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Silver Lining Dining In Montclair

Here we are, well into September, and it's still a bit mind-boggling what we've all been through. The parking lots in Montclair's train many stations, went from packed to empty in a day -- then stayed that way for months. There were days, early on, when I wrote about all the precautions we, in the real estate business, had adopted. I really had no idea what my life would become going forward. 

It's no news to anyone that buying and selling homes has become crazy. It's been a blessing to be busy -- to keep my mind off all the things in our world that no one can control. But even in this busy-ness, I've had time to do what everyone else seems to be doing...walk.

One of my favorite walks was around Downtown Montclair recently. Church Street, Park Street, Midland Avenue -- favorite blocks were again bustling with people having dinner or just enjoying being outside. It felt like the "old days”…and in some ways even better. Restaurants  that had never offered outdoor dining now had tables set up on the sidewalk, and places the used to have tables outside had many more. It gives the whole town a European vibe and feels really special in a way that I think I’m going to miss once we all go back indoors.

#silverlinings

What Have We Learned So Far

I think I can speak for most when I say this past few months has been an incredible learning experience. From the minute New Jersey went on “lockdown,” all my colleagues and I could talk about was how will we do our jobs?

We learned how to make great use of virtual house-tour apps and what to do to make an in-person home tour safe. We learned how to get houses inspected and close under the most arduous circumstances. But maybe most important, as a society we learned to stop all our hurrying about and start to understand what we care about and value. What we want to take into the future with us.

Many of my clients adopted a more inward focus. Buyers started to care more about “comfort,” less about “image.” Grand spaces for entertaining became less important than a garage loft that could be converted into a home office. Also, short commutes to work from an apartment on the Upper West Side became less important than outdoor space.

We’ve also seen how size came to matter in a different way. Some sellers looked at their big houses as a welcome oasis, someplace where they could work and school their kids and have a little privacy from everyone else. Others began to see their big house as too much to take care of since they’d become the ones cleaning it every week.

Buying and selling decisions have become far more about “quality of life” – though not just about a person’s individual life. We’ve seen more people looking for quality of life in a community that’s consistent with their beliefs. A community’s dedication to welcoming all people has become a selling point like never before. I know as a society we still have a long way to go, but as someone raised in Manhattan, I can personally vouch for Montclair’s continued commitment to making our town feel like it’s a place where everyone belongs.

Helping people buy or sell a home has always been a very personal experience, and now it feels like an even deeper one. As always, I’m here to talk about any and every aspect of home buying or sales. Talk or text: (973) 809-5277

How We Build Community in Montclair

Earlier this month, I was on Facebook and noticed a post on the “Montclair Watercooler” page from a woman about to move to town. She asked what were people’s favorite way to be involved in the community. This woman's story was similar story to many of my clients': she grew up in a close-knit city community, hadn’t been able to find that same feeling in other NJ suburbs, commutes into the city for work, and hadn’t yet started a family.

The Montclair Watercooler is an online community group where members can ask for advice, recommendations, or guidance about all things local. By the time I’d come upon this post, there were nearly 100 responses.

I wasn’t super surprised by the suggestions. People pointed her toward running clubs, volunteer opportunities with music organizations like Montclair Jazz Festival or Outpost in the Burbs, or classes at the Adult School. A few suggested joining The Study Hall Gang, a Friday night social gathering started a few years ago by a husband and wife looking to meet people, which has grown into a 250-member friend group. 

There were invitations to join a local women’s group, a kickball league, and the YMCA. The library and art museum were popular suggestions, as was the Farmer’s Market, which usually hosts live music and has become The Saturday Morning Place to Go. 

One commenter said her neighborhood does a Wine O’clock on warm Friday evenings. (That sounds pretty fun!)

What did surprise me about the comments was something altogether separate from the suggestions themselves: namely, the community building that was happening right on the thread. People were reading the suggestions and thanking each other for telling them things they never knew about. Someone who lived in the poster’s neighborhood suggested they meet and hang out. In fact, people all over the thread were inviting each other to things left and right. 

One person suggested to the poster, “Strike up a conversation everywhere you go,” and I thought, “Yes! Montclair is absolutely a place where you can do that!”

I, of course, think we are more able to connect with each other here in Montclair because we have ample opportunities to walk the town. Without the constant barricade of a car enclosing us, we are naturally more open to meeting each other. 

The whole post reminded me of that old saying that, for me, always sums up our town, (and yes, I've taken some liberties with the wording): There are no strangers here in this walkable suburb; only friends you haven’t met yet.

From Montclair to the Moon

I just came across this photo on Facebook the other day – an illustration taken from the children’s book Reaching for the Moon, by Buzz Aldrin. I’d walked past this house hundreds of times before I knew it was the home that he grew up in. 

In the post, it recounts Aldrin once saying, "I'd climb out the 3rd floor and walk along the roof with a candle. Was I crazy?" 

Maybe. But it seemed to have worked out.

Montclair has always been home to a good number of “famous” people. We are so close to New York City, and also so away from the city, that it’s always been a top choice for actors, musicians, writers, professional athletes – people whose names I sometimes drop when I drive my clients around town. (Yes, I do sometimes do that.) Linking my town with people who have become household names is often a shorthand way of communicating, “This person could live anywhere, and they’ve chosen to live here.”

