After starting and stopping their search, the Hesses found community in Pennsylvania
Entrepreneur and host Jamie Hess first considered leaving Manhattan for the suburbs three years ago. But, each time she and her family started exploring, she’d get cold feet.
“We started and stopped 100 times,” Jamie says. “But looking back it just wasn’t our time — we were still really happy living in the city, and I’m glad we stayed.” Then COVID-19 hit and the city shutdowns started. “That was a game-changer for so many reasons. We started to see how we could have a great life in different places. I saw so many friends and family flourish in the suburbs. So we decided to make the leap and get out of Dodge.”
While they planned their next steps, Jamie, her husband George, and their two young kids hunkered down at her family’s home in Maine.
“It was a split-second decision,” Jamie says. “We thought about it Monday and we were out of the city by Tuesday. We planned to stay for two weeks, but we wound up staying three months — and that definitely solidified our decision to move permanently. It also gave us time and distance to think about what was important to us in a new community.”
During this time, she says, they also reconnected with their Suburban Jungle Strategist Erika Ades. “Jamie and George had a lot to think about,” Erika says. “If they were going to leave the Upper West Side, they wanted to make sure it was the right move. They considered Westchester. They considered the Hamptons. They were open to a lot of possibilities, which was exciting.”
As the family’s plans started to take shape, Jamie continued to define and refine what they wanted and needed. For starters, Jamie knew she wanted to be close to the city, but feel far away.
“If we were going to leave the city, I wanted to be in the country,” she says. “Somewhere with a lot of outdoor activities and things we could do as a family.”
They also had to consider the impact a suburban move would have on Jamie’s career — in addition to being the Founder of NYCfitfam, she frequently appears on QVC.
“I knew I would be going to a studio in Pennsylvania at some point,” Jamie says. “I had been coming to West Chester for about a year, but always as a ‘day-tripper.’ But eventually the pieces started to fall into place. If you’d told me five years ago — a year ago, even — that we’d have ended up in West Chester, I would have said ‘no way.’ But it’s been the absolute best thing for us and we are beyond happy.”
After moving in August 2020, Jamie and her family quickly started making connections. Knowing they couldn’t just knock on doors or meet people at school pickup, the Hesses chose a very creative way to get in the mix: they hand-delivered gift baskets to each of their 49 neighbors.
“I popped in a healthy beverage, a cute face mask, and a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a little note with a picture of our family on it,” Jamie says. “I also included a little poem saying ‘I know COVID makes it hard to connect, but we’re here and we can’t wait to meet you.’” Her neighbors were quick to respond, reaching out and making plans. “I made tons of mom friends and they started coming over for masked workouts in the backyard. That was the first step and it grew from there — now we have this amazing community.”
City access meets country amenities
Beyond just a welcoming community, West Chester offers the outdoor activities and space the Hesses craved. Even in the colder months, there’s lots to do and see, in and around town.
“My son has been horseback riding several times. We have a great backyard the kids can play in. It’s been incredible, especially now,” Jamie says.
With her son now enrolled in school and the Hesses continuing to get in the mix in West Chester, Jamie continues to discover more things she loves about their new community — and more reasons they’re glad they left the Upper West Side when they did.
“Life doesn’t end when you leave the city,” Jamie says. “Wherever you drop your anchor — that’s an opportunity to create community. That’s what we did in West Chester, and we couldn’t be happier.”
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