Real State

Stroudsburg, Pa.: A Small Town at the ‘Heart of the Poconos’

A little over a year ago, Charise Miller’s commute to work increased — a lot. It now takes her about an hour and a half to get to her office in New York City, instead of 10 minutes. But she’s fine with that, because it means she doesn’t have to spend two hours finding a parking space after work, as she did when she lived in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium.

In Stroudsburg, Pa. — a Monroe County borough 75 miles west of New York and just across the Delaware River from New Jersey — where she now lives, there’s plenty of parking. There’s also plenty of breathing room.

From almost every window in the six-bedroom colonial that Ms. Miller, 49, an administrator with the State of New York, owns with her husband, Charles, a truck driver who is also 49, they can see the Pocono Mountains. Deer, wild turkeys and even a bear have wandered onto the three-acre property they bought for $499,000 in March 2021. “We’re drop-dead in the middle of their environment,” Ms. Miller said.

New Yorkers have sought open space in the Poconos for ages, but the Millers are among a recent influx of city dwellers settling in Stroudsburg, a community of about 5,900 residents that calls itself the “heart of the Poconos.” Stroudsburg is becoming hipper, if a bit more crowded. “But if it wasn’t for people from New York and New Jersey, we wouldn’t have the diversity and culture we have now,” said the town’s part-time mayor, Tarah Probst, a regional outreach coordinator at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

Ms. Probst, 49, is a Democratic candidate for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, but she said she won’t leave her position as mayor, a job she has had for more than six years, until she knows the borough is in good hands.

It seems to be heading in the right direction. Many storefronts on the old-fashioned Main Street are taking on new personalities: A bicycle shop is being turned into a meadery; a space that was once home to a dry cleaner is now Marita’s Cantina, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Ian Schreier, the restaurant’s owner, who lives in neighboring East Stroudsburg, a borough of 11,000 with a state college, said the arrival of new residents started long before the pandemic. Since 9/11, he noted, many of the area’s vacation homes have become primary residences: “It seems like with every different issue, people come here and discover a new world.”

Stroudsburg now has a Starbucks, but that’s not such a bad thing, Mr. Schreier conceded. “They bring so much traffic into this town, and I’m very excited to poach off their customers,” he said. “I’m full. We’re all full.”

Angela Sessoms, 68, a retired speech teacher, moved to Stroudsburg from the Bronx in 2004, so that she and her sister, Barbara, 70, a retired corrections officer, could adopt and raise special-needs children. She now has four adopted children, ages 18 to 23, and her sister has two, 17 and 20. The sisters have moved from one place to another in Stroudsburg, most recently paying $420,000 in May for a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house seven miles outside the borough. The area is diverse, she said, and the residents are warm and friendly.

“We kind of had to get used to people saying hello to us,” Ms. Sessoms said.

Stroudsburg covers just two square miles, with Interstate 80 running through its southern portion. It’s bordered to the east by Brodhead Creek and East Stroudsburg (which has less of a Main Street U.S.A. feel); and to the west by Tannersville, with the Crossings Premium Outlets.

The borough is clearly undergoing a transformation. The marquee on the old Sherman Theater, which anchors Main Street, still touts concerts and shows, but the building that housed the nation’s first J.J. Newberry’s, a five-and-dime chain, is now occupied by the Renegade Winery.

Big-box retailers have swept into the area, and many of the little mom-and-pop shops in downtown Stroudsburg have disappeared. But new independent businesses are also moving in — among them Pure Day Spa, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop and the Cure Cafe.

“It’s just gotten busier,” said Nicole Murray, an area native who is the association executive for the Pocono Mountains Association of Realtors. “I remember driving down Route 80 and seeing no other cars. The older people in town will say, ‘I remember when there wasn’t even a Route 80.’”

Although Monroe County has the highest average effective property tax rate in Pennsylvania — 2.37 percent — taxes still tend to be lower than in the New York suburbs, and houses are generally more affordable at a variety of price points, Ms. Murray said. These days, those listed for sale don’t get 25 offers as they did at the height of the pandemic, he said, but they may still get three or four.

“There are just a lot of things to do here,” she said. “And it’s pretty.”

On July 15, there were 83 properties listed for sale in the 18360 ZIP code, according to data from the Pocono Mountains Association of Realtors. That included homes in the borough of Stroudsburg, as well as the townships of Stroud, Hamilton, Jackson, Pocono, Smithfield and Chestnuthill. Prices in the area ranged from $200,000 for a ranch house on a “contractor’s dream” property on Sherwood Forest Road, with a foundation, frame, roof, septic and new heating system, to $2.399 million for a five-bedroom, five-bathroom 1824 farmhouse on 100 acres.

Sales are down slightly in 2022, but prices are up. Through the end of June, 146 properties sold for an average price of $312,079, with an average time on the market of 39 days. By contrast, the first six months of 2021 saw 151 properties sell for an average of $285,786 — about 8 percent lower — and an average of 48 days on the market.

Liz and Sergio Ferro moved to the area from Millstone, N.J., in 2011, paying $193,000 for a five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house six miles from downtown Stroudsburg, because they thought it would be an ideal spot for raising children. Ms. Ferro, 39, a Covid-19 contact tracer, and Mr. Ferro, 44, a general manager of a construction company, now live near a small lake with their 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, and they enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking and kayaking. So do their mellow neighbors.

“Everybody knows each other and is super nice,” Ms. Ferro said. “And everywhere you go, you can just sit down and take a nice break.”

The Stroudsburg Area School District, which serves students in the boroughs of Stroudsburg and Delaware Water Gap, and Stroud and Hamilton townships, includes four elementary schools, a middle school, a junior high school and a high school. As of August 2021, 49 percent of the district’s 4,700 students identified as white, 19 percent as Black or African-American, 24 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent as Asian and 4 percent as two or more races.

According to the state’s Department of Education, students taking the SATs in 2019 at Stroudsburg High School, home of the Mountaineers, averaged 534 in math and 540 in reading and writing, compared with state averages of 537 and 545.

The Martz Bus company offers daily service from its terminal on Foxtown Hill Road to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. With a few exceptions, Stroudsburg is the last stop en route to New York and the first stop on the way back.

Nine buses depart for New York between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays, and there are six to eight daily buses on weekends. The trip takes about 90 minutes. A one-way fare is $46; a book of 40 one-way tickets is $669.

The Monroe County Historical Association is in the stately Stroud Mansion, a 12-room house on Main Street that was built in 1795 by Jacob Stroud, a Revolutionary War colonel who founded Stroudsburg in 1799. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, remained in the family until 1893.

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