And Community

Six Ways to Take a Prospective New Town for a Test Drive

You research the school system. You collect the train schedules. You drive around the neighborhood after an open house. 

Buying a house means buying into a community. So, of course, information about schools and transportation is important. However, a big part of what most of my clients are looking for is a particular vibe. And in my opinion, vibe needs to be evaluated firsthand. 

Here are my 6 favorite suggestions for taking a town for a test drive. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

1. Take a walk.

When you drive through town with an agent, they tend to take you through the nicest neighborhoods. So, if you’re looking at a particular house, in addition to circling the neighborhood, google directions to a nearby restaurant or school – and walk to it. Beyond getting a feel for the friendliness of fellow pedestrians, you’ll notice things that you’d never have access to inside your car.

2. Hang around after school.

Whether it’s the vibe of the school's neighborhood, or what your new neighborhood feels like when school gets out, you’ll get plenty of information about what your child’s after-school experience may be like. 

3. Take an exercise class.

Or a yoga class. Or visit the library. Or a church. Or a temple. Or the senior center. If there are things you love to do, take the opportunity to see what it’s like to do them in a new town. Obviously, walking into the Montclair YMCA was a different experience the first time I showed up there decades ago than it is now. I didn’t know anyone and, in fact, I got lost. But even then, the Y had an easy, welcoming vibe that made me feel instantly comfortable.

4. Go to the grocery store.

I spent a lot of time in the supermarket when I was raising my family. If that sounds like you, pop in and see what your home-away-from-home will feel like. Montclair has plenty of grocery options – I’m happy to guide clients to the 2 or 3 destinations that seem most right for them.

5. Take the train (or bus) in and out of town.

I have clients who do this as a matter of course – executing their entire door-to-door commute from a prospective neighborhood to experience it in real time -- and also to see what it will feel like. 

6. Check out the Saturday night scene.

Montclair has always been something of an arts and entertainment hub, a destination for people all over northern New Jersey. But there’s no better way to know if it will suit your own entertainment needs (or, at least, many of them) than having a meal, getting a drink, catching a movie, listening to a band. Meander down Bloomfield Avenue and see what speaks to you. There are plenty of restaurant options where reservations are not required.

Getting a clear feel for a town or a neighborhood helps buyers become more confident in their purchase. I regularly tell clients: You can always change a kitchen or an entryway – but you can’t change what a town feels like on a cool spring morning or after a quiet snow.

To me, taking a town for a test drive provides a buyer with more options. You may read things about Montclair or Glenridge or South Orange or Verona, but until you experience the town’s vibe, you won’t have information from the most reliable source: you. 

If you want some more ideas about how to test drive a town, don’t hesitate to call me: 973-809-5277

Photo: Montclair YMCA Large Pool 

Shopping (on foot) In Montclair

At the end of this summer, we moved to the heart of “Uptown.” By “we,” I mean Keller Williams Real Estate, and by “Uptown,” I mean the northernmost shopping district of Montclair’s five retail hubs.

My office used to be on the edge of town – a perfectly nice place, but not nearly as walkable as most of Montclair tends to be. I was excited to move, not only because I would be able to easily walk to work, but mainly because I love being in a neighborhood where I can get most of my errands done – including my holiday shopping -- without getting in my car. 

Our big, bright office space is steps away from Valley Road with its lovely boutiques like Jaffa Gems and Ampersand for home décor or gifts, and Marcel’s or Jackie’s for breakfast or lunch. There’s a Gap on one corner and a Williams Sonoma on the other. Pizza, bagels, coffee, jewelry, clothing, office supplies, sushi or ice-cream – it’s all a two-minute walk. There’s a toy store, a hardware store, a shop to buy scented soaps and another to buy baby gifts. I often stop at Gus’s for fresh fish and pop across the street for a bottle of wine on my way home. 

And Montclair’s other retail hubs are just as vital, with new, fun shops popping up among older, beloved Montclair institutions.  

The point is this: living and working in an environment where a car can be optional is a wonderful experience. You can spend time with your partner or your children walking and talking. When shopping is close to home, it feels easier to wander in and explore. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many local shop owners in this natural, unhurried way and I can say that few things make you feel part of a community more than walking into a store and being greeted by name.  

If you want to stop by our new home, we’re at 237 Lorraine Ave. The entrance is in the back, and there’s a covered bike rack back there, too. We’re steps away from the bus and the train, but if you need to drive, no worries – we have plenty of parking behind the building. 

