Should I stay or should I go?

BI now like NYC in the ’90s with high prices

  • Thursday, September 23, 2021 10:49am
  • Life
Denise Stoughton

In my early 20s a rather delightfully delusional Manhattan Realtor/actress took me apartment hunting on the Upper West Side. I dreamed of finding a place on the parlor floor of a charming brownstone with big windows and high ceilings, but she dragged me through seven dismal habitations before I ditched her. Of all the apartments, she’d saved the best for last – an airless room no more than 250 square feet that boasted a kitchen in a closet that could be hidden by closing louvered bifold doors circa 1970 and a small inoperable window facing an air shaft. Perhaps I was the delusional one to believe my $700 (1989 dollars) a month would garner my dream place.

“It’s a dollhouse!” the Realtor exclaimed giddily as she tippy-toe twirled in the middle of the 200-square-foot room, arms gesturing lavishly as though there were a real need to project into the rafters. Was she showing me an apartment or auditioning for Les Mis? Clearly, even a twin-sized bed would simultaneously obstruct one from opening the closet, bathroom, front and kitchen doors.

“But where would I put my bed?” I asked, somewhat incredulously even for a relatively seasoned New Yorker used to living in small spaces with multiple roommates. She performed a little choreographed dip-hop step, thrusted her body up and forward, exuberantly launched both hands skyward as her gaze alighted on a nook above the built-out closet.

“You could sleep up there!” She gushed, projecting maniacal excitement and enthusiasm for my potential new sleeping arrangement on a 2½ foot by 6-foot perch, 8 feet off the floor with 3 feet clearance to the ceiling and no railing or ladder.

After ditching Snow White and her seven dwarf apartments, I found a place the old-fashioned way, in the Village Voice classifieds: a ground floor studio with the original fireplace in a brownstone between Central Park West and Columbus; it cost $690 a month. My landlord was a sweet man named Albert Scheintaub; he’d owned the building for years and had kept it up well enough.

That was then and this is now; welcome to my overpriced 645 square foot studio apartment on desirable, affluent Bainbridge Island. There is nothing “luxury” about it, although that’s how it’s advertised if you were to look it up online. They slapped a few bucks into a serviceable renovation before I moved in but the carpeting in the corridors is nearly 15 years old; there are no amenities, and the gutters are badly in need of repair, which means I get to listen to a constant drip 24/7 all winter long. Today Bainbridge is to the PNW what the Upper West Side was to Manhattan in the 1990s.

How did I get here? In 2019, I found myself in a situation of having to reimagine a new life and career for myself on this small island after leaving the relationship that brought me here the prior year. While the relationship was a bust, my newfound relationship with Bainbridge was in full bloom. My friends, the environment and small-town charm of Winslow seemed like a Hallmark movie. But what I could never figure out about the movies is how the young part-time salesgirl in the local coffee shop affords the fabulously stylish three-bedroom home on a tree-lined street just outside of town.

I hadn’t worked for two years but previously I had a robust 20-year career in home products development in NYC and Dallas. New Yorkers are nothing if not resilient and resourceful, so I regrouped and started doing interior design work and created a line of wall air-plant holders called Modern Airhead.

I have woven myself into the fabric of the community through volunteering on the Paublic Art Committee and more recently, by serving on the board of Arts & Humanities Bainbridge. If you live on the island, you’ve likely seen me around town with my big hats, small chihuahuas and white VW Beetle.

I’d love to grow into a bigger space; I actually desperately need more space. Prior to COVID-19 after just one year in business I could have imagined purchasing something small but the price of real estate and rentals having skyrocketed so it isn’t happening anytime soon. Realtors boast of selling properties for $200,000-$500k over the asking price – they’re thrilled, sellers are thrilled, cash buyers are thrilled, and I find myself nose pressed against the window in a dilemma (cue The Clash), Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’ll finish by saying I’ve decided to stay but only by default. I need more time to consider what’s important to me in terms of where and how I want to live and to see what happens in a post-COVID market. Next month I’ll sign another one-year lease after having fully redecorated my apartment to a ridiculously glamorous degree to appease my disappointment.

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