Friday, April 18, 2014

37 Reasons CNY Is An Awesome Place To Live

Whenever it snows in late March -- or, worse yet, mid-April -- the always percolating “anti-Syracuse” sentiment just below the surface in far too many Central New Yorkers seems to bubble to the top. Heck, even I, known to crow to the point of annoyance about how great it is here, started looking at job openings in the Carolinas when the snow fell on tax day this year.

I ought to know better. I’ve lived in other places for extended periods, and know we have it pretty good here. But sometimes we all need a little reminding.

So, as a way to lift my own spirits, and those of other Central New Yorkers, I put together this list of reasons why Central New York is a pretty darn awesome place to live.

Before the list, however, let’s just establish one thing. Relatively speaking, our winters really aren’t that cold. Sure, we get the most snow of any medium-sized city. But winter is colder in many other places – and I’m talking about places people live. Look at a map of average winter lows in North America. We have the same temps as southern Iowa (It sounds simply exotic when you put southern in front of it, doesn’t it).

In fact, several whole states are colder than us, including all of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Vermont. I even hear there is an entire country to the north of us, with millions of people in it. So when the relatives from elsewhere call and start a sentence with, “It must be freezing up there,” set them straight.

Now, on to our awesomeness:

1.       We Have the Best Summers Anywhere, Period. If you’ve ever spent a full July south of the Mason Dixon Line, you know it’s mostly spent indoors, in the air conditioning. It’s just too dang hot to handle otherwise. Not here. Heck, half of us don’t even have air conditioning.

2.       No Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Major Floods or Brush Fires. I’ll take the fluffy stuff in the great Natural Disaster Raffle every time. Ever try to shovel a hurricane storm surge? Doesn’t work. Besides, we have a very high probability of having a White Christmas every year. And sometimes, a white St. Patrick's Day. Update: Syracuse was ranked as the safest U.S. city from natural disaster.
This happens every day in other cities.

3.       We Have No Concept of “traffic.” If you’ve lived in Washington, Philly, Atlanta or Boston, you know that waiting five minutes for the light in front of the Dewitt Wegmans or 10 minutes on 690 because of construction simply does not count as traffic. Try being stuck in the two-hour delays that happen daily on those big cities’ roads. We just don’t know traffic, at all. And that's good, because traffic sucks.

4.       Everything We Need is Within 20 Minutes. When you wake up on a Saturday in CNY and decide to do something, more than likely, you can be there in 20 minutes or less. That’s not even fathomable for any person living in Boston, NYC, Washington or Atlanta.
For $250,000 you can get a 435
sq. ft., 1 bedroom DC Condo, or
an over 3000 sq. ft. 4 bedroom
home in the Syracuse Suburbs.
Hmm? Which to choose?

5.       We Have Truly Affordable Homes. Everyone here likes to complain about the property taxes on our homes, and that’s our right. But at least many of us can afford to own a home here, and it’s usually a much nicer home than we could afford in almost any other market.

6.       And We Have Darned Good Schools. Sure, we’ve got some work to do to bring more opportunity and better results to certain schools in our community. But, as a whole, we also have some of the best schools in the country. Don’t believe me, next time you talk to one of your friends who’s moved down south, ask about the schools. Then, listen for the trepidation in their voice as they respond, “The School are okay.”

7.       Overall, Our Dollar Goes Further in CNY. Whether you’re buying a beer at a bar or car insurance, things tend to be more affordable here than in major metropolitan areas. Buy a drink for a friend at a bar in NYC, and throw down a ten spot. They’ll laugh at you. Here, you can buy a whole round for four friends for ten bucks – at least during happy hour.  

8.       We Get to Root for Syracuse Basketball. If not for Syracuse Basketball, winters would certainly be a bit harder to take. But we don’t want to think about that. Go ‘Cuse! And let’s not forget S.U. football and lacrosse, etc.

