weekend in the Catskills ("borscht belt")

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ellen4641
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RE: weekend in the Catskills ("borscht belt") 2007/09/25 23:53:19 (permalink)
quote:
Originally posted by nordmann

I love your review. Keep up the good work.

Not to nit-pick on technicalities, but the Catskills were the Borscht-belt well before the 1950's. I think the Catskill grand hotel tradition got started in the 1890's, although that wasn't specifically a Jewish-oriented trade. Things really took off with Jewish summer crowds during the 1920's, and I think the heyday is generally agreed upon as being the late 1940's. By the 1960's the downward slide had already started, as airliner travel made it feasible to go further abroad. (And why go to a beautiful location nearby when you can go to a beautiful location thousands of miles away?) So by the late 1970's, things had already pretty much devolved to the moribund economic state you see the area in today.

If it's any consolation, most of the rest of Upstate New York is in even worse shape economically than the Catskills. (Yes, that is possible!)

Want to know the saddest recent occurrence? The Catskill Game Farm closed last summer. That's part of my childhood--gone forever. I was there on closing day. People were crying as they left at closing time. I was very sad saying "bye" to all those animals (some of them rare and on endangered species lists) and wondering if they were going to end up being used for a "canned hunt" somewhere down in Texas.

hi nordmann,
I loved reading your reply.... it's very well articulated, and you are a welcome addition to our Roadfood.com gang!!!

Yes, you are right, as the Borscht Belt Catskills hotels pretty much started up in the 1890's... it was mostly just a real modest beginning, though; mostly by
Jewish NYC dwellers that came up to the Catskills to try their hand at farming, but apparently the land was'nt fertile enough, so they started taking in boarders. Folks that came up from the city for that fresh country air... those boarding house owners realized they were making more money from the boarders than from the farming, so facilities got more grand. Eventually, amenities like indoor pools, and air-conditioning were added... (I think the air conditioner in my room at Kutshers was an "original" , from the 1950's perhaps?!? A pale pink air-conditioner/radiator, which struggled )

and you are right again, nordmann, as by the late 70's, (when I worked there) the Catskills were already in their decline.
The heydey was definitely over. Even from 78-80, I noticed changes..
A few of the local restaurants, like Twin Bridge Junction steakhouse in Ferndale and the Red Barn in Swan Lake had closed down... I had enjoyed a few meals at both places, but by 1980 they were gone already...
But I do remember ladies still lining up to get into the showrooms with their mink jackets on........
and I remember all the single gals with their "big hair" and their pancake makeup coming up for the singles weekends. That was all during the disco era; like from the movie "Sat. night fever "

I read in the papers about the Catksill Game Farm closing it's doors. Even though I had never been there, I sensed that it's closing really struck a chord... it was sad to hear that yet another mom and pop place had "run its' course"

I too, also believe that there are so many beautiful sites nearby; that who needs to keep going 1000's of miles away?!? I'm a firm believer in domestic traveling... regional and extended traveling..

your other post about the williams lake cross-country ski area is very sad; how most of the new "help" barely knows about it's prior existence....(how good it really used to be)...
I think it would be nice if that could be somehow be included in their training... perhaps it would open their eyes up a little...

It reminds me ( a little )of an interaction I had at the Enterprise Car rental place in Monticello back in August when I picked up my rental car (in the former Borscht Belt)... The Enterprise gal who picked me up at the bus terminal was proably only about 20 years old. I told her how this whole area used to really be hopping. And she said "yeah, that's what people keep telling me"
#31
wheregreggeats.com
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RE: weekend in the Catskills ("borscht belt") 2007/09/26 10:35:24 (permalink)
ellen's reports are thoughtful ... It is not surprising the food lacked luster ... I doubt anyone sees these places as culinary destinations.
#32
seafarer john
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RE: weekend in the Catskills ("borscht belt") 2007/09/26 18:54:01 (permalink)
I was , in the '60s , a staff ,member for Representative Joe Resnick from Ellenville (he'd made a million in Channel Master- remember those rooftop antennas?). I met several times, in 66-68, with members of the hotel families and their lawyers searching for ways to revive the business - nothing ever came of our efforts. (The possibility of gambling in the Catskills was a barely mentioned subject, now it seems that it just might bring back some action to the area.

As to Williams Lake in Rosendale; (not part of the Catskills, and definitely not part of the Borstch Belt - the place was run by a Finnish family and tended to rely on NYC public employees ( see Irish) for its clientel - the place has been sold, for $7.9 M to a developer who has plans for a few hundred houses, etc., etc., etc. on the property. There seems to be a growing opposition, based mainly on the fact that the developer has fenced the local people off the property, to his plans in the Town of Rosendale- we'll see...

I remember a photo that used to hang in a lobby at Williams Lake picturing "Gus" Williams, son of the owners, and now a lawyer, with, I think, a silver medal from the Olympics. Our neighbor here in New Paltz, Art Stegen, was also, I believe, on that Opympic team.

Back to the Catskills; some small towns up there are doing quite nicely as second home communities for NYC professionals. And, some of those towns are coming alive again as full time homes for artists and others who can run successful businesses from their homes. Towns on the edges of the Catskills, like New Paltz, Rosendale, Stone Ridge, Shandaken, and even as far west as Roscoe have active and vital arts and professional communities based on the NYC market.

Cheers, John

#33
seafarer john
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RE: weekend in the Catskills ("borscht belt") 2007/09/26 18:55:23 (permalink)
I was , in the '60s , a staff ,member for Representative Joe Resnick from Ellenville (he'd made a million in Channel Master- remember those rooftop antennas?). I met several times, in 66-68, with members of the hotel families and their lawyers searching for ways to revive the business - nothing ever came of our efforts. (The possibility of gambling in the Catskills was a barely mentioned subject, now it seems that it just might bring back some action to the area.

As to Williams Lake in Rosendale; (not part of the Catskills, and definitely not part of the Borstch Belt - the place was run by a Finnish family and tended to rely on NYC public employees ( see Irish) for its clientel - the place has been sold, for $7.9 M to a developer who has plans for a few hundred houses, etc., etc., etc. on the property. There seems to be a growing opposition, based mainly on the fact that the developer has fenced the local people off the property, to his plans in the Town of Rosendale- we'll see...

I remember a photo that used to hang in a lobby at Williams Lake picturing "Gus" Williams, son of the owners, and now a lawyer, with, I think, a silver medal from the Olympics. Our neighbor here in New Paltz, Art Stegen, was also, I believe, on that Opympic team.

Back to the Catskills; some small towns up there are doing quite nicely as second home communities for NYC professionals. And, some of those towns are coming alive again as full time homes for artists and others who can run successful businesses from their homes. Towns on the edges of the Catskills, like New Paltz, Rosendale, Stone Ridge, Shandaken, and even as far west as Roscoe have active and vital arts and professional communities based on the NYC market.

Cheers, John

#34
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