SARANAC LAKE - The population of this village grew by 358 people, or 7.2 percent, from 2000 to 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 2000 census listed the village's population at 5,041, down from 5,377 in 1990. That number increased to 5,406 by 2010. The percentage growth in village population more than tripled the percentage growth in the state's population, which was 2.1 percent.
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who reviewed the census data recently with Community Development Director Jeremy Evans, said Friday that the numbers are "good news for the village.
Downtown Saranac Lake is seen Friday from the roof of the Lake Flower Apartments high-rise.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
"It really shows something," he said. "It shows that we're growing. The actual number, 358, may not be a big number to a lot of people, but the percentage, 7.2, far out-surpasses the state."
"It confirms that people want to be here, despite the challenges we all know exist here," Evans added.
Why has the village's population grown, and what are the new people like? The latter question is difficult to answer, as the U.S. Census Bureau has yet to release age and other demographic information.
The village of Saranac Lake's population through the decades
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
But the Enterprise posed both questions to Rabideau, Evans and several local residents and business owners on Friday.
'It's a great place to be'
Rabideau said he's part of that influx of new residents to the community, having moved here from Plattsburgh nine years ago.
"I came here for the same reason those other 358 people came here," he said. "That's because of the quality of life and the character of the community. Without question it's a great place to be. That's our calling card."
A building contractor by trade, Rabideau said he meets a lot of people from outside the area who are looking to relocate here. In the last couple months, he said he met two people who are moving to Saranac Lake because they like the Adirondacks, the village's small-town character and the local schools.
"Those are just two people, but their reasons for coming here are significant," he said.
Evans is also a transplant. He grew up in Peru but moved from Binghamton to Saranac Lake four years ago. He said he's part of a group of new residents who've given up better opportunities because they want to be here.
"There's sacrifices you make when it's a place like this that has a lot of things to enjoy: a sense of community, recreational opportunities, the mountains, the convenience of being able to walk around," Evans said.
"Obviously it's a very vibrant and welcoming community," said Bob Ross, CEO of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, who moved to Saranac Lake more than three years ago.
Ross said St. Joseph uses Saranac Lake's appeal as an outdoor recreation and arts hub to recruit new staff, some of whom are probably among the new people who've taken up residence in the village in the last 10 years.
"We very much market the lifestyle of the community," Ross said. "I'm not at all surprised that the growth trend might be higher for the village of Saranac Lake than the state as a whole."
Rice Furniture co-owner Clyde Baker, a lifelong resident of the village, attributed part of the increase in village population to the village's larger employers. He also believes some families have moved here, or moved back here, simply "because they realize what a great place it is to live.
"I have friends that have moved back to the area because they can do their work from here via the Internet or a T1 cable," he said. "It shows we're not the desolate area that people kind of portray it to be at times. It's a great area."
Hairdresser Linda Piro, who owns Maurice's Unisex Beauty Salon, said she's seen signs that new people are coming to the area.
"I have found a lot more people that I don't know are getting haircuts," she said. "It sounds a little crazy, but I've noticed that I do especially a lot of walk-in gentlemen now. I don't know where they came from, but they all seem to be new to the area."
Despite the increase in village population, there's been a downward trend in enrollment in local schools, which some have interpreted as a sign of an exodus of young families from the community. The Saranac Lake School District has seen its enrollment drop by 120 students since the 2007-08 school year and is expected to lose another 80 students in the next four years. St. Bernard's Catholic elementary school and Northern Lights School, which uses the Waldorf method, have also seen their enrollment drop in recent years.
If few new families are coming to the area and enrolling their kids in local schools, who are the people responsible for most of the increase in village population? Could it be older residents without school-age children?
"The first question we asked was, how come our student population isn't growing proportionately," Rabideau said. "The answer must be that we're attracting older people, or families are having fewer offspring. It may be a combination thereof."
Piro noted that many of her customers are older people who've come to Saranac Lake to live with their children.
"That's what I think it is, older folks coming," she said.
Baker said the opening of Saranac Village at Will Rogers, a senior citizens residence, about 10 years ago could also have increased the population of older residents in Saranac Lake.
However, Baker said he's not convinced the village is losing more young families than it's gaining. He is also a Saranac Lake school board member and noted that the population of elementary school students in the district is expected to increase from 515 to 594 over the next four years, despite the overall downward trend in district enrollment.
Rabideau said the village's population increase might translate into "more political clout and more leverage for grants and funding." He noted that Saranac Lake's population is catching up to that of the village of Malone, which dropped from 6,075 people in 2000 to 5,911 in 2010.
"Right now our population is almost equal to that of Malone," Rabideau said. "I would wager by the next census we might surpass them. So if we're the largest municipality in Franklin County, you'd have to think that some of the legislative mojo is coming our way, if they apportion the districts correctly."
If nothing else, Baker said the increase in village population makes for good advertising, on par with Food Network cooking show host Sandra Lee, who's governor Andrew Cuomo's girlfriend, naming Saranac Lake as one of her two favorite vacation spots and other recent publicity.
"I think it's good PR," he said.