September 30, 2016 was the day we officially closed on our first home in a town we’d never lived in and had only been to a handful of times. We were moving out of NYC and heading to the vast expanse of Upstate, NY in the hopes of finding a better life.
That’s not to say that we had a bad thing going in our old apartment in Bay Ridge, but Steve and I came to the decision that we wanted to have a less stressful existence and maybe even have something crazy like equity!
Why We Picked Rochester
One question I get asked when we meet someone new is “why did you guys come here?“ and I get it, Rochester probably isn’t on anyone’s “most desirable places to live” list. And to be honest we sort of like it that way.
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, PA and Steve’s hometown is Cincinnati, OH. So Rochester felt very familiar to us right away: a blue-collar town down on its luck because of the loss of industry. But a little trickle of light starting to show through with tech startups coming in. We felt that making a bet on a place like Rochester would pay off if we stuck it out.
Also, this part of Upstate NY was bluer politically, which aligned better with our values than going further west in the state. We wanted to stay in the state of New York, too, and Rochester’s cost of living is crazy-good.
It’s also crazy-good because it’s consistently ranked as one of the poorest cities in the country, so…yeah.
What Our Experience Has Been Like
That’s not to say that we’ve faced many difficulties here, but I’m also fully aware that could be our privilege showing through. Or it could be that we came here by choice and kind of made our own rules in terms of how we’d live our lives and support ourselves.
Most likely a mix of both.
When I was working corporate marketing gigs, I had very little difficulty finding work. And while I would like to think that it’s because I love marketing and that passion shows through in job interviews, I also have a feeling that having a resume showing addresses in Manhattan didn’t hurt. My pay was good for this area, though it would be a pittance in a higher cost of living city. (My pay while I was in corporate ranged from $65k to $75k as a base.) So that gave us a good little bump when we first moved here.
Steve, though, had more difficulty finding well-paying jobs here. He was previously a Fire Safety and Emergency Action Procedure Director back in the City. But those jobs don’t exist here so he was relegated to the back of the line at security guard companies. His pay dropped down to I think $11/hour and the company that hired him was fairly abusive. (Which unfortunately seems to be a standard in that line of work.)
Steve was the first one to move into full-time self-employed life as a freelance writer. While I took two years before I fully transitioned back into being a full-time entrepreneur. Thanks to where we live and the cost of living here, that made those decisions way easier, as we had lived on much less in Brooklyn and knew we could be fairly secure in our incomes here.
To humblebrag a little, since leaving Brooklyn for Rochester we’ve been able to semi-retire from working and spend more time doing things we enjoy like traveling, house improvements, and spoiling the dog.
The Main Differences Between Rochester and Brooklyn
For all of the good that has come with our gamble to move here, there have been some stark differences we’ve had to become accustomed to:
We definitely needed a (okay, two) car(s)
The area we live is absolutely not walkable. We tried once to walk to our local liquor store when we first moved here. And it’s just SUCH a hassle. Rochester does have a public bus system, but from our preliminary google map searches, any time we needed to go somewhere it would’ve taken twice as long, if not longer. We ended up getting two cars while we both worked outside of the home. But I think that we’ll go down to one car once Moe dies.
We had to go back to conglomerate shopping
This is a little hoity-toity I know, but it was nice to have more small businesses around like indie movie theaters when we lived in the City. It’s a hard place to run a physical business here, I’m sure, so I get why.
Wegman’s is seriously amazing
Okay, so it’s a grocery store, what could possibly be amazing about it? Our first trip to Rochester we went to their main store (the “Taj Mahal” as it’s known) and had our minds promptly blown. The crowded ShopRite with its skinny aisles and perpetually leaking roof we were used to made us feel like we were at the grocery store Disneyland. I actually missed our exit when I was driving back to our hotel after visiting because I was so dumbstruck by how clean, large, and accommodating it was.
Give Up on IKEA
I think the closest one is either in Newark or Pittsburgh, so there just isn’t an IKEA. It was something I had to come to terms with. There were rumors that one might show up between here and Buffalo but I haven't held my breath waiting.
There isn’t as much available
There’s no FiOS since Time Warner/Spectrum has an actual monopoly on the phone utilities here. And we really miss having that (though Greenlight is slowly making headway here. But it’s been almost 4 years and they’re only now considering expanding into our neighborhood). Uber wasn’t a thing here until 2 years ago, and Uber Eats came slowly after. There aren’t any car services that aren’t considered a worst-case scenario if you’ve got a plane to catch before Uber came. And the busses don’t run 24 hours. So it became a culture shock to have to lower our expectations on things we had taken for granted as being readily available and accessible in Brooklyn.
Everything here is a 20-minute drive from our house
This is one of the biggest perks and is something we’ve proven to be true on multiple efforts. Rochester has an amazing highway system and it’s rare that our trips around the city take longer than 20 minutes to complete. Compare that to when my friend Jarred lived in Queens. I’d have to consider the THREE HOURS it would take to get there on the subways (shout out to the R train).
There are way fewer beautification efforts
We see very little street cleaning and there are constant potholes everywhere here, especially during the winters. Most of the time you’ll need to go to the suburbs which have their own governments to get any sort of effort taken. (Which I understand is a financial issue!)
Brooklyn has far superior snow plowing
Which you think would be the opposite, right? We live adjacent to, if not in, the Snow Belt. And there have been times where the snow has been so deep the majority of our cars were swallowed up. In Brooklyn, any time we had a freak snowstorm, the plows and salt trucks were out ahead of the storm. Here, we have to wait a day or so to be dug out.
We had to learn how to live in society again
Our experience living in NYC made us more outspoken, to put it delicately. As it feels like if you don’t stand up for yourself and what you want there, no one else will. Living in Brooklyn gave us an adversarial chip on our shoulders that we had to learn how to soften living out in “regular” cities. That’s not to say we were jerks. But I know that the way one lives in NYC can seem abrasive in other towns.
The thrift stores here are incredible
Seriously. Everything here is so cheap, and that includes all the thrift shops around. I have a theory that old people move down South and leave all of their belongings here because the abundance of vintage Pyrex and Depression Glass I’ve found for pennies on the dollar is stunning.
I still haven’t found authentic Szechuan
My last whiny note: I really miss our little Szechuan restaurant back in Bay Ridge that had the most amazing pork-wrapped appetizers. I can’t find them anywhere here and as you can see based on the way I’ve described them, I’ve begun to lose the memory of what they were and why I love them.
Would we ever move back to NYC? Probably not. Living there for nearly a decade served our purposes at that time in our lives, and we have incredible memories there but I think that time has come and gone for us, and we want more space and less hassle.
Will we leave Rochester? Honestly, I’m not sure. Steve and I were fairly nomadic for a time and I know we both get bouts of Wanderlust, plus the winters are no joke. However, I think that it would be hard to find another place like this with the same cost of living, political climate, and amazing grocery stores easily. I think that we’ll eventually move out of our home for the “nicer” part of our suburb, but unless something catastrophic happens, our current plan is to use Rochester as a home base and focus on traveling more often (after the pets are gone), and possibly finding a winter home in a cheap country with a better climate. Who knows what the future will bring…stay tuned?