A reader writes…

After living in Montclair for 25 years from 1972-1997, it is part of my heart and soul. I was pleased to be in town again for five days over the New year’s holiday, seeing-some dear-to-our-hearts old friends, very few of which still remain in town. Upper Montclair seemed bustling and sparkling, even after the holidays — people slipping in and out of Starbuck’s, The Gap, Williams Sonoma, the upscale jewelry stores and childrens’ clothing shops.  The bakeries, 5 & 10, and so many other of the old stores I remember are long gone, and recently my favorite store of all, Vitti’s, closed.

I was sad to see the last of the Olympic stores had closed, as well as the funky Orion book store. I stopped in Barbara Eclectic, a clothing store I used to love, but found it totally changed, and stocked with clothes I hated.

I drove around my town, and whereas the houses all look fantastic, all spiffed up to within an inch of their life, it begins not to feel like home. McMansions have eaten up some of the neighborhoods, (I was
horrified at what used to be the Marlboro Inn) and the yuppification of my comfortable, diverse and interesting town is now complete. It worries me. House prices, as everywhere, have soared. Friends sold their nice, comfortable but nothing extraordinary house for close to a million dollars, and
I learned that our dear old home on Fernwood Avenue was recently assessed for $925,000, and would undoubtedly sell for over a million.

I was shown on a list of my old neighborhood assessments that even the little houses on Nassau are all well over half a million, and I saw none on
the entire huge list for less than that. Most of the plain, normal  houses I remember are over $750,000, many that I remember in the 8’s and 9’s, like ours, and MANY way over a million, a number over 1 million 5, and one on Park street for $2,300,000. And this was always a very nice, but not
the priciest part of town. I cannot imagine the assessments on Upper Mountain, or in the estate section in Montclair proper.

Well, it concerns me greatly. An old friend, who recently moved to Clifton to avoid the taxes, was telling me that her son and his wife wanted so much to buy a house in town, but could find nothing they could afford, and are in Bloomfield, I believe. I remember when my own daughter and her husband were house hunting a few years back after renting in town, and they found the same thing and had to move elsewhere. And these are the kinds of young people Montclair needs in order to stay the community it always was.


I have to think that everyone moving in now is making BIG bucks. How else could they afford to buy a house there? This HAS to change the tenor of the town I loved so much. All the young women I saw walking about were in designer jeans or classy pants, stiletto heels, all made up, bejeweled. The only young women dressed “normally” were nannies. This smacks of Short Hills, not my Montclair! (I don’t even see that in Wilton CT where my son and family live, another very upscale, yuppified area.)

I am sure, in fact I KNOW, that there are still many really interesting folks in town who moved there earlier, or who happen to be interesting AND rich (like the musicians, artists, writers who have made it) . But the demographics must have changed enormously since we moved there in 1972. Some might feel it is for the better— but the town must be losing its middle class base rather rapidly, and what is happening to the poor people in town?

We did have a number of them— have they been sent packing with high rents and high taxes? Gentrified right out of town? I did read that the school population is growing more and more white, which could be an indication of just that — not that the only poor people in my day were black by means, but a larger percent of the really economically challenged were black. It makes me feel very sad. And, it made me feel like Montclair is not home anymore. When I got back here to Vermont, for the first time in over nine years I felt as if my little rural village of Strafford was really, really home. And the Montclair that was for so long home to me, is no more.”



36 replies on “Montclair: Don’t Ever Change?”

  1. Snore.
    You moved away a decade ago. Did you think Montclair was going to sit under glass, untouched, static, until you returned? Then, we’d all suddenly come to life when you drove down Valley Road for the first time in ten years? Ta da! I’ve returned!
    Quit your whining and go back to Vermont.

  2. Old people want everything to stay the same. Old, crumbling, and cheap.
    The whole world has changed.
    Not just little ol’ Montclair.
    Maybe Vermont has stayed the same.?

