Alan Chartock | I, Publius: In Great Barrington, change is a mixed blessing


GREAT BARRINGTON >> Roselle and I took Murray for a walk in Great Barrington.

Murray, of course, is our West Highland Terrier, who is not only the cutest dog in the word, but also the brightest, having been taught to speak English by the Literacy Network of South Berkshire.

He looked up and said, "Say, Pop; Great Barrington has sure changed. I can't believe all the upscale shops and restaurants and condominiums there are here now. Do you like the new look?"

I looked at the little dog and considered how to respond.

"Well, Murray I have very mixed feelings. Tourism is what makes the town go. Ditto, second-homeowners.

"When we got here in 1971, there were still tough parts of Great Barrington. Railroad Street, for example, had some dark and potentially dangerous spots. Now it's the Greenwich Village of the town. That means all the rents are going up so the store owners have to make more money. Some of the old funky stores are disappearing.

"Jack's Country Squire was my favorite place to buy underwear. The wonderful Sue Pevzner has just passed and the store disappeared. So, other than on the accursed internet, where will we men buy our undies?

"New restaurants come and go and there are some good ones. The Meat Market people have opened up a fine new restaurant called Camp Fire just outside of town. It's very good.

"Across the street, a relatively new place, the 528 Café, is housed where the Great Barrington Friendly's once stood. Erik Bruun has made an even greater success out of SoCo Creamery and is planning big stuff for the old soft ice cream place on Main Street.

"The Bistro Box, which offers seasonal fare in an outside setting, has really caught on. I love the Aegean Breeze. The Prairie Whale is a terrific place for young families and hipsters and that's just a few of the great restaurants we have. The new and improved Fuel is a knockout. Castle Street is a staple.

"As more and more people arrive in Great Barrington, the price of housing keeps going up. When we first bought our house on Hollenbeck Avenue it really was a mixed place. There were all kinds of people living here.

"Now people who appreciate the town are paying more and more money to live here. That has its repercussions. People who live on our hill are seeing huge real estate tax increases. It's not only because the houses are costing more and more but because the land the houses are on keeps increasing in value.

"The Tax Man tells me that he has to satisfy the state when he figures out who pays what. The larger your lot, the more you pay. That means that there is a lot of griping about huge increases in taxes (8 or 9 or 10 percent).

"We pay a lot more in Great Barrington than what homeowners pay in Alford or Egremont. Of course, we have to pay for the huge police force and a pretty big civil service. I can understand the sound and fury of the Great Barrington taxpayers.

"On the other hand, if you lived across the border in Hillsdale or another New York State town, you would pay more than Great Barrington residents do. What's more, if you live in even a little box of a house on Long Island, you really find out what taxes are all about.

"I remembered the words of my former next door neighbor in Alford, the late Lester Germain. He used to tell me how he would pick up people to stay in the family home in a horse drawn sled."

So I looked at the little dog and said, "You can't push back time or, as a big shot politician in New York once said, 'It is what it is.' "

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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