9.       Professional Baseball, Hockey, and Indoor Soccer. Few things can top a summer afternoon watching baseball with a beer and a dog in each hand – on second thought, maybe put the beer down for a second, in case a foul ball comes your way. We can do that here without spending a week’s wages, thanks to the Chiefs. We’ve also got the Crunch and the Silver Knights.
The shores of Lake Ontario.

10.   We’ve Got Beaches, Yes We Do. Within 15 minutes, anyone in town can go to Jamesville Beach or Green Lakes during the warmer months. Or, in about an hour we can walk in the white sands along Lake Ontario at Sodus Point, Sandy Island, or Southwicks. These are real beaches, with waves and sand and sunsets. And we have them.

11.   Everyone Knows Someone with a Boat. We take summers seriously, and we’ve got lots of water around. In CNY, you can’t swing a bat without hitting someone with a boat. Whether it’s a bass boat on Oneida Lake, a party barge on the Seneca River, or a sailboat on Lake Ontario, lots of people own boats around here. Start asking around. And, if you need friends, get a boat. Because owning a boat as an adult, is like owning a pool as a kid. Everyone is your friend in summer.

12.   We have World Class Fishing; I Repeat, World Class Fishing. The Salmon River is considered one of the best fisheries in the world. Seriously. And not just for the fall Salmon run. Steelhead in the fall, winter and spring attract anglers from across the country. Is bass your thing? Oneida. Carp? B-ville. Fly fishing? Nine Mile Creek (or other secret spots I’m not willing to share). All this is between 5 and 40 minutes away.
This happened just north
of here. Believe it or not.

13.   Did You Know You can Sail in CNY? People are always shocked when I tell them I sail in the area. But there is actually a pretty active sailing community here. Whether it’s Lasers on Cazenovia Lake, Hobie Cats on Oneida, or J-24s in Oswego, there are lots of opportunities to sail throughout the region. And sailors are always looking for crew, so I hear.

14.   Skiing, X-Country Skiiing, Snowshoeing, Biking, Paddling, Hiking. Within about half-an-hour you can be to any of at least 5 ski hills, and even more with a longer drive. We took the kids to Toggenburg twice this winter, where they have a great learn to ski package. Others hills do, as well. Take your pick. Skiing definitely makes winter more tolerable. When the snow stops, biking, hiking and paddling opportunities abound, whether right in Syracuse, or a short drive away.

15.   Adirondacks, Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, and Madison County. Want to go to bigger mountains, larger lakes or the countryside. It’s all within our reach.

Try doing this in NYC
without a major hassle.
16. We have Actual Quant Villages. Ever take someone from out of town to Cazenovia, or Skaneateles? They are usually amazed. Or, have you ever been to Sackets Harbor? Within a short drive, we have tons of cool and quant places that make for ideal day trips. And don't forget Syracuse. Whether shopping in Armory, or Skating in Clinton Square, this town has its charms.

17.   An Antiquing Mecca Awaits, just a short drive down Route 20. Every August, more than 2000 vendors gather 30 minutes from Syracuse for the Madison-Bouckville Antique Week. The rest of the year, you can still find tons of dealers selling their wares in Madison, N.Y. and the surrounding area.

18.   St. Patrick’s Day, etc. Everyone knows about the parade. But the other 364 days of the year, Syracuse has some really cool Irish bars -- like Kitty Hoynes and Coleman's -- and countless other ways to revel in your Irish heritage. Do you know about the Irish Sessions, a regular gathering of Irish musicians at local bars. Or, the many Irish dance schools.

19.   Colleges, Colleges, Colleges. Our plethora of colleges and universities not only employ a great number of us, but they help breathe life into our community. We’ve got more than 15 colleges and universities in the greater CNY area.

20.   The Best Restaurants in Town are Actually Affordable. Try to eat at a great restaurant in a big town. First, you have to wait months to even get in. Once you get there, you can’t afford it without a payment plan. Here, we’ve got great chefs making inspired meals for affordable prices. The only problem: you may have to wait an hour for an actual table. (Remember, in many places you have to wait two hours to eat at an Applebees). Check out BC, Pascale, and the Brewster Inn, to name a few.
A friendly, neighborhood watering hole.