But there’s something different about knowing that Buzz Aldrin grew up here. About knowing that his dreams were formed while gazing at the moon from the same vantage point as my own children do. That his courage and curiosity developed in a community where the impossible maybe didn’t seem all that far-fetched. A community in which, to me, it has always felt safe to be exactly who you are.

These are all ideals that cannot be seen within the homes I show or on the streets I drive along with my clients. But they’re here. 

I’m not suggesting that we are a town of roof-climbing children. (I really felt for his mother when I read that!) However, I have heard from so many people that growing up here shaped them in remarkable ways – ways they never understood until they left. 

It's an amazing gift to give our children. The opportunity to grow up in a place where they can have wondrous dreams, and then become those dreams. That’s what I see in this photograph. In this town.

Why A Walkable Suburb Rules

I have to be honest: when I moved from Manhattan to Montclair, a part of me worried. I’d grown up in New York City – I was, by all accounts, a City Person – and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be happy living in the suburbs. I knew it would be good for my kids to live somewhere with a yard, and my then-husband had grown up here. There were lots of reasons Montclair seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t “the City.”

I was surprised how quickly I took to the ease and convenience of suburban living. And I was even more surprised how happy I was.

Over the years, I started to pay attention to what exactly made me happy here and found it nearly always circled back to the same thing. The incredible sense of community.

I’ve always attributed the great community feeling here to Montclair’s walkability. It’s the main thing I talk about with my clients. So, I wasn’t super surprised to read this article in The Atlantic Monthly, "Having a Library or Cafe Down the Block Could Change Your Life," about a new study out that confirms all of it:

1, People who live in high-amenity suburbs – that is, a suburb where you can walk to the grocery store, a movie theater, the library, a park – are three times happier than suburban dwellers that have to drive 20-plus minutes to get anywhere.

2. People in walkable suburbs feel more trusting of their neighbors and more a part of their community.

3. A strong sense of community inspires local businesses to create more community-focused spaces and events, which strengthens that feeling even further.

Many of the towns I show are considered high-amenity suburbs – places like Maplewood, South Orange and Bloomfield that have vibrant downtowns with plenty of restaurants and shopping that can be done on foot. Even Glenridge, despite not having a big downtown of its own, has so much to walk to, it is considered a high-amenity suburb as well. 

Here in Montclair, the great focus on community has resulted in the creation of parklets, free outdoor music on Church Street, lots of al fresco dining, more work-share spaces, and one of my favorite additions, Cornerstone, a recently transformed building “uptown” that was designed with an eye toward inclusion. There’s an indoor play/party space for differently-abled young people, an art gallery, rentable event space and an incredibly fun “general store” (a great place for kid gifts).

Like so many others who have moved here, the owner of Cornerstone quit her day job and began adding to the fabric of the community. You see that here everywhere you turn.

I’m always excited to show houses, but please make time to let me show you some of the magical parts of Montclair or our neighboring towns. My office is right in uptown Montclair, and you can feel the “happy” even in a very short walk.

Montclair is Committed to Community

Early last Friday evening, on Montclair’s cobblestoned Church Street, I met an old friend for a glass of wine at Amanti Vino’s outdoor wine café. The wine was delicious, the night was clear and cool, and we were surrounded by hundreds of friends and neighbors. 

This area can get busy on a clear summer night, but Friday pulled a crowd that was sizable even by Church Street standards, with the entire block closed to traffic in order to host a community dinner –  the first of its kind.

The dinner was one of the launch events of a brand new, week-long local festival called “Bounce,” designed to celebrate resilience and optimism. There were dozens of long tables set up end-to-end, running the length of Church Street like a spine. Each “place setting” had a festival brochure listing all the events for the week – art exhibits, musical performances, dance, lectures, and tons of “experiential” activities for both adults and kids – as well as a simple, typewritten message of positivity that was taped to the paper table cloth. People could pick up a free sandwich and pasta salad at one of the serving tables or buy a to-go meal from one of the many area restaurants and eat family-style with others from the community.

It was actually very cool.

I was struck by many things that evening. One was that, even though I’ve made this town my home for 20 years, there were lots of people I had never seen before. Another was that, after making this my home for so long, it was great fun to run into people I use to work with on PTA committees or work out next to at the gym. 

I was also amazed – as I usually am – at how people in this town are continually motivated to put together yet another engaging community event. Since I’ve moved here, Montclair has launched a Film Festival, a Jazz Festival, an Art Walk, a town-wide Music Day, an outdoor public Dance Performance, a Farmers Market, a few Road Races and Garden Tours, and a host of other free entertainment offerings designed with a single goal in mind: creating a strong sense of community.

And, as far as I can tell, it’s worked.

There are always so many people here working hard on everyone else’s behalf. I love that about our community. There’s always something to do. 

If you’re interested in a vibrant town with direct NYC access and something for everyone, let me take you around. Beyond all our fabulous festivals, we have some pretty great houses for sale too.  

TALK OR TEXT: 973-809-5277

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!