Montclair

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.

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 

Where a House Sits – Pros and Cons

Location, location, location - that old adage about the three most important aspects of a house. I always think of the first “location" as the town and the second “location” as the neighborhood within the town. I refer to both a lot when I talk about walkability – how close a home is to restaurants, errands, parks, public transportation. However, there’s a whole other conversation I have with my clients, which many buyers tend to pay less attention to.

Siting. This, to me, the third “location” -- where the home sits on the property and in relationship to its surroundings. 

Montclair, Glen Ridge, Maplewood and South Orange are all towns with big, grand homes on spacious lots as well as smaller homes on blocks that have more of a “neighborhoody" feel. Neither is better or worse, but each has its pros and cons.

Houses with a deep front yard

These homes often have a lot of curb appeal. However, if a house is set back on the property with a big front yard, sometimes that means you don’t have much backyard. If you have young children, that may mean your primary play area is out front. Also, that extra privacy from being far off the street may mean you have to make more of an effort to interact with neighbors. 

Houses that sit close to the curb

These towns are known for their beautiful trees, so even homes with a short setback and not much front yard still exude a lot of charm. Many find that this type of house siting makes it easier to interact with neighbors. I always find that houses with short front yards feel approachable and friendly. However, houses close to the curb can feel less “private” and more affected by street noise. 

Homes that sit far apart

If there seems to be a lot of space between two houses, be sure to ask whether it’s an empty lot or a double lot; you don’t want to move in to a house only to discover the lot next door has been subdivided and sold and that a new house is being built outside your bedroom window.

Homes that have close neighbors

Some clients coming from the city prefer to have neighbors VERY close by; it feels more like the brownstone or apartment they just left. Many believe the closeness of houses make for a stronger neighborhood community. However, if those neighbors are noisy – especially in summer when windows are open – you may have a challenge on your hands. Also, when houses sit close together, you may feel more “affected” by your neighbor’s landscaping or other exterior aesthetic choices. 

Houses on a corner

Corner homes can feel “exposed,” but they may actually offer more privacy as you have only one next-door-neighbor. The downside is, if the town has sidewalks, corner properties have more than most other houses, and all of it is the owner’s responsibility, which can feel like a lot when it’s time to shovel snow. 

Houses on a hill

Montclair and South Orange are partially situated on a mountain. (It actually took me a while to make the connection between that fact and the street names in Montclair: Valley, North Mountain, Upper Mountain, Highland.) If your house is on a sloping property, you’ll have to deal with managing rainwater. On the upside, the views from homes on the mountain can be spectacular; an elevated deck can leave you feeling like you’re living in the trees.

I’ve lived in three different homes in Montclair and have personally experienced practically every one of these “situations.” If you want to talk pros and cons – or if you want to take a look at the array of homes available – I’m always ready: 973-809-5277 

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. 

Happy Halloween

What's the one day of the year when it seems almost everyone is out walking door to door? Halloween! Walkable towns like Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield and Maplewood are made for this activity. But if trick-or-treat is not your thing, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the spooky season.

Friday October 26th - 6-9 PM  Gardens Aglow at the Presby Iris Garden

Saturday October 27th - 2-4 1st Annual Zombie Walk @ East Side Mags

Sunday October 28th- 1:30 Rosedale Cemetery Tour

7:00 PM - Film on the Lawn at St. Luke's Episcopal Church - "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"

Wed October 31st  4:00-7:00 Montclair Police Department on Valley & Bloomfield Ave, rear parking lot 2nd Annual Trunk or Treat.

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.

New to Market: 653 Grove Street, Montclair

Open House

this Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13

2 - 4 p.m.

653 Grove Street, Montclair

I’m always excited to get a Montclair listing in the $500,000 price range. They’re not plentiful. But I’m even more excited to list a house like 653 Grove Street, because not only is the price right – everything feels right.

Set back and side-facing, this house feels private and secluded. I love the expansive, flat yard, and the entertainment patio off the great room. 

I love the open layout, the spacious kitchen, and that the master suite has its own floor. It’s sunny and bright, and feels easy to be in.

Northeast Elementary School is a short walk, but with Montclair’s renowned magnet school system, you can request one of the other five elementary schools – each with its own theme. 

Also close by: Applegate Farms Ice Cream, a Montclair institution that draws ice cream lovers from far and wide. The Alonzo Bonsal Wildlife Preserve – a 20-plus acre nature preserve that feels so “secret,” people blog about how to find the entrance. And Yantacaw Brook Park, another off-the-beaten-path treasure for long walks, scenic runs, and duck feeding. (Also, Northeast School has a great sledding hill in the back.)

Four bedrooms. Two full baths. Eat-in kitchen. Wood-burning stove and fireplace. Beautiful floors. Lots of built-ins. Detached garage. Quick walk to the New York City bus. And all that Montclair has to offer: exhibits and classes at Montclair Art Museum and Montclair State UniversityWhole Foods, CSAs and a Saturday Farmers Market. Montclair Film Festival, Montclair Jazz Festival, and the Presby Iris Gardens. Team sports for everyone – kids and grown-ups alike. Coffee shops. Tea shops. Yoga studios and independent book stores. 

Does this sound good to be true? Come visit the town I love to show off. 

Come to the Open House Saturday 5/12 or Sunday, 5/13 2-4pm

Or call me for a private showing: 973-809-5277