The Spirit of Glen Ridge

Glen Ridge has always been an easy sell. Tucked between Montclair and Bloomfield, it has always felt like the sweet, quiet, sister-town – pretty and quaint, with old gas streetlamps, manicured lawns, and its own Manhattan-direct train station. But, to be honest, although it’s a wonderful place to live, it’s not usually a destination

Many homes in Glen Ridge are super close to Montclair or Bloomfield restaurants, sometimes even walkably so. Their great town pool is a destination, but largely for residents. So, it’s especially fun and festive when all of Glen Ridge turns into The Place To Be, as it did last weekend during its third annual Town-Wide Yard Sale.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good yard sale. And on Saturday, there were over 100! 

The event was created by the Glen Ridge Library as a fundraiser. Residents who participate are allowed to waive the town's yard sale permit fee if they make a small contribution to the library. The hub of the event also takes place in a big commuter parking lot on Bloomfield Avenue, where the library "sells" spots for vendor tables. A few merchants had professional looking displays, but most were just regular people who had some swag to unload. 

There were kids selling lemonade and tables set up for local sports clubs. Someone was even selling a Glen Ridge-opoly game (which I did pass up, but not without second thoughts). And throughout the town, there was a yard sale everywhere you turned. (Truly! They even gave out maps!)

The thing that struck me most about the event this year was when I asked the library director how she came up with the idea. She said they “borrowed” it from a neighboring town that tried it a few years ago. Apparently it was a flop there, but it has been a resounding success in Glen Ridge. 

And that’s really the thing about Glen Ridge – it’s a town full of fierce community spirit, but it’s not an in-your-face kind of spirit. It’s more of a quiet, sustaining spirit that's woven deep into the old bones of this strikingly beautiful town.

Montclair is Made for New Families

Recently, I went to the Upper Montclair Sidewalk Sale – an annual event that has been going on for at least as long as I’ve lived here. I remember packing my young kids into the stroller and cruising up Valley Road, hoping there was enough to entertain them for a while before their nap. Back then, Montclair was just starting to become a popular destination for young families from the city and didn’t have as many things to do with small children. There was Kinderkickers Soccer, Music Together, the Studio Players Theater group, an art class here and there, a tumbling class that would pop up in a church, and a small “Baby YMCA” on the South End.

When I think of how much has changed, it’s hard to believe it’s the same town.

All the old favorites still exist, but there is now so much more. The new Kids’ YMCA on Glenridge Avenue is newer and more centrally located. Music Together has had a new, permanent headquarters in the middle of Upper Montclair, steps away from a great toy store, kids clothing store, wonderful bagels, pizza, tacos, and the world’s nicest fire station! In addition to more coffee shops, tea shops, and noodle shops, all over town, there’s now an inclusive movement facility uptown and a pre- and post-natal support center on Walnut Street. 

It’s actually hard to imagine walking ten minutes without running across endless places to go with young children: indoor gyms, story times, art classes, martial arts, and bake shops galore! I mention this last upgrade because a couple bake shops in town have grown into institutions.

Montclair Bread Company has become famous for their donuts (maple bacon, OMG) and also for sponsoring road races and fun runs throughout the town. 

Little Daisy Bake Shop, which may be the first place in town to specialize in nut-free baked goods, sponsored the Pie Eating Contest that captivated me over the weekend. There’s something about grown men dipping their faces into blueberry pie that can just lift your mood for the whole day.

Initially, I was going to just write about the Sidewalk Sale, how fun it was to gather on the street and run into old friends – people who, like me, were all once trying to find ways to create little communities for our young’uns. But I realized that there are now myriad places and ways to do that here – that we’ve grown even more into a town that offers plentiful opportunities to meet others in that same wonderous life stage of young parenthood.

If you ever want a tour of walkable, kid-friendly destinations, let me know. And block out a big chunk of time!

You're Welcome!

I usually stay away from anything political in my blog, but this week I am making an exception. On Wednesday, June 27, I had the great honor of attending a local reading staged to raise money to support one of the many organizations fighting to help immigrant children being separated from their parents. 

Montclair, New Jersey is a liberal town. That’s no secret. But this event, like so many initiatives – big and small -- started by residents who cannot sit by and watch people being treated inhumanely, reminds me so why I’m so proud to live here. This is a town that speaks out for families – all families.

Families come in all shapes, sizes, and colors – and that is one of the many reasons people want to live here. We all want our children to grow up in a community where families with two moms, or two dads, or no mom, or no dad, or different color moms and dads, or grandmas as moms, or grandpas as dads are all as commonplace as families with one mom and one dad. That’s the community mindset that sparked an event like Borders of the Heart: Writers Read in Support of Migrant Families.

