As she sips on a glass of chardonnay at the kitchen table, Tracy Fennell-Hassett shakes her dirty-blonde head at the thought. Moving her entire family from Greensboro, N.C., back up to Buffalo was a whirlwind, no doubt.
“Basically, she just said one day that she wanted to move back to Buffalo,” jokes Tracy’s husband, Jon.
The two quibble playfully over the details, but one thing is for certain: The reason they left Buffalo in the first place is a lot clearer.
“I grew up in Hamburg,” Tracy, 37, recalls. “We lived in an awesome neighborhood and I had a great childhood. But I remember getting ready to apply to college and having the thought, I’ve got to get out of Buffalo.”
For a lot of young adults in the mid- to late '90s, this probably sounds familiar. Back then Buffalo was on the decline. The waterfront development was at a standstill, downtown Main Street was deserted, and the job outlook was depressing.
“Staying here never seemed like an option,” Tracy admits. “It was cold and there wasn’t a lot to do. I thought – why would anyone stay in Buffalo?”
Though she eventually went away to college, Tracy found herself in Buffalo once again as a young professional. She met Jon soon after, and the two were married in September 2006.
“I was working in the golf industry at the time,” Jon, 38, says. “After we got married, I posed the question about moving to Greensboro. That’s where I grew up.”
Tracy confesses that the thought of warmer weather, a better housing market and a wide variety of employment opportunities helped sway her decision. They moved to North Carolina in February 2007.
For the first six months, everything was exciting and new. Jon was working full time at a golf resort, and the weather was just as warm and welcoming as it had been in Tracy’s daydreams. “I remember waking up in our townhouse and looking out into the Carolina blue sky and just feeling like, wow - this is awesome.”
A couple of years and a couple of kids -- Jackson and Brenna -- later, things began to shift. The excitement had worn off. Grown-up responsibilities took hold, and Jon decided to go back to school to get his bachelor’s degree. Life was busy and sometimes, for Tracy, a little lonely. “I’m not the best at making friends, and it never really felt like home to me. Something was missing.”
In July 2012, the Hassetts trekked up to Buffalo for their yearly summer visit.
“Brenna wasn’t quite a year then,” Tracy says. “Some of my friends back here had just had babies, too. There was a familiarity about it that I hadn’t felt in a long time. So as we were driving back to North Carolina, we got to the Pennsylvania border and I asked Jon, ‘Do you think we should move back here?’ ”
Jon smiles wryly from across the kitchen table as Tracy recalls, “And he didn’t say no. That’s what I remember the most about that conversation. He didn’t say no.”
By the time of that summer visit, a lot had changed since the Hassetts had first moved down south. Jon’s parents were no longer living near them, having moved back to Buffalo themselves, and the kids asked about their grandparents almost every single day.
“I grew up without any extended family around me and I didn’t want that for my family,” Tracy says. “So when Jon didn’t say no to moving back, it planted a seed in my head.”
Tracy had also noticed that Buffalo was different. Good different. “Not only was the city on an upswing,” she says, “there were all these things going on that weren’t there before. There was Canalside and all these new restaurants, and you could tell things were changing.”
When they returned home to North Carolina, Tracy had already begun formulating a plan. She knew that they wouldn’t be able to seriously consider moving until after Jon finished school. Still, she began actively looking for Buffalo-area jobs that fall and winter, and started downsizing, cleaning and getting rid of things around the house.
In May 2013, she finally secured an interview with Utica International, an upstate insurance company with a location in downtown Buffalo. “It was the worst interview of my life,” she said. “I was so sick. I never expected to hear from them again.”
Not only did Tracy hear from them again, she was asked back for a second interview. Utica National flew her up for a quick visit in mid-July. A week later, they offered her the job.
“I was at the playground with Jackson when Tracy called me,” Jon says. “I told her if you really want to go back home then I’m cool with it. That was basically it.”
With two mortgages on their plate, one from the townhouse they were renting out and one from their family home, Jon knew they wouldn’t be able to afford a new house in Buffalo. Thankfully, his grandparents had owned a small house in Lackawanna, which had recently become empty. By the end of the summer, the Hassetts were back in the Queen City.
“The whole thing was a shock,” Jon says. “We went from a house we loved to an 800-square-foot house with two dogs and two kids. It was tough.”
A little over two years have passed since the whirlwind move of August 2013. The Hassetts are now living in a comfortable and spacious home in a bustling Hamburg neighborhood near Brierwood Country Club. Jon works in sales at a job he enjoys, and the kids see their grandparents practically every weekend.
As for Tracy, she’s still at Utica National. And she’s content to be back living in Buffalo.
“I love that my kids are going to grow up here. We have this awesome house and this awesome neighborhood with family and friends close by. I appreciate it so much more now.”
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Story topics: Expats to repats