Emily Wendland had been furloughed from their job as a barista in Brooklyn. Their lease was running out. Wendland’s brother had moved to Denver five years back and encouraged them to move to town.
They started thinking: “I’m getting kind of sick of New York — the hustle and bustle. I can’t keep up anymore. I want a change of pace.”
After deciding to move, Wendland spent a year saving up money from unemployment checks to come to Denver’s Baker neighborhood without a job waiting.
“It’s definitely a little bit harder than I expected, just because starting rates for jobs are a little bit lower here,” they said. “But I knew it was going to be hard work. I moved out here because I wanted to live alone. It was definitely not easy. All of the hard work is absolutely worth it. It’s so nice not to have a bunch of roommates anymore.”
Showing up in a new town during a pandemic without knowing many people proved to be a challenge.
“It was hard at first, and I felt really alone,” Wendland said. “At times, I felt crazy moving during a pandemic.”
But they’re beginning to make friends, connecting with people on dating sites and creating a small community of their own.
No, Denver’s no Big Apple… but it has its perks.
“New York is such an interesting place because there’s something to do every day and at any given moment of the day,” Wendland says. “Here, especially with COVID, there’s not really an opportunity to go to a show every night. It’s nice to be able to feel like I can relax whenever I want, and I’m not expected to always be doing something.
“It’s definitely been a lot to adjust to. I still constantly feel like I should be doing something right now.”
People have been flooding into Denver for years.
Over the past decade, 115,000 new residents have flocked to Denver. Where are all these newcomers coming from?
A recent Workforce Report from LinkedIn — it’s not exactly science, but it’s interesting — suggests they are arriving from San Francisco, followed closely by New York City and then Chicago. Out of every 10,000 LinkedIn members in Denver, 8.45 moved from San Francisco, 8.26 moved from New York City and 7.02 moved from Chicago over the past year.
Cheaper housing is one big reason people from the coasts are re-locating here, even if longtime Denverites continue to be shocked by the $599,999 median price tag on a single-family home. Longtime locals remember in 2010 when the median home price was $202,896. Since then, the price nearly tripled.
Some Denverites, put off by the massive hike in housing costs, are fleeing the area. Where to? According to the LinkedIn report: The most common cities are Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tampa Bay — not San Francisco, where the median price of a single-family home is $1,850,000, according to the California Association of Realtors. Compared to the Bay, Denver housing is a steal.
It’s not always the cost of living that convinces people to move here.
Lesley Watson, a Cherry Creek High School grad who moved from Denver to New York City 26 years ago to make it as an opera singer, says she returned to Colorado mid-pandemic for the quality of life.
“In January, my mother passed away from COVID,” Watson says. “It was just a time for me to figure out what was most important.”
She was sick of working and living alone in her tiny apartment during quarantine; most of the cultural amenities were closed. Life in New York is hard, she says, and at 53, she wanted an easier go of it.
So she spoke with her boss, who told Watson she could keep her job and move back to Colorado — or anywhere, since most of her work was virtual.
Rent, she notes, isn’t that different between where she lived in New York and Denver.
Sure, in Manhattan, average rent is $3,272 in 2021 — a 28 percent increase from 2020. But in Queens, where she was renting, she was paying $1,850 for a one-bedroom in what she calls the “fashionable neighborhood” of Astoria. That’s not much more than Denver’s current median rent of $1,600, an all-time high for the city.
Though, in the Denver metro area, people get more for their money, she admits. When she returned to Colorado, she moved to the suburb Highlands Ranch. There she pays $50 more than she did for her cramped one-bedroom in Queens. But in metro Denver, she has all sorts of amenities: “I have twice the space, a fireplace, a balcony, a gym, a pool and a garage to put my car in.”
Best of all: She has a washer and dryer in her home.
“For the first time in 25 years, I’m not going to a laundromat,” Watson says. “I can pick up the laundry and walk into the other room and put it in the washing machine in my pajamas. I think for most people, once you’ve had a washer and dryer inside your home, nobody’s giving that up.”