  3. The town I grew where I grew up is nothing like it was thirty years ago either. That’s life. Things change. This ain’t Mayberry.
    But I hear you. I’ve been here in Montclair for 17 years now, and it’s sad that Montclair is no longer affordable to the people who made it great in the first place. I don’t think the current crop of residents will maintain the hip, diverse vibe of years past. It’s the Upper West Side of New Jersey alright — doomed to the same plight they’ve seen in recent years. Snobby people with lots of money and a huge sense of entitilement don’t make a community. They make a mess.

  4. I think there are too many residents with a stick up their rear but that comes with the territory. Funny she didn’t mention Boiling Springs.

  5. I can understand a feeling of sadness at the change. Having been here a long time myself, I share it to some degree (though it’s tempered by the knowledge that one day I’ll have to cash out, as you already have). But does it really worry you? Lord knows there are too many truly worrying things. It’s hard to believe that the economic good fortune of a town you left, apparently for good, a decade ago truly ranks among them.

  6. Montclair has always been an upscale community with high property taxes. It was when we moved here in 1990, and it is now. My guess is that the tax rate is one of the reasons you left town in the first place. But this is still a special community, even with the Gap, Williams Sonoma and Starbucks taking over the Mom and Pop stores that we knew for years (but probably stopped shopping in long ago). And I have no problem with the fact that people who have more money than me are fixing up some of Montclair’s beautiful old homes. But make no mistake, Montclair has always been an expensive place to live.

  7. Get real–if you went back to the Upper West Side or the Village (which many of us gave up in the past decade) you would have even greater sticker shock. We would be in bad shape if Montclair stayed the same over the past 5 years. The 300K starter house has gone the way of the 1500/month rent stabilized 3 bedroom apartment in NYC.
    That doesn’t mean that Crisco isn’t an eyesore and that we don’t miss some of our favorite old “mom and pop” stores…

  8. I was born & raised in Maplewood, a very nice town. When my parents died I sold our home, a 12 room all brick, slate roof English Tudor with screened in porch, 2 car heated garage and beuatiful professionally kept grounds, for $159,000. It took 1 year & 11 months to sell it. It sold in 1994.
    It’s on the market again, now from the people I sold it to. Asking price is
    $ 415,995. Bet it will sell in 1 month or less.
    My wife & I bought a house in Bloomfield for $71,500. Okay, we spent a ton of $$$ in & on it, but it was recently appraised at $ 395,000 !
    It’s all over the state ! New Homes in Livingston start at 2 million five and go up. It’s the ripple effect freom NYC(s) rents and prices.
    The further South ya go in Jersey the more you get for your $$$.

  9. To those who say that prices are better than in the city and of course, will go up over time — that wasn’t the point of the post. She’s saying that the thing that made Montclair special was its diversity and that’s been lost when, in order to live there, you need to spend $500k minimum on a house.
    If you read between the lines, she’s also acknowledging that there used to be a place for middle class people in town and there is no longer. Middle class people can’t afford middle class housing because prices have increased well beyond inflation, wages, etc. That’s something worth mourning because it drives decent, educated, solid wage earners out of town and eventually, out of NJ.

  10. I would be interested in what Ms. Reese has to say about the politics and diversity of Montclair back in the 1970’s, and maybe 1980’s. My understanding is the town was more conservative and somewhat segregated along racial and perhaps religious lines (housing, schools, clubs). In this respect I think the town has improved tremendously.
    Regarding the housing, I think that each decade brings a different phase in the real estate markets, along with a certain number of horrendous mistakes. Crisco is a current example. I wonder if Ms. Reese has any comments on the garden apartments and ranch houses that replaced historic single family homes in her time. I wonder if there was much controversy or opposition.
    As far as housing costs go, I expect Montclair has always been at a premium to neighboring towns. It’s gotten more expensive all around here, and that’s why people are commuting 2 hours from Pennsylvania.

