Open dirt roads kick dust onto my car. The smell of burning wood mixes with the scent of farm animals and I wonder if my destination will be worth it. When I travel, I usually look for adventure in big cities. So why am I driving past open fields, farms, and—if I’m lucky—a gas station or two?
My destination is a tiny, one-stoplight town whose mayor is also the co-owner of a local hotel. Across the street, a café owned by a man with bushy eyebrows and an outsize personality serves up plates piled with comfort food. Down the street, a wonderful couple, Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, own a boutique selling locally sourced items including goat cheese, lip balm, and whipped hand cream. Sound familiar?
If you’re one of the many Americans who, like me, discovered and binged all six seasons of Schitt’s Creek while trapped inside during quarantine, you might not know that you don’t have to go all the way to Canada to sip fruit wine or shop at an artisanal apothecary. Just visit the village of Sharon Springs, located about 50 miles west of Albany in upstate New York.
As the popularity of the Emmy Award-winning TV show has grown, so has the reputation of Sharon Springs. The tiny town—with a population of less than 600—is now known as a somewhat-accidental clone of the titular town from Schitt’s Creek.
Speaking to me jointly via email, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell say they felt a pull to the area long before the world was introduced to the fictional Rose and Schitt families. They first met 20 years ago, in an AOL chat room, and built a life together in New York City. They purchased a farm upstate in 2006, thinking they would use it for weekend getaways and eventually retire there. But then the 2008 recession hit, and both men lost their jobs.
“Similar to the story of Schitt’s Creek, we lost our livelihoods,” they say. “We lost our jobs within a month of one another and we decided to move to the farm and build a new life.”
After the show debuted in 2015, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell noticed the similarities between their adopted town and Schitt’s Creek almost immediately. “We have long been fans of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara so we started watching Schitt’s Creek from the very beginning,” they say. “Even from the first episodes we saw so much of our little village in the way the townspeople of Schitt’s Creek were portrayed.”
Their connection to the show became even more apparent when Dan Levy’s character, David Rose, opened his artisanal general store, Rose Apothecary. Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell had opened their own version—Beekman 1802 Mercantile—on Sharon Springs’ Main Street in 2009.
Before opening Beekman 1802, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell had become accidental farmers. Shortly after they moved to the village full-time, their neighbor was in the process of losing his farm and needed to rehome his 80 goats. Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell not only took in the goats, but gave their neighbor a place to stay, as well. They started making goat milk products, collaborated with a weaver and a blacksmith, and opened Beekman 1802 to sell the resulting locally-made artisan products.
A few doors down from Beekman 1802 is a cafe—not Café Tropical, but the Black Cat Café and Bakery, whose owner bears a striking resemblance to Eugene Levy’s character, Johnny Rose. Antony Daou—or “Johnny,” as he sometimes lets people call him—is clearly proud of his town and his cafe’s contribution to the local community. Daou is busy when I visit but he still takes the time to pour himself an espresso, sit down, and chat.
“We’re an interesting town in the middle of nowhere with interesting characters,” Daou says. While he cautions that visitors should be aware of the latest COVID-19 restrictions and precautions when traveling to the area, Daou and other small business owners welcome the attention. “There are a small number of businesses, but all of the owners are characters from the big city,” he says. “You have to have a big personality to keep things going in a one-street town.”
While the Black Cat’s menu may not be as comically large as the ones at Café Tropical, Daou is known for several dishes, including his fruitcakes. Despite the dessert’s reputation as a dry doorstop, Daou’s version of the holiday season staple is decadent and moist. His drunken blonde fruitcake—handmade from a fourth generation family recipe—is loaded with pecans, figs, dates, cherries, candied pineapple, apricots, brandy, and vanilla. His sugar plums are made with ground dried fruits, clove, and honey; the Black Cat’s “Thanksgiving Everyday” sandwich, made with roasted turkey, stuffing, and real cranberry sauce, is worth the trip alone.
When the tryptophan (or fruit wine) finally hits, weary travelers can head across Main Street and check into the American Hotel, co-owned by Sharon Springs’ mayor, Doug Plummer. Thankfully, it’s quite a bit nicer than Schitt’s Creek’s Rosebud Motel.
Just a few hundred feet away, Beekman 1802 is well-stocked with cleaning and beauty products, candies, home goods, cheeses (just fold it in!), and more—including a variety of lip balms displayed next to the register, just as David Rose would prefer. Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell have even branded some of their products as a collaboration between their store and the fictional Rose Apothecary. But just don’t ask them to tell you which of their products is simply the best—they can’t.
“We can’t choose just one,” they say, channeling the show’s melodramatic matriarch, Moira Rose. “They’re all our bébés.”