The funky, charming hub of southern Berkshire County, Great Barrington blends small-town friendliness and Brooklyn trendiness. Thanks to summer and ski-season visitors, the town offers many more amenities than its year-round population would otherwise support. To paraphrase local musician Arlo Guthrie, “you can get anything you want” — well, almost — in Great Barrington: 50-plus restaurants, a performing arts center, college, movie theater, hospital, and a ski resort.
One of the only things you can’t get? Plastic shopping bags. The ecologically minded community banned single-use plastic bags in March. But fear not: Decorative reusable grocery bags are sold everywhere, even at the auto repair shop. (It also sells locally made granola.)
A 2½-hour drive from both Boston and New York City, Great Barrington is more culturally aligned with its southern neighbor than its own state capital. New York transplants, retirees, and second-home owners are a significant force in local politics. Public transportation to Boston is nonexistent, but there’s bus service to Manhattan from downtown Great Barrington.
In recent years, some entrepreneurial young adults and families have moved up from Brooklyn, lured by the open space, cultural amenities, and the comparably inexpensive real estate. But overall, the town (like the rest of Berkshire County) has struggled to attract and retain young people. Retirees now outnumber schoolchildren.
With the school-age population dwindling and professional opportunities hard to come by, many in town are excited about the possibility of future passenger-train service to Grand Central Terminal. If plans to update the existing rail tracks and stations succeed, and commuting becomes a possibility for more New Yorkers, Great Barrington could one day be much more Brooklyn than small town — for better and worse.
By the numbers
Number of minutes in the original recording of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”
In the song, Guthrie recounts a story that began at the Great Barrington home of his friend Alice Brock (who later owned a restaurant in nearby Stockbridge).
Very famous literary encounter
In 1850, authors Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne met for the first time on a climb up Great Barrington’s Monument Mountain. Legend has it that Melville was stuck on a piece of writing (something having to do with a whale) and that Hawthorne helped him get his ideas together. Melville would later dedicate “Moby-Dick” to Hawthorne.
130 and 126
Distance, in miles, from Great Barrington to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, respectively.
The New York influence in town is pronounced. Network TV carries news and sports from the Empire State.
Acres of state forest
That’s more than one per resident. Population: 7,104 (2010 US Census)
Pros & Cons
Easy access to the outdoors
Hiking trails and swimming holes dot the town. In the winter, Ski Butternut, on the outskirts of town, offers 22 downhill trails.
Professional jobs are hard to come by.
The town, like the rest of Berkshire County, is dependent on tourism and struggles to retain young adults.
Summer brings music and film festivals to Great Barrington. Year-round, Bard College at Simon’s Rock offers many lectures and performances that are free to the public.
Cellphone and Internet service can be unreliable — often a bonus for vacationers, but difficult for those hoping to telecommute.