  11. When we bought our house in Bloomfield (for $145k) all the houses in Montclair were selling for $300k and up, just as now the houses in Bloomfield have gone up to $350-$500k and all the Montclair ones are $750k and up. So what has changed so much? It’s all relative. And as I recall back when we bought our house in the late 80’s, downtown Montclair was not as nice as it is now, except for Church Street. I don’t mind there being Starbucks and other trendy stores there. I wish downtown Bloomfield had some…

  12. Again, Montclair isn’t what it used to be. But nothing ever stays the same when living within 30 minutes of one of the most populated cities in the world. Look at everywhere from Hoboken to Paramus to Wayne to Ridgewood… All the towns are changing, becoming wealthier and more upscale and less down to earth. All the coffee shops are becoming replaced by Starbucks. All the driveways have Mercedes, BMW’s, and Range Rovers in it. Everyone is trying to keep up with there neighbors and it is turning into a game of who shows off the most wealth. Some towns in Bergen, Passaic, and Essex Counties might as well be an extension to Westchester County.

  13. Mauigirl- It isn’t all relative. When you bought your house for $145k and when houses were selling in Montclair for $300k, those prices were still within range of more people than similar housing is within range of people now (as a percentage of income). Montclair is and should be at a premium, I believe, but a crappy house in Montclair still isn’t worth $500k.

  14. Anyone who cannot afford Montclair, seriously look into Bloomfield, Clifton, and Little Falls…
    All solid towns where you can get single family homes anywhere from $300,000 to over $1million and have access to NYC bus and trains as well as everything else with lower taxes… (especially in Clifton & Little Falls.)

  15. It’s very difficult to find anything but a fixer upper in good sections of Little Falls or Bloomfield for less than $400k. I can’t speak for Clifton.

  16. I suggest the Barista conduct a new online poll to determine what income level now defines “middle class” in Montclair.

  17. I agree with Mrs. Reece. I went through
    Glenfield and Montclair High School with her daughter, and also remember a much different Montclair.
    I understand that change is inevitable, but it dosen’t always make things better. The Montclair that Mrs. Reece fondly remembers, was a real community.
    Today it’s an overpriced, crowded, elitist suburb of affluent, snobby, and in some cases, racist transplants.
    We managed to survive here before it became “Baristaville” with 5 different
    sushi restaurants, and 6,000 square foot Crisco homes.
    A recent article mentioned that Montclair lost over 150 African American
    elementary school children, from 2005-2006. That is cause for alarm. This town is losing the diversity, that once made it such a great place to live.

  18. Changes are also happening in the community I live in, Packanack Lake, which is an older community of homes built anywhere from 1890’s to 1950’s thats not similar to the rest of homogenized Wayne. It’s becoming a problem everywhere in North Jersey that is remotely desirable. If you can’t afford Westchester County when moving out of Manhattan, people look in Bergen/Essex and Passaic.

  19. In reading the comments, I find something more disturbing than house prices and diversity etc. The most disturbing fact is that most of these responses, as most “barista” comments are, are a reflection of the type of ilk that has invaded this great town. I am not an old person I was born here in 1967,my parents were here since 64. I still cannot believe how completely rude some of the residents are. typically they are the newer people who have moved here. While I read all of these comments, I realize two things. 1. You people have way too much time on your hands
    2. You are all way too angry and ready to fight.
    Yes the world has changed, but that doesnt mean you have to all be so rude.

  20. All the young women I saw walking about were in designer jeans or classy pants, stiletto heels, all made up, bejeweled.
    Right, cause this is really polite?

  21. You are so right the woman who wrote this should not have said those things or she should not have made diparaging remarks about Barbara Eclectic. I think she personalized it way too much. However, we get the gist. I am merely commenting on this actual line of comments and how, beside a few of them, were all completely snide and uncalled for. This is the problem with what is going on here. Life and towns should change and will change, however people dont need to be so disrespectful to each other.

  22. What she fails to mention about the post-1997 Montclair is that we also got Whole Foods, the Midtown Direct, opera in Brookdale Park, many playground upgrades, a new library, and dozens of new top-notch restaurants.