In eight days, a few local writers put together this reading in an effort to do something to help. Donations were collected through Facebook and at the event. Nearly two dozen writers read pieces on the subject of immigration. Some readers were people I knew personally and never knew their story. It was heart-wrenching and uplifting, and I walked out of that room –appropriately, a local temple sanctuary – feeling so very right about the work I get to do: helping people find a community where their values and ideals can thrive.

I write this on July 4th, the “birthday” of my country. Today, I will dress for the heat as I walk the few blocks to Midland Avenue and take a spot on the curb to watch Montclair’s 90-minute July 4th Parade. I will cheer for floats celebrating local ice cream and local music lessons and the local Irish pub. I will cheer for organizations that provide free tutoring for kids and free meals for adults. I will cheer for the bike advocates and the football team and the Community Pre-K. And, of course, I will cheer for my home away from home, Keller Williams Realty.

Like the reading, our parade reminds me how we take care of each other here. Everyone is welcome to show up with their stories. 

Everyone is welcome.

The Arts Are Alive and Well in Montclair

It’s no secret: some of my clients start out afraid to leave the city. Of course they are! We live in cities because there is so much going on and it’s unsettling to think we’re giving that up.

For those who have already taken the leap, there was plenty going on here last weekend, as is true most weekends.

The Montclair Literary Festival launched in 2017. Given how many journalists, authors, playwrights and poets call this area home, it’s almost shocking that we didn’t have a weekend-long celebration of writers and writing before now. The festival included readings, talks, workshops and panels by writers of all genres. There were events devoted to politics and events devoted to rock’n’roll. There were lots of events for kids. Most everything was within an easy walk to everything else. And a lot of it was free!

On Sunday night, we were graced by a reading and musical performance by Patti Smith who arrived with her longtime producer Lenny Kaye. The two took the stage in the sanctuary of the spectacular First Congregational Church and captivated the audience for nearly two hours.

Being in that audience reminded most of us why we came to this area in the first place. It reminded us that we live in a community that can support two independent books stores, even in the age of Amazon and Kindle. It reminded us that, as a town, we believe that the arts are worth making room for – lots of room. And it reminded us how many of our friends and neighbors work so hard to fill our town with intellect and beauty everywhere you turn. Just like the city.

When you take the leap, you will find yourself in a town with two libraries, an art museum, a film festival, a jazz festival, fabulous restaurants, an indie movie theatre, a concert venue, a jazz club, art galleries, art walks, avant-garde dance, opera and musical theatre, and a university with lectures, performance art, and minor league baseball. You’ll also find lots and lots of coffee shops!

The other not so secret truth I remind my clients: Montclair is surrounded by plenty of great towns — Bloomfield, West Orange, Glen Ridge, Verona, Cedar Grove. If you’re looking for a community with easy access to the arts, these are towns that you should consider as well. 

Patti Smith photo by Jacqueline Mroz

 

Montclair - No Shortage of Porches

“Look at that porch!” says practically every client on our first tour of the town. “Oh, look at that one!”

Montclair and Glenridge are full of porches, and it stands to reason that my clients moving from the city would be drawn to them. A porch is the suburban version of a front stoop – it’s a way to be at home and be out in the world at the same time.

But it’s not just city dwellers who are drawn to porches. The National Association of Home Builders said earlier this month that of the 780,000 single family home constructions started last year, over 65% of them included porches – 10% more than a decade ago.

To me, there’s nothing better than a porch with a roof. I can’t think of many things as relaxing as an early autumn Sunday morning – watching the leaves dance around the yard or even listening to the rain – while sipping coffee in a big-cushioned chair on a cool, dry porch. I’ve seen many homeowners add a front porch and it completely transforms the feeling of the house. It just seems more welcoming.

A gracious front porch can be set up like a second living room, with rugs, table lamps, and ceiling fans. I have a friend who keeps a tea cart on her porch; it’s always stocked with glasses and an ice bucket for an impromptu evening gathering. Someone shows up with a bottle of wine and suddenly it’s a get-together. She says it’s been a great way to get to know her neighbors.

As you can tell, I’m pro-porch, even though I don’t have one of my own. But in this walkable suburb, I feel as though I benefit from the porches of others – for an evening chat or just a walk-by wave. It one of the many things that make a bustling town like Montclair truly feel like a tight community.

Hillary Clinton Visits Montclair

Last night at Back to School Night, I sat in on my daughter’s 8th period class and turned to a mom sitting nearby, “This class seems so empty.”

“It’s because of Hillary,” she said.

I was not one of the lucky 1,000 people to score a ticket for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book signing here at our own Watchung booksellers. Apparently, they sold out in an hour.