21.   Armory Square Simply Rocks. Great bars, food, shops, and even a cool museum. Blue Tusk. Empire. Al’s. Pastabilities. LoFo. A mechanical bull. Chocolate covered strawberries. Boutiques. And an awesome designer discount store my wife has just discovered. I’d put our little hub of nightlife up against any small city's in the country. 

22.   We have an Active Music Scene. Like music? CNY has tons of great bands and good music venues. We even have our own music awards – the Sammys. Check out the winner of the Sammy's People's Choice and Best Americana award, The Ruddy Well Band (Shameless plug for my brother’s band).

23.   Jazzfest. There are so many festivals in the Syracuse area it’s hard to name them all. From the Taste of Syracuse to Harborfest in Oswego. But one festival has been bringing world-class acts here for almost three decades: the Syracuse Jazzfest. Frank Malfitano has another great one planned this year, with B.B. King headlining. Think about it, Syracuse is home to the largest, free Jazz festival in the Northeast. That’s right. Free!
Thanos Import Market.
Try the BellaVitano cheese.

24.   Our own Little Italy. It may be a bit small, but some real gems can be found in and around North Salina Street. Everyone knows about the restaurants, like Francesca’s Cucina and Asti. But, have you ever bought bread at Columbus Bakery? Or cheese at Thanos Import Market? Or gone for dessert and coffee on a Friday night at Biscotti Café? My wife and I went there after a recent date night. Truly amazing. Beyond little Italy you can find rave-worthy Italian cuisine at Santangelo’s, Joey’s, Angotti’s and Gentile’s Restaurant, among others. 

25.   Speaking of gems, Our Diners Trounce the Breakfast Options in Other Places! I remember once trying to find a place to eat breakfast while visiting friends in Charlotte. We ended up at a f***ing Shoney's. We are flat spoiled when it comes to breakfast places that rock. Little Gem, Mother’s Cupboard, The All Night Eggplant, Stellas, Market Café: The list is long and glorious. BTW, they don’t sell Frettas at Shoney's.

26.   We have a Growing Locavore Movement. If you don’t know, we’ve got a pretty active "buy local" movement taking root. Organizations like SyracuseFirst, Believe in Syracuse and Madison County Ag Economic Development are doing everything they can to connect consumers with local businesses and producers – food and otherwise. Restaurants like LoFo and Empire in the Armory, Circa in Caz, and many others, are sourcing as much as possible locally. It’s actually pretty cool.

Side Hill Farmers has a real-life
butcher who makes charcuterie.
He's the one with the knives
hanging from his chain belt.  

27.   Farms, Farmers Markets and Fresh Food. Most CNYers know about the regional market, a great place to spend a Saturday morning in the summer. But we also have access to loads of other places to find farm fresh food, including Side Hill Farmers in Manlius, Nelson Farms just outside Cazenovia, or at the many local farmers markets in Syracuse and surrounding communities. Hard to beat our proximity to local food producers.

28.   We Have Lots of Good Beer. If beer is your thing, hypothetically, CNY has no shortage of great brews and great beer-centered events. Beers from Empire Brewing Co., MiddleAges and Saranac, and festivals like the CNY Brewfest are just the beginning. If you home brew, check out the Salt City Brew Club.

29.   We’re an Hour from Actual Wine Trails. If you’ve never taken a day and a bunch of friends for a road trip west to sample the many wineries and vineyards of the Finger Lakes, you’re missing out on a quintessential benefit of living in CNY. As experiences go, Napa’s got nothing on us.
Gathered on the Finger Lakes Cheese
Trail. ... Consumed at home.

30.   Want Some Cheese Trail with your Wine? Tucked amongst the wineries of the Finger Lakes are a host of local cheese farms. You can also get award-winning local cheese to the east, at places like Meadowood Farms in Madison County.

