Great Barrington: Where Beauty Abounds

By   |  Photos by David McIntyre  |     |  Community Spotlight

Located at the intersection of abundant cultural attractions, sprawling green spaces, and a surprisingly diverse culinary and retail scene, considering its rural locale, Great Barrington is a destination. Denizens of Boston and New York City flock to the undulating Berkshire hills year-round, seeking solace in the superb slice of heaven cultivated by those who live and work in this quintessential New England community.

“It’s beautiful here, and the community remains present despite changes,” says Abby Webster of a kind, easy-going, and inclusive local population. Walking the scant two blocks between One Mercantile and Sett, the downtown shops she and her husband Andy Pruhenski own, Webster knows most people she passes—evidence of growing up and choosing to do business in the Berkshires.

While residents and hard-core weekenders alike can attest to the shifting downtown landscape, one constant remains: an aesthetic awareness that permeates all things.

The Great Barrington Scene

While locals may be used to brushing elbows with one Yo-Yo Ma over baguette sandwiches at Bizalion’s Fine Food and purchasing woolens from award-winning actor and director Karen Allen at her eponymous fiber arts store on Railroad Street, visitors are hungry for daily life in this rural, albeit increasingly chic, locale.

The community’s commitment to historic reuse is evidenced by a trio of refurbished former churches. Saint James Place is a state-of-the-art cultural center boasting regular concerts, plays, and holiday markets with local vendors plus the People’s Pantry, a South County staple for those facing food insecurity; the Flying Church houses an art space (Gallery SGD); a Swiss-style bakery (Pixie Boulangerie); and coffee shop (Carly’s Angels); and the Du Bois Freedom Center, a nonprofit named for Great Barrington’s native son—activist, scholar, and cofounder of the NAACP W.E.B. Du Bois—will return the former Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church to the spotlight as a hub for African-American heritage sites throughout the region.

Aesthetic attractions abound—from the intimate Bernay Fine Arts to the sprawling Asia Barong emporium with a dozen others in between. Retail destinations range from Fluff Alpaca (everything from socks to throws) and T. P. Saddleblanket (for Western-inspired clothing and home goods) to Moho Designs (organic, screen-printed duds for all ages) and the Refill Store (bulk products sans plastic). Sate your appetite at local spots like Marjoram + Roux (coffee, pastries and daily lunch specials); Farm Country Soup (serving fresh soup and homemade quiche plus frozen rations to go); Bizen (for sushi served in authentic tatami rooms); and Cafe Adam (touted for its chef-owner’s creative farm-to-table fare).

The hamlet of Housatonic must not be overlooked. This once-thriving mill town, a scant six miles from downtown, is well worth the trip for distinctive stops including Berkshire Mountain Bakery (think almond croissants and cherry-pecan loaves); Extra Special Teas (boasting breakfast, bubble tea, and gluten-free snacks prepared and served by differently abled individuals); Pleasant and Main (classic comfort food served amidst a menagerie of antiques and ephemera); plus a pair of cultural outposts: Berkshire Pulse (a movement-based creative arts studio) and the Little Gallery—formerly Deb Koffman’s Art Space, a significant portion of whose graphic work was acquired by the Norman Rockwell Museum for its permanent collection following the Housatonic resident’s death in 2021, now part of the Center for Peace Through Culture.

Fountain Pond State Park, with five miles of trails, is minutes from downtown.

And the hills are alive—the trails are open, no matter the mode of transportation. Skiers and boarders keen on making first tracks will want Ski Butternut and Catamount Mountain Resort in their GPS; hikers take note of the Appalachian Trail (22.9 challenging miles in GB alone stretching between Beartown and Bald Top); and walkers will enjoy strolling the RiverWalk, a paved path hugging the Housatonic, running parallel to Main Street in upstream and downstream portions.

The Great Barrington Real Estate Market

A wealth of cultural assets, coupled with a stunning natural landscape, makes GB a homeowner’s dream—one that continues to come with a hefty price tag.

“We are in a very tricky market for buyers and for sellers,” says Jen Harvey, cofounder and broker at the Great Barrington-based Berkshire Property Agents, citing rising interest rates and (somewhat) dwindling prices in the wake of pandemic-era sales.

At the time of this writing, 62 properties were available in Great Barrington with an average sale price of $623,800 after an average 29 days on the market. Aside from a miniscule 0.6 percent increase in new listings, all other numbers are down—including an 18.4 percent decrease in sales, 2.6 percent decrease in inventory, and 7.8 percent decrease in asking price. 

From an investment perspective, real estate values remain protected—meaning the current drop in asking price is, “not catastrophic, rather more aligned with supply and demand,” explains Harvey of a healthy market in which the latter continues to outpace the former.

As to why that is?

“The Northeast has a draw—[including] the somewhat agreeable climate, the balanced political views, cultural exposure, and the proximity to large urban areas for work [and] travel—making it a strategic place to buy property,” says Harvey, pointing to a pair of current listings.

The first, touted as a one-of-kind, in-town property on the Housatonic River, boasts classic Victorian bones that have been entirely renovated plus a detached barn (built in 2015) whose classic exterior belies the contemporary interior—a total six beds and five baths over 5,000 square feet for $2,195,000.

The second, a 1773 Colonial, is advertised as renovated and move-in ready. Of note is the ground-floor primary suite addition, detached guest cottage and sprawling three acres—a total three beds and three baths over 2,940 square feet listed at $1,295.000.

“Like most things, [the market] is cyclical,” says Harvey of an adjust-and-move-forward attitude required in the industry. Still, sky-high prices have prompted town officials to contemplate whether or not imposing a one percent “real estate transfer fee” for property sales of over $1 million—to be shared between buyer and seller to augment the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund—is a viable option in Great Barrington as it has been in other parts of the state, namely on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Chill vibes abound. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a way of life, get in on the beauty that is Great Barrington. 

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