It started as a hippie dream of simple living, but has turned into a New Age mini-empire with lucrative property holdings stretching from Staten Island to Spain.
The Ganas community was founded by six people on Staten Island in 1978, in a building members rehabbed on a shoestring.
But the group has since grown to roughly 100 people living in 10 buildings on a hilltop in New Brighton – with additional holdings in upstate New York , Brooklyn, Virginia, California and Spain.
With a real estate portfolio estimated at $10 million – the majority mortgage-free – the commune is more than just a crunchy-granola retreat.
The nonprofit group’s 2003 tax return – the most recent on file – shows gross revenues of $526,571.
But Ganas says it’s not about money: “We want to learn how to give up competitive power plays, cooperate, care, and give warm welcome to anyone who wants to join us – with pleasure,” the group says on its Web site.
“It’s a different way to live. But we are not a cult,” said member Eric, 46, who asked that his last name not be used.
They share meals, cars and – apparently – lovers. Members are decidedly coy about sleeping arrangements, but acknowledge they are fluid.
“You just come and you live here. We do screen. We talk to people and check their history. There’s no particular belief system. There’s no leader. … You can leave when you choose,” Eric said.
The group has built a successful commune with money raised from its gallery and thriftshops – called Every Thing Goes – and the $710 a month room and board its charges members to live there.
A core group of members pools its earnings. Many work outside of the commune – in professions ranging from medicine to art. “People’s lives here are like everybody else’s lives,” said member Melissa, 28.
Each of the 10 buildings is run like a family home, with jobs and responsibilities doled out. Once a week, one of the members will go out and buy groceries for the entire community, aiming to keep costs at $20 per person.
But all the idealism wasn’t enough to make Mildred Gordon, 83, one of the group’s founding members, stay put.
She recently left the Staten Island commune and moved to Brooklyn – to be with her fifth husband, a 38-year-old named Dave.