Every day, the social media posts appear: Messages from longtime friends, neighbors and colleagues on the East End echo with the news that they are packing up — moving on. They are leaving childhood homes and towns shaped by the generations before them as an escalating cost of living, burgeoning traffic, and the changing face of small towns due to an influx of newcomers leaves many searching for home in a place that’s no longer familiar.
Michael Heller reached out on social media this week with a post he said he wished he didn’t have to write. As of April 30, he said, he is retiring from his position as a photographer for the Express News Group — and moving with his girlfriend, Jacqueline, to Rhodes, Greece on May 3.
“After a lengthy period of study, reflection and consideration, I came to the conclusion that I can no longer afford to live in East Hampton — or the East End of Long Island, for that matter — with any decent degree of financial security, stability or quality of life. This should come as a surprise to no one; speaking as a third-generation resident of East Hampton, the changes that have happened here in recent years have made my dream of living out the remainder of my years here an impossibility, a fact which grieves me no end,” he said.
Things have changed on the East End, Heller said. He posted a photo of Tiananmen Square in China as a metaphor: “Replace the tanks with Range Rovers, and the lone protester with any one of the locals who have lived here for generations, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what has happened to the place that I call home.”
Photography is not a big money-making profession to begin with, he said. Couple that with soaring prices, and Heller said he’s had to work seven days a week just to simply get by. “At 64 years old, I just don’t want to do that anymore,” he said.
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And so, he began pursuing options — and it was a trip to Greece in September on vacation that changed the course of his destiny.
Heller had never been to Greece before, and since that trip, he has not returned. But Heller is busy making plans, calling shipping companies, learning about long-term visas, travel insurance and permanent residency — and signing up for Facebook groups about ex-pats abroad, to learn the proverbial ropes.
“We actually had no idea we wanted to live there before we visited,” Heller said. “We knew we were thinking of moving away, but didn’t know where to. Oddly enough, when we booked our vacation there we hadn’t even considered it as an option, but when we arrived and had been there a few days — bam, it was amazing.”