By Maura Adams and Leslie Karasin
Cappuccino, chaga tea and craft beer. Hotel development plans in the works and a new non-profit arts center. People of all ages sharing enthusiasm about their town, which lies on the shore of a sparkling lake. This isn’t Burlington – it’s Tupper Lake, New York, where entrepreneurship, pride, and vision abounds – qualities that many outside observers don’t understand exists in this community.
Tupper Lake’s history resembles that of many Northern Forest towns: from logging boomtown in the 1800s to prosperous wood products manufacturing hub, then gradual loss of industry later in the 20th century with no substantial economic replacement. Tupper is often perceived as struggling, and some of its demographic statistics reflect this.
Assumptions and statistics don’t capture the bright, optimistic people who love this town, and are choosing to invest here and make it their own. On a recent walk through town, variety, energy and optimism was being fed by Tupper Lake natives, new residents and a bright blue sky. Examples that we had a chance to experience include:
- Well Dressed Food, a café and specialty food market featuring plenty of local products and good cappuccino. A gathering place for people to run into each other, strike up a conversation among strangers, and taste unique offerings.
- Birch Boys Chaga. A North Country native founded this company at age 19 and now sells value-added chaga products, foraged locally, from his Tupper storefront, in grocery chains, and online. Their competition is a well-funded corporation out of Seattle... but the Birch Boys seem to have a number of competitive advantages over their rivals!
- Spruce and Hemlock, a boutique featuring lots of locally-made gifts and owned by Faith McClelland, a young woman who grew up in the area. Her husband, Andrew McClelland, and brother, Pat Bedore own a printing company called Stacked Graphics. Both businesses will be expanding and moving into a Park Street building where they want to install a wood pellet boiler to heat the space – warmed by local wood pellets!
- Raquette River Brewing, whose tasty Mango Wheat beer and others are in high demand across the region. Another new great place for residents and visitors to interact and enjoy unique beer, wonderful food from food trucks. With demand soaring, the company is expanding, and recently celebrated the opening of a larger pub space.
- Finally, Tupper Arts Center, a new, currently volunteer-run space in a former furniture store with ambitions for exhibits, classes, and more. Their opening gala drew 300 people!
Tupper has also invested in a beautiful new bandshell - built partially by enthusiastic local volunteers – and adjacent logging-inspired playground. The welcoming, colorful streetscape, part of a $28.4 million road improvement project, and substantial building façade improvements underway are striking. And, despite rumors about there being no place to stay in Tupper, local hoteliers provided comfort and class. There are also discussions about more hotels in town and a rail bike trail between Tupper and Saranac Lake, as well as an effort underway to expand the Adirondack Public Observatory into a multi-million dollar Sky Center...
The activity underway in Tupper Lake is inspiring. People’s authentic enthusiasm for their community and their contributions to what is clearly a town “on the up-and-up,” as one of the Birch Boys put it, is contagious.
Check it out yourself next time you’re in the Adirondacks and let us know what you discover!