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Aging Adirondacks

Needs of seniors will affect commerce inside the Blue Line

June 28, 2009
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

There may be an opportunity to earn some gold in the Adirondacks. But unlike prospectors of old, those who prosper may have to focus on senior citizens' needs, which include home repairs, medical care and transportation.

According to a report released by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, residents of the park average close to 43 years of age, which is older than any state for median age. The report projects that by 2020, only the west coast of Florida will exceed the Adirondacks as the oldest region in the United States.

"There is an out-migration of young families and an in-migration of semiretired and retired persons," the executive summary of the report said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/ Bill Trojan

Patrick Groom, 12, the son of Jerry Groom, middle, the owner of Groom’s Store in Caroga Lake, takes money from James Wallace of Caroga Lake for some chip dip at the store Tuesday.

Peg Schutz, the president of the Sacandaga Task Force for Senior Living, said based on information the group has gathered, there are a couple of services seniors would like more of.

A variety of contractors are needed by seniors, she said. Some seniors have older houses that need repairs made, and even minor work can be difficult for some.

"A lot of seniors up here do not have a lot of money," Schutz said. "And these [repairs] can suddenly spring up on them."

According to its Web site, the focus of the task force is the Sacandaga Valley, centering on the village of Northville. It works at trying to attract more services and housing facilities for seniors to the area.

Schutz said by developing housing in a location such as Northville, the organization may be able to provide a more convenient place for many seniors to come and get goods and services.

Brian Weakley, the store manager at GU Family Markets in Northville, estimated about 25 percent of the store's business comes from senior citizens.

"They rely on staples - eggs, milk, bread," he said.

Schutz said the group would like to develop a way for seniors from the region to get information about services they need.

"There are so many people in these outlying, country areas," Schutz said. "Right now, they might not even be aware of the services [available.]"

A housing facility for seniors located near more businesses would also reduce another need many seniors have - transportation.

Some seniors cannot drive themselves, Schutz said, while others are not comfortable driving anymore. There is no mass-transit service available, and it can be difficult for private individuals to set up a transportation service because of the costs involved.

Candace Kelly, the director of the Warren/Hamilton counties Offices for the Aging, said many seniors rely on volunteers for transportation.

While there are medical facilities, Kelly noted there is no actual hospital in Hamilton County. Given how crucial time can be in an emergency, the travel time to a hospital in Gloversville or Glens Falls can be a problem.

Catherine Mueller, the executive director of the Senior Citizens Service Center of Gloversville & Fulton County, said businesses that can provide medical equipment to seniors may find themselves in demand, especially if they are able to accommodate the elderly who can still live at home.

There is a trend among the federal and state government to try to help people "age in place," she said. The governments are providing more resources to help people live at home, or commute to receive care, as long as possible before moving them to a senior living facility.

Mueller said as members of the "baby boom" generation continue to get older, they could also ask for new services. Given that baby boomers are used to going to health clubs, she said, they may want similar clubs that cater to older citizens.

Of course, some of the most important businesses to seniors may continue to be small, rural stores -?especially if seniors do not have convenient access to a village or city.

"If the weather is downright horrible, seniors want to be able to go to the corner store," she said.

At Groom's General Store in Caroga Lake, owner Jerry Groom said many of his customers are seniors. While he sells a little bit of everything at his store - his motto being "If I don't have it, you don't need it" - his selection of hardware has drawn specific praise.

"I hear how convenient it is [to have hardware] quite a bit," he said.

A big hardware store is actually one business Caroga Lake resident Tony Ermie would like to see move into the park.

Ermie, who maintains a home in the Adirondack Park and another in Visalia, Calif., said he would also like to see cell phone service in the park.

"It is frustrating," he said about the lack of cell service.

Approximately 40 percent of the homes in the park are owned by people whose primary residence is outside the park, according to the report.

Edna Rew, the secretary and former president of the Wells Senior Citizens Club, said the town is "getting to be almost a retirement community."

She noted that some of the already mentioned issues - transportation, medical care, housing - also pop up in Wells. She described her senior group as "very active" and said many of its members volunteer to help others when they can.

While there are businesses in Wells, she said, they tend to be smaller than the typical business found outside the park.

"Businesses can have a hard time making it here," Rew said.

According to the report, the once-famous mines and mills, spread across the nearly 6 million acres of the park, are largely closed. Other private-sector businesses are having difficulties as well.

"Sparse populations and regulatory practices have contributed to a lag in private-sector investment of broadband communication and data transfer infrastructure," the report said.

Brian Towers, the supervisor for Wells, also is the president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages.

The report is not a blueprint for how to fix problems in the Adirondack Park, he said. It is basically the foundation for a discussion about those issues.

Towers said from his perspective, more employment opportunities are needed for seniors and people of every age group.

"We need to drive investment into the park so we will retain younger age groups," he said.

According to the report, the park is made up of 12 counties, 103 municipalities and about 132,000 residents.



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