New Yorkers Turn Palm Beach Into Hamptons South Fleeing Virus

The waiting lists for private clubs are getting longer. Palm Beach Day Academy just enrolled another Northeast transplant and is on pace to break fundraising records. And the “season” has begun, with in-person parties, benefits, exotic car shows and concerts.

To be sure, Palm Beach isn’t some magical place that escaped coronavirus. Like everywhere else, the number of cases on the Florida island has spiked the past few weeks, and there’s an economic toll: on valet-parking services, restaurants, hotels, the pizza place at the airport.

New Yorkers Turn Palm Beach Into Hamptons South Fleeing Virus

And yet, in a town where garbage is picked up four days a week and models walk Worth Avenue (with masks on), there’s a lot of money flowing and a lot of talk about Goldman Sachs flirting with opening a South Florida hub for its asset-management business.

“That is really major,” said Dixon Boardman, founder and CEO of Optima Asset Management. “I know some huge hitters at Morgan Stanley and UBS who have decided to move to Palm Beach. I think it’s in its infancy.”

Palm Beach has also seen an influx of younger families this year, many virus-weary New Yorkers with cribs and nannies in tow. The median age is “dropping faster than SpaghettiOs from a toddler’s highchair,” a Sotheby’s realtor said in a recent letter to clients. Houses are being bought sight unseen, and the frenzy has only increased since March, making it one of the hottest real estate market in the U.S.

Much like the the Hamptons in the 1980s, when bankers showed up en masse along with new clubs, mansions and restaurants, the latest arrivals are exerting their influence in ways both subtle and obvious. The blue-bloods with their Lilly Pulitzer outfits are no longer the only game in town.

‘Frowned Upon’

One fifth-generation local says Palm Beach is ready for the onslaught.

“It used to be, you were frowned upon if you lived somewhere while you were having fun, while everyone else was in a cramped apartment,” said Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors. “Now, people are actually allowed to have a life, and how lucky they are to figure out they can do it where it’s pretty and the streets are clean, and there are flowers and people getting around on bicycles.”

New Yorkers Sarah and Andrew Wetenhall represent that generational changing of the guard. She’s president of the venerable Colony Hotel, while he works in finance. They’re taking the 73-year-old “pink princess,” full of Slim Aarons photos and memories of John F. Kennedy, into the 21st century, with updates aimed at turning it into a multi-generational hangout.

New Yorkers Turn Palm Beach Into Hamptons South Fleeing Virus

During Covid, they’ve managed to redo the hotel’s lobby with custom, whimsical de Gournay wallpaper and kid-friendly touches. The Wetenhalls’ son came in from the pool the other day holding strawberry smoothies, and no one panicked; the sofas are stain-proofed.

Anna Raytcheva, who left prop trading at Citigroup to start hedge fund Sonya Capital four years ago, relocated from New York the first of the month, making the trip by car with her family.

Raytcheva, who rented an office in a two-story building on the south end of the island, hasn’t yet found the equivalent of her Sweetgreens or Dig Inn in midtown Manhattan. But with Elliott Management Corp. taking office space here, and others considering it, Raytcheva said she’s hoping critical mass will build, making it easier for clients to visit.

“Without the pandemic, it wouldn’t have been as easy to make the move,” she said. “I’m able to focus without much distraction, but have the flexibility to take advantage of the nice weather.”

Nanny Training

At Palm Beach Day Academy, the $28,900 tuition for early grades runs about half what private schools in New York charge. They’ve added 65 new students from the Northeast in past months, but Head of School Fanning Hearon said he’s unsure what next year will bring.

“We are hoping that after a productive year at PBDA, our new families choose to permanently reside in Palm Beach and that there is very little attrition (back north) this spring,” Hearon said in an email.

At least for now, demand for nannies and housekeepers is so high that the Wellington Agency has started Zoom training for potential hires who haven’t worked for wealthy clients before. Natalie Asper Hudson, a graduate of the International Butler Academy in the Netherlands, covers topics like table service, the perfect bed and how to clean couture clothing.

With wealthy people getting wealthier and focused on making their home environments special, some local businesses have seen boosts. Renny & Reed, which charges $5,000 to $15,000 to deck out a home inside and out for the holidays, recently got a request to do so from a New Yorker spending Christmas at her Palm Beach home for the first time.

New Yorkers Turn Palm Beach Into Hamptons South Fleeing Virus

On the Dixie Highway, a faux plant designer has opened and a wide-plank European floor specialist is coming soon. New York galleries and restaurants -- including Hamptons favorites Almond and Sant Ambroeus -- have arrived, joining Mount Sinai and Hospital for Special Surgery in providing familiar comfort to anxious exiles.

“It used to be you say the best medical treatment is a plane to New York, and that’s no longer true,” said Boardman, who’s owned a house in Palm Beach for 40 years.

Stone Crabs

Families arrive early for dinner at Table 26 restaurant these days, and even the 12-year-olds are sophisticated, owner Eddie Schmidt said. “They’re probably not ordering like you and I did as kids,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘I’m going to start off with the stone crabs and I want them well-cracked.’”

At this phase of the pandemic, anything that reminds one of life before lockdown can be embraced with a fuller enthusiasm.

So in the middle of dining on a plate of spaghetti at Bice, it’s still possible to look up and see a model walking by. They’re hired by Worth Avenue shop owners to lure shoppers and diners into their stores.

Lauren Joy Baranowski, a former Miss Florida who models pearls for retailer Jewelmer, said wearing a mask has made the job harder. She can only smile with her eyes. But she’s getting a very warm response.

“To see the models, I think it gives people hope that we’ll be getting back to normal,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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