Sunday, October 26, 1997
Horst Liepolt left New York City in 1995 for Berlin, where he was born 70 years ago, only to discover his heart belongs to the Big Apple.
Ditto for Dolores White, now retired, who yearns to live in the city again.
Howard and Arlene Sommer, in their 50s, are giving the city another whirl after their children flew the coop. And, two years into their return from a 40-year sojourn in suburbia, Mort and Sonia Goldstein are loving every second of life in the city.
In all the good notices New York City is getting for its historic reduction in crime and improved quality of life, not to mention the burgeoning economy, a little-remarked-upon but growing trend is that the city is also becoming haven to a group that appreciates the big town’s excitement: retirees and the so-called “empty nesters.”
Although statistically difficult to measure, anecdotal evidence confirms that a growing number of retirees, especially former New Yorkers, are choosing the city and spurning such traditional retirement locales as Florida, California and Arizona.
Commissioner Herbert Stupp of the city Department for the Aging said he is not surprised.
“It’s a very senior-friendly city, perhaps the most in the country,” he said.
New York is a good place to grow old because of all its conveniences, including access to health care, the most developed mass transit network in the Western Hemisphere and discounts everywhere for seniors, Stupp said.
Retirees themselves cite the ease with which they can live, the excitement of the city and its cultural offerings.
But Charles Longino Jr., a demographer at Wake Forest University, was brutally blunt on the reason the elderly are returning to the city.
“They are coming back because they’ve gotten old and widowed in Florida, and their health is failing, and they want to be near their families,” he said.
Andrew McPherson, a junior equity research analyst at Salomon Brothers, concurs.
Seniors often move to warmer climates when they retire, he said. But as they hit their mid-80s, especially when one spouse dies, they have a harder time getting along on their own.
“The kids still live up in the Northeast. Then the issue is, every time Grandma slips and falls or has a problem, the kids have to hop on a plane and fly down to Florida,” McPherson said.
It makes more sense for Granny to be near the family.
And, sensing a need, developers in the city are offering upscale continuing care and assisted-living apartment buildings, where older residents receive personal care, including help with getting dressed, bathing and medication.
Glenn Kaplan, chairman of the Kapson Group, which owns and operates 20 such facilities in the region, said his firm has another 22 on the drawing board or under construction, including five scheduled to open in the city within three months. Other developers recently opened senior care apartment buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Other evidence supports retirees who say they are returning because of their love of the city and what it offers. Real estate firms, which are on the front line of selling and renting homes and apartments to the returnees, say they are experiencing a boom.
Andrew Heiberger, president of Citi Habitats, which rents more than 3,500 apartments a year in the city, said returnees make up about 6% of his business, up from about half that just a few years ago. His firm found an apartment for Horst Liepolt just this month.
Liepolt was a Grammy-winning jazz record producer who ran the Sweet Basil jazz club in Greenwich Village for 10 years before returning to Berlin with his wife, Clarita, two years ago.
“I thought with the Wall coming down, and with the whole rebuilding thing, it was going to be like the Wild West and honky-tonk, something happening, excitement,” Liepolt said.
He found quite the opposite.
“In those 2 1/2 years, there was no excitement, only Doomsville.”
Contrast that to an awestruck Liepolt visiting New York for the first time almost 40 years ago.
“You see it in movies, you see it in pictures, but it was another thing to actually be here. It was amazing. That was it. I felt very good and right at home,” Liepolt said.
It’s a sentiment Howard Sommer, a 57-year-old president of an investment fund who was born and reared in the South Bronx, understands.
Sommer’s journey took him briefly through Chicago before plopping him down in Long Island for 30 years of the whole suburban treatment: two children, a big house on 31 /2 acres, a swimming pool and a tennis court.
But when the kids grew up and went to college and, upon graduation, moved to Manhattan, Howard and Arlene Sommer, 55, found themselves with too much house. Howard was itching to get back to the city, but his wife was not too sure she was ready to give up the space and comfort of their home and the bonds she formed over the years.
They sold the home anyway and have been renting a Manhattan apartment for seven months now. Arlene is back in school studying to become a psychoanalyst. And Howard is having a terrific time.
“At this point in my life I want to be in the middle of everything,” Sommer said. “I love stepping out of my apartment and being on the streets and all the people and the energy and the excitement. . . . It’s good to be a New Yorker again.”
When she turned 65, Sonia Goldstein decided it was time that she and her husband, Mort, leave Plainview, L.I., and return to the city, where he was reared.
The dossier: 40 years in the suburbs, three children, a dog and a large house that had an office for Mort, a psychologist. He needed some convincing because the move meant ending his practice. Solution came in the form of a two-day-a-week practice on Fire Island. He feels now he has the best of both worlds.
And Sonia is just loving it.
“New York is the place to be when you are retired,” she said. “You are not dependent on a car. You can get to wherever you want to go with mass transportation, and you are not locked in isolation in your home.”
The couple has subscriptions to practically all the cultural institutions in the city.
“The way we get together with friends that we don’t see as much anymore is we have subscriptions with them,” Sonia Goldstein said. “So, I have a subscription to Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Club, the Roundabout and then in between, my daughter and I love the ballet so we go to that, either traditional ballet or Alvin Ailey.”
The older-than-60 crowd numbers 1.3 million in a city of 7 1/2 million people, so cultural institutions, even as they court families and younger audiences, find their base is highly dependent on retirees.
At the Roundabout Theatre Company, for instance, more than 30% of the 35,000 people on its subscription roll identify themselves as retired, said marketing director David Steffen.
“It’s important that everyone realize that there is this huge influx of people coming back into the city,” he said.
Dolores White, for one, has been to all the retirement places and thought they were nice — but not for her.
And when she says “I’m a city girl,” she doesn’t mean just any city.
“I’ve been to Chicago, which I liked. I was in San Francisco. I liked it. I’ve been to Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, but I like New York the best,” White said.
The 68-year-old former teacher grew up in Brooklyn, and remembers cutting class to see Frank Sinatra at the Paramount in the 1940s. She remembers Harlem, Little Italy and Chinatown.
She is now working on exchanging her rambling East Northport, L.I., home for an apartment in the Tribeca-Battery Park area, or in Brooklyn Heights.
“There’s such an array of cultural activities, restaurants, shopping . . . you could just sit on the stairs of some of the office buildings and people-watch for hours,” White said.
The city’s rejuvenation recalls for her the old days.
“We felt very free in those days, traveled in the subway with ease. I see that coming back. I see it coming back again. That is what is drawing me back to moving back to the city,” she said.
Original Story Date: 102697