. "It's a shop for our community."
Bjorn Somlo says he is not a chef. Although he was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast category, he shuns the title. Somlo opened Nudel Restaurant in Lenox in 2009.
"The work is a product of everyone here," he said.
Somlo grew up near the Berkshires and then moved to the county at the age of 16. Later, he left and worked in restaurants in New Orleans and New York City.
"In the city, you learn that restauraunts are pretty much the same everywhere," he said.
Somlo originially wanted to open a restaurant in Bennington, Vt., but couldn't find a space. Then he found the Lenox location. He calls the restauraunt "seasonally inspired." He writes the menu daily, and when he can he includes local and seasonal crops.
"We work really hard to make really good food," he said.
For him, it's the possibilities that make success in the Berkshires worth the demands.
"It's a great place to be for someone with passion and a vision," he said.
He loves life in the Berkshires, and he's glad to be back.
"You have to leave in order to come home," he said.
Meanwhile, 1Berkshire -- the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau -- has been working to rebrand the Berkshires, and that includes a focus on young professionals. After the 2010 census revealed a dwindling population, said Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, a task force was formed to develop the Berkshires economically.
They've paid attention to young people. A recent survey of thousands of businesses included one survey specifically for young professionals, ages 21 to 40 (please see page 4 for more.)
And they want more young professionals to come. Two women spearheading the projects, Darci Toomey and Danielle Thomas, also spent time as teenagers in the Berkshires, moved away and have now moved back as professionals.
"It's easy to get people here if there's a connection," Supranowicz said.
For example, one man moved to the Berkshires because he was married at Cranwell; the place bore emotional significance. They want more young families to call the Berkshires home.
1Berkshire, the Chamber of Commerce and a variety of other Berkshire organizations have been involved in the Berkshire Young Professional Program, which holds events to foster community and create connections among young peole in the Berkshires. Darci Toomey, who is involved in 1Berkshire and the Chamber of Commerce, said there are 963 people on the mailing list.
"Community that is thriving is what stimulates economic health," she said.
Abby Wood has watched North County transform all around her. She was 11 when she attended Mass MoCA's opening ceremony, and then, years later, she blogged about the Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA for Berkshire Living Magazine. Her roots are deep in Berkshire soil, with her large extended family here.
The longest Wood has ever lived away from the Berkshires was five months, when she moved with her best friend to Indianapolis.
"When else," she asked, "are you going to drop everything and move across the country with your best friend?"
She came back because she got a job here, and she was in a long-distance relationship, and all her family was in the Berkshires.
"I was homesick," she said.
A Williams alum, she has made a name for herself as an arts and culture journalist, as well as a social media guru, in Berkshire County. But now she's headed to her next adventure: Columbia Journalism School in New York City.
"I really needed to take my career to the next level," she said.
During her time at Williams, she saw the way that the Berkshires has many different pockets. On campus, she felt within a the college bubble, independent and engrossed in college life despite her childhood home just down the road. And she's continued to discover concerts and galleries and events in the Berkshires.
"It took a while to realize that there's just a lot the Berkshires has to offer," she said. "You have to be creative. You have to use your skills where you can."
And what's next? Wood is leaving her options wide open after the nine-month program at Columbia. She always imagined raising a family in the Berkshires. But that, she said, is a long way away.