Portrait of a Commuter Town

A NY Times profile of Suffern, NY focuses on real estate, but in the process creates a miniature of the struggles of all small towns- keeping the historic downtown vibrant, offering varied housing options, and competing with neighboring cities.
January 10, 2009, 1pm PST | Tim Halbur
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"Suffern, a two-square-mile village in the town of Ramapo along the New Jersey border, has held fairly steady at about 11,000 people since 1990, census figures show. It was not always the kind of place that attracted young families, said Mayor John B. Keegan, a retired postal worker. "When I first moved here as a kid 46 years ago," Mr. Keegan said, "it was a real tough town, with people speeding all around in hot rods."

That was at least partly because of the difference in the legal drinking ages in New York and New Jersey until 1984. With not even a river to discourage New Jersey teenagers from driving into Rockland County, where the legal age was 18, Suffern's bars were a magnet for out-of-state youths, said Mr. Keegan, describing the village back then as 'a real gritty place.'

But the crowd from New Jersey has long since thinned out. In recent years, migration patterns across the state border have reversed; residents can drive less than five minutes to fuel up and make purchases in New Jersey - where gas prices are lower, there is no sales tax on clothing, and large stores abound. Today, the mayor said, the focus of the village's struggles is maintaining economic viability."

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Published on Friday, January 2, 2009 in The New York Times
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