I am very excited about a new restaurant that opened in St Michaels, Ruse (or Wildset). We have many fine restaurants (a “shout-out” to my neighbor’s restaurant, Bistro, whose crabcakes and steaks are amazing!). The Ruse chef is creative, and the food is delicious and unique. But most of all, I like the vibe; it is loud, energetic, and youthful. (Let me add that I have few credentials to make a restaurant recommendation, although I have dined in fabulous restaurants, I am a mediocre cook and do not have a particularly refined palate.)
Why do I like this restaurant, besides the spectacular food? It was built to appeal to a younger audience.
When I first moved to the Eastern Shore, I was drawn to the peaceful, placid waterscape. Its scenery was cleansing, peaceful, quiet, and restorative. The flat landscape offered a view of wildlife and an opportunity for cycling. The fresh produce in the summer and the intimacy with nature was just what I needed to heal a broken soul.
I was welcomed by the neighborhood. I have never known my neighbors before, but here there is a friendliness and kindness. Our political perspectives are different, but our concern for each other is universal.
But one aspect of this area both dismayed and perplexed me. The absence of age diversity. Kent and Talbot counties “out Florida” Florida. Our median age is 48 and 51 respectively. In comparison, the median age in Maryland is 39. Fully 49% in Kent and 51% of the residents in Talbot are over 50, compared to Maryland where 37% of the population is over 50. The popular retirement counties in Florida have a median age of 41. In Miami-Dade only 36% of its population is over 50; in Broward 38%; and Palm Beach is 44%. Per the census data, since 2010 the 50+population has growing in Talbot County at an average rate of 6%; conversely the under 50 population has been declining at the rate of 6%.
My previous home in Morristown NJ was facing a similar fate as Talbot and Kent counties. Town officials recognized that they had several factors in their favor; namely, a 35 minute commute to NYC via mass transit, good schools, and good restaurants. The town commissioners approved several apartment and condo buildings next to vacant property adjacent to the train station. Soon Morristown was “discovered” by young parents leaving NYC to provide a better life for their children. Now the town is thriving; shops, bars, and more restaurants fill the downtown; which is alive with energy and people until midnight. There is ample room for all ages
When I moved to St Michaels, I recognized the same potential. Even before COVID; many employers were allowing their employees to work virtually 3 or 4 days a week, making a 1 or 2 day commute to DC feasible. All Talbot County had to do was invest in public schools, allow developers to build some housing attractive to this community (thus drawing the population to existing housing), and invest in cycling paths. With just a few tweaks we could build a vibrant, multi-generational county.
The younger demographic is vital to a thriving community. They are more environmentally aware, spend more, are more likely to eat out, and are more likely to start businesses. Conversely my generation spends 25%-41% less. At the current rate of growth of my generation; conservative estimates indicate that this will result in $15-$18M reduction in consumer spending in Talbot County, primarily from entertainment and retail sectors. Due to our limited incomes, we are often less willing to approve expenditures on improvements and schools.
To me, it was obvious, we needed to focus on bringing younger people into this county. It took me a while to realize that many people strongly disagreed with me. Preservation groups, environmental protection groups, and “from heres” wanted to keep the rural nature intact. One preservation couple informed me that that they wanted to keep everything the way it was after they completed their own home. Fearing strip malls, increased traffic, and more demand on our fragile ecosystem; many Talbot County citizens remained unconvinced of the need for attracting a younger population and were adamant on the need for stability.
A recent column in the Spy by J E Dean asked the question about Easton. I am expanding the question, what about Talbot County? How do we feel about the graying of Kent and Talbot counties?
(There are some new opportunities to attract the younger generations. The “silos” project in Easton; and some new restaurants have been targeted toward the younger generation.)
Which brings me back to Ruse. Ruse welcomes everyone but has been developed to appeal to a younger demographic; (although I go there as often as I can). Maybe this demographic will be lured by the fantastic restaurants, natural landscape, and outdoor activities. Maybe the Bike Talbot group will be able to inspire more cycling pathways. Maybe our area will be discovered by those weary of living in metropolitan areas; and less concerned about a single day commute to the city.
I hope so.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.