31.   Can You Say Apple Picking? Ten minutes to the south, or even the west, north or east, you can find places to go apple picking. We usually head out a few times each fall for the picking and fritters at Beak and Skiff. Now, they also sell gin. Yikes. Should we bring a tent? Try to find options like that ten minutes outside Boston, or Manhattan.

32.   Tim’s Pumpkin Patch. Take your pick of easy to reach places to go pumpkin piking. I recall not too fondly trying to get pumpkins living in the D.C. suburbs. We had to drive an hour to get some from any place other than Home Depot. Here, it’s easy and going to Tim's is yet another fall tradition in our house.
Caramel. Candy. Caramel. Candy.
Thanks for the memories
... and the apples, CNY.

33.   Critz Farm. It’s hard to make it through a fall without visiting Matt Critz’s operation south of Caz. And for good reason. From syrup and hard cider, to haunted barns and the corn maze, Critz Farms is a must. It’s also a great place to go in the summer, when the parking is free and the playground open. But that’s just one of the many ag-tourism destinations within half-an-hour of the Salt City. We are blessed with such places.

34.   The Best Grocery Store in the Free World. I like to support the small local shops as much as possible. But for everyday needs, it’s nice to have a Wegmans nearby. Not only endorsed by Alec Baldwin’s mom, our local grocery stores were recently named the best anywhere by Consumer Reports. Take that, all you expensive-NYC-bodega fans.

35.   Oh, Canada. Our proximity to another country should not be overlooked as a positive part of living here. Kingston, Ottawa, even Montreal and Toronto can be reached in a few hours. (OK, Montreal’s a hike). But Kingston is but a short drive and ferry ride away.

36.   The Fair. That’s all there is to say about that.

37.   Simply put, CNY is Just a Great Place to Raise a Family. Affordable homes, good schools, low crime-rates, and easy access to everything we need. It all adds up. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince young adults not to leave this area, and it would be great if more stayed. But if they want to go to New York City or Boston to get it out of their system, I say go for it. But remember, when you start having kids, it’s just easier to live in Syracuse. Trust me.

So there it is. We get a little snow in April and I am moved to write a total puff piece about how great it is the live here.

I'm sure I missed a ton of stuff. Like the access to the arts, an active civic community, and people who are working everyday to make things better, including the Syracuse Downtown Committee and others. 
But 37 is a nice round number.

Now, hopefully it doesn't snow again until November.

Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy. Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, Tip of the Hat to Single Parents, and Thanks to My Backup, and New Year, Few Expectations


Unknown said...

I love this. As someone who was forced by taxes to sell a two generation house on Skaneateles Lake due to those property taxes you kind of brushed off, and now live in FL in my former in laws house, I cried when I read it. I lived there all my life and everything said is true. I would go back in a second. Enjoy that special place.

Cort Ruddy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Wendy. Sorry I made you cry. Sadly, it often takes living elsewhere for us to appreciate CNY's awesomeness. Hope you make it back, someday.

Anonymous said...

Great list Cort. I would hasten to add first-class medical care!

Bob Allen

Cort Ruddy said...

Darn, Bob. You're right. Geez, how did I miss our hospitals.

We had 3 kids born at Crouse. Thanks to everyone there for that. And Crouse and Upstate worked together to help one of our kids with a medical scare a few years back.

I guess I needed a longer list.

Cort Ruddy said...

38. Great hospitals.
39. Dinosaur BBQ.
40. The Tree Lighting Ceremony.
41. Hoffman Hotdogs, Gianelli Sausage, Salt Potatoes

Clearly, I could have kept going.

Anonymous said...

Great list but you need homemade ice cream stands like Snotop, Kimberly's and Gannons. Plus, we apparently have more golf courses than any other area.

Cort Ruddy said...

42. Snotop, Gannon's and Kimberly's.
43. Golf Courses galore.

And the list keeps growing.