Yep, 2020 sucked. There’s no two ways about it. Normal life, as we knew it, pretty much ground to a halt in mid-March with the proliferation of COVID. Here in Saratoga Springs, we had it particularly bad, because our Saratoga Summer—basically, the one thing that keeps us going through these long, crappy winter months—got canceled. A quick, painful recap: no spectators were allowed at Saratoga Race Course, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) canceled its jazz fest and classical season, Live Nation put the kibosh on its traveling summer circus and mask-wearing became de rigueur, long before Halloween.
Suck-fest that the year may have been, Saratogians figured out ways to beat the COVID blues—summer galas and parties went virtual, as did the racetrack experience, and many of us spent countless more hours outdoors, exploring parts of our region that maybe we’d taken for granted. Heck, even our own Capital Region Gives Back event went hybrid!
Really, though, it’s our humanity that has prevailed, whether it be helping out our neighbors during the toughest of times of the year or safely spreading holiday cheer. We’ll take that ethos into 2021 and beyond, with our heads held up high, knowing that by year’s end next year, we’ll hopefully have a little bit of normalcy back in our lives.
For a year dominated by COVID, it makes sense that the majority of Saratoga Living‘s 10 most popular stories of the year had a “viral” vibe. Check them out below. Any surprises?
(1) Governor Cuomo Will Extend May 15 Work-From-Home Order ‘in Many Parts of the State’ (published on April 27) – We were still very much in the pocket of COVID, with the weather getting warmer, the days longer and brighter, and most of us had had enough of lockdown. And then came this news at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefing on April 27. (Fun fact: For most of us here at Saratoga Living, our work-from-home order never got lifted.)
(2) Marylou Whitney’s 36,000-Acre Adirondacks Estate on Sale for $180 Million (published July 29) – Late in the afternoon of July 29, Saratoga Living Sports Editor Brien Bouyea texted me a link to the Wall Street Journal‘s exclusive on this news, saying that it might be good to put up on saratogaliving.com. (He has a nose for things like that.) I put together a story and got several of the photos of the estate directly from Marylou Whitney’s widower, John Hendrickson. I published the story that evening, and it quickly went “local viral.” Everything we’ve ever written that has even a tangential relationship to Marylou Whitney has gone bonkers on the website. This one was no exception to the rule.
(3) The Church of Dave: How Saratoga Came to Worship the Dave Matthews Band (published June 3) – When the Saratoga Living editorial staff was discussing what to put on the cover of our 2020 Summer issue—in previous iterations, a magazine that previewed of all the fun things Saratogians could do during the summer months—it occurred to us that this year’s issue would have to be a bit of an ode to better times. And what better way to honor the summer that could have been by putting the most popular rock band in Saratoga history, the Dave Matthews Band, on the cover? Reporting the story, I requested interviews with all of the members of the band, landing only lead guitarist Tim Reynolds, who generously offered his time to talk about the early days of DMB, and what it was like coming to Saratoga summer after summer (he described it as sort of like Beatlemania, with the band having to stay outside of town, lest they be mobbed by fans). In the days following the story being published, many of the members of the band shared it on their personal social media pages—and then the Dave Matthews Band Facebook page, which has more than three million followers, shared it on June 11, and all bets were off (DMB’s share was eventually liked 1.5K times, garnered 167 comments and was shared 155 times). To think that, possibly, Dave Matthews himself sat back and read Saratoga Living‘s story about our adoration for him and his bandmates makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. (You can purchase the DMB-covered issue here.)
(4) Local Snowplow Driver Has Unexpected Interaction With Governor Cuomo – We literally published this one on December 23, and it’s shouldered its way into the Top 10 most popular stories of the year. It’s a Christmas miracle.