A friend went and was telling me about it this morning: people started showing up at 2:00 pm for Clinton's 6:00 pm arrival. Over the next few hours, the line wound around the corner to Watchung Field.  “You could feel the love,” my friend said. “Grown-ups. Children. There was such a sense of camaraderie.”

One of the things I love about Montclair is how that camaraderie shows up everywhere. Exercise classes. Library events. Town soccer. The Van Vleck Plant Sale. We have big town amenities (art museum, indie movie theater, a minor league baseball stadium) and a small town vibe.

In my opinion, Watchung booksellers contributes a lot to the overarching feeling of community. They support all the local writers (of which there are many!) through readings and book events, they host tons of book groups and children’s programs, they always have enough staff available to advise and recommend.

And last night they brought us Hillary.

In fairness, Back to School Night provides its own brand of camaraderie, especially at the high school. People you’ve seen throughout the years watching your kids play sports, serving together on PTAs, sitting against the window of Montclair Music Studio waiting for Abigail’s violin lesson to end – all come together for a few hours. Clumps of old friends convening in front of the Nurse’s Office or outside one of the stairwells during their children’s lunch period. It honestly feels like a great big cocktail party (although without any cocktails).

I’m the mom who always looks forward to Back to School Night, especially for the feeling of community. But I will admit this: If I’d gotten a Hillary ticket, I would have happily cut class.

 

Montclair's July Fourth Parade Is No Joke!

If you’re moving to Montclair and you happen to purchase a house on Midland Avenue, there will be a rider in your contract about the 4th of July – namely that you’re required to have a lawn party for the parade.

Okay, I’m kidding about the rider but you’d never know it if you lived here.

For as long as I’ve lived in Montclair, our July 4th Parade has been one of my favorite events.  The parade starts around 11 o’clock at the library on South Fullerton Avenue, turns onto Bloomfield Avenue, and then travels the entire length of Midland Ave, ending up at Edgemont Park. It always begins with antique cars, then come the marching bands, local groups and businesses -- the beloved Community Pre-K marchers, the always-festive Egan and Sons’ float, the high school football team, the Boys Scouts, Bike and Walk Montclair, School of Rock. The list goes on and on.

Midland Avenue is an extra wide street, centrally located and easily accessible. Some families pull a few lawn chairs to the curb and settle in for the festivities. Others set up food and drink for dozens of guests. For nearly two hours, this usually-quiet, mile-long block turns into a massive party – a meandering mingling, of happy and fun.

If you happen not to buy a house on Midland, your first order of business should be to make friends with someone on the block so you have a parade perch. Actually, I’m kidding again. People from all over town stroll Midland’s sidewalks and can plop down on a curb anywhere.

Still, I’ve heard of Midland Avenue sellers adding a clause in their contracts reserving a curb spot for their family in perpetuity. Here, I’m only half-kidding. Families often do return, year after year, to take in the music and merriment that is the Montclair July 4th Parade. We have so much pride in our town and community, and at the parade, it's like you can taste it.

 

Stepping Out For A Movie – The Magical Montclair Film Festival

There are plenty of things I’m proud of about Montclair. We have a magnet school system that is held up as a national model of how to provide integrated education in a diverse town. We have a volunteer-run online message board that allows thousands of people to provide  recommendations for services or help find the owner of a lost dog. We have an adult school that makes lessons about everything from interview skills to Qigong available to everyone in the community. This is a town that strives to bring people together, and it's a place where people want to be together. One of my favorite examples of this is the Montclair Film Festival.

For 10 days in May, Montclair turns into Movie Heaven. There are screenings everywhere, practically all the time – films that have been at Sundance as well as home-grown gems. The number of people who turn out to volunteer – as ushers, ticket takers, etc. – is amazing. It makes going to the movies a bigger, funner event.

On opening night, I went with friends to see “Step,” a documentary about teen girls from Baltimore whose step dance classes transformed their lives. This is the type of movie that I love, a story that reminds us how strong we can be when we band together for a common goal. There were live steppers who performed before the film and then afterwards, two people from the movie took the stage and spoke. And even though we were at the Wellmont Theater, probably the largest venue at the festival, it felt very intimate. We were all touched.

Before the show, my friends and I had dinner at one of Montclair’s newest additions: The Crosby on Glenridge Avenue. The place was hopping and it was only a short walk to the theater – another thing I love about this town that I may have mentioned once or twice.

So many of my clients come from the city at a time in their lives when they want a bit more space of their own, or maybe to grab a little privacy. But they come here because they want to feel a part of something too. And I’m so proud that Montclair can provide all of that. I don’t think I’m being overzealous when I give us five stars.