(5) Rachael Ray Filming TV Episodes Out of Her Lake Luzerne Home (published on April 28) – As you can tell, we had a monster April. The day after we published our most popular story of the year, our fourth most popular story of the year was published. This one being about celebrity chef Rachael Ray, whom we had featured on our inaugural design issue’s cover two years prior. Ray, it turned out, was filming her popular daytime TV show, without makeup on, from the kitchen of her home in Lake Luzerne, where she had been living since COVID hit. Crazily, four months later, local firefighters would respond to a blaze at the home, with Ray, her husband, mother and dog getting out unscathed.
(6) Lake Local to Be Resurrected as 550 Waterfront, Two Years After Fire (published on June 24) – Saratogians love to hear about new restaurants and bars opening in town—we know this because of the traffic data. But marry that to a feel-good, comeback story, and you have yourself some “local viral” dynamite. Thankfully, architect Michael Phinney, who oversaw the rebuild, sent us some great photos of the renovated space, we got the scoop on the new restaurant/bar and published the story a day before to its grand reopening.
(7) More Than a Dozen Upstate New York Towns Are Vying for an HGTV ‘Takeover’ in 2021 (published on February 7) – Pre-COVID times were such innocent ones. Trawling the web for fun and interesting stories was (and still is) one of my favorite slow-news-day pastimes. And in doing so, I came across this interesting story about a number of Upstate New York towns, including a bunch in the Capital Region, that were trying to become the focus of a new spinoff series on HGTV, entitled Home Town Takeover, set to air in 2021. The payoff would be that one town would get a full makeover, courtesy of HGTV and the hosts of its popular Home Town show—not a bad deal for some of the more rundown spots that campaigned for inclusion. Alas, after several months, it was revealed that the one lucky town would be Wetumpka, AL. Upstate New York’s armpits got the shaft.
(8) Beekman 1802 Is Turning Its Farm Into the World’s Largest ‘Restaurant’ (published on June 24) – It’s the businesses that have been thinking outside of the box that have won the COVID era. Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, who co-own Beekman 1802, the Schenectady- and Sharon Springs–based lifestyle brand that sells everything from jams and condiments to lotions, soaps and body washes, decided to transform their 60-acre farm into “the world’s largest restaurant.” They did this by offering it up to regional restaurants who could set up shop there and serve socially distanced meals to lucky locals on the property. Good karma came back around: A month later, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge would ink a deal with beauty juggernaut Ulta to sell many of their artisanal products in Ulta’s stores, nationwide.
(9) Dorinda Medley Gets Real: The Breakout Star of Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives of New York City’ Spends a Day in Saratoga (published October 1, 2019) – Our 2019 cover story on former Real Housewives of New York City co-star Dorinda Medley found a second life in 2020, after Page Six revealed this past August that Medley had been fired from the show. We can neither confirm nor deny that the City of Saratoga still recognizes October 6 as “Dorinda Medley Day.”
(10) What It’s Like Having Your Loved One in the ICU, on a Ventilator, Fighting COVID-19 (published on April 9) – In early April, I learned that a fellow member of the class of ’98 from Saratoga Springs High School, Paul Jancsy, had been at Saratoga Hospital suffering from complications from the COVID-19 virus, and things didn’t look so good. Jancsy, who, after high school, had gone on to serve in the New York Air National Guard and fly commercial jets for Delta Air Lines, had come up to Saratoga for some respite, following a shift with Delta in New York City, a soon-to-be COVID hotspot. A day after reporting the initial story about the GoFundMe page that Jancsy’s friends had launched for him to help him and his wife, Sara, pay for all of his COVID-related medical bills, I reached out to Sara, asking her if she would put into her own words how she was feeling, with her husband in the ICU on a ventilator. (At the time, something like 80 percent of people who were put on ventilators succumbed to COVID.) Miraculously, Jancsy pulled through, and his ongoing story has become one of the most popular series in the history of saratogaliving.com. You can read the entire story arc below:
Part II: (see above)
It’s worth noting that, unbeknownst to me, the day after this story was published, Jancsy would be rushed back to Saratoga Hospital with more complications from COVID-19. He’d spend another week and change there, before being released for good.
The positions listed above are based on traffic data collected between January 1, 2020 and December 25, 2020.