  23. Funny, as someone who has now been here 6 years, I have found, without fail, that the snobbiest, most full of themselves people in town, are people who grew up here, inheretited mommy and daddy’s house (or at least the profits from their house), and now bemoan that things aren’t exactly the same as when they were in Montclair High School sneaking into Tierneys. I got news for you: everyone in town who left some other town can sing the same boring song about how wonderful things used to be.

  24. Things evolve…We can’t go back to that old street corner where we sang doowop under the streetlight by the candystore or played bike tag after dark on a summer’s night. It’s all just memories. Years from now B’ville peeps will dream of old Crisco and hanging out at the old Siena.They will become landmarks and there will be an outcry for their preservation!

  25. OH MY! Such anger I have caused! Well, of course things change, everywhere. But I would like to think for the better, and inspite of the good things mentioned like Whole Foods and MidTown Direct, running the middle class out of town is not a good thing! And no I did notleave town because of high taxes, I was always happy to pay my taxes to support our excellent schools. We left because we had always dreamed of living in a simple, rural community in New England.
    I honestly do not remember beautiful homes being torn down and replaced by split levels in the 70’s and 80’s. I do remember new homes going up alongside the old mansions when owners sold off land. As for race relations, my friends and I worked very hard in the Walter Marks years to get true integration in the town. I felt that race relations were pretty good in those days, but maybe I was naive. I do miss that kind of diversity here in Vermont.
    Anyway, calm down everyone. I certainly did not mean to cause such anger. And hey, I am not THAT old!

  26. Re: do not remember beautiful homes being torn down and replaced by split levels in the 70’s and 80’s … do not remember new homes going up alongside the old mansions when owners sold off land.
    This is a national trend, not just in Montclair … the middle class are getting squeezed-out nationally. Those lovely “New England” homes on Nantucket are just as likely to get razed in favor of a new 25,000 sq ft mansion. Those uncharacteristic split-levels that used to be worth $125,000 are now worth half a million. There are more billionaires in our country than ever before (and in the ’70s and ’80s, it was enough to be a millionaire … not any more). The NYC metro area has a very high concentration of wealth, so you will see more evidence of their extravagances than in rural places like VT.
    But thanks for the nostalgic commentary. It was fun.

  27. I, too am tired of folks telling me that their families have been here for
    50 years. We’re still relative newcomers to the township, living in the funky Pine Street area. If you think
    diversity’s been lost, just move in next
    door or across the way from us. In fact,
    I’ll sell you my house. It’s just a house after all. Stores come, stores go.
    I’m more upset about the mess at Mountainside Hospital–no pediatric ER,
    Physical Therapy moved to Verona, no
    cardiac or dialysis units now. Let me tell you, if it wasn’t for those of us who moved here from NYC and environs, no
    one wanted to touch homes in the 4th Ward. We weren’t given the history of the area, weren’t familiar with NJ, and
    moved here with great expectations.
    Nothing’s cheap nowadays, unless you move to Pueblo, Colorado as did our
    best friends. They pay $300 a year in property tax, but have to drive 20 miles
    to buy a quart of milk.

  28. Could it be that some of the anger being expressed here may be due to some posters having paid waaaaay too much for their Montclair houses? They’re defending their turf…tribalism at its finest…even amongst the most civilized and privileged. Go figure. Montclair may have never been the idylic suburb of our memories but you would have to be in some serious denial to not see that the magic is indeed fading fast. Greed does that. Yes, everything changes and yes, the McMansion craze is indeed national. Yes, Montclair was always known as a privileged town. And yes, it’s a common human experience to mourn for “the way things used to be.” But the opinions expressed by Ms. Reese I hear echoed almost daily by Montclairions of all walks of life. The bloom is off the rose, friends.
    Added to the towns previously listed, I would ask potential home buyers to consider West Orange. As a single person, I was able to buy a large one family 1/2 mile from Montclair for an excellent price (almost 1/2 of what it would have cost in Montclair) and my property taxes are very reasonable. We now have the Whole Foods Mecca and a soon to be revitalized downtown area. You can’t get more diverse than my neighborhood, which is a mixture of Irish, Italian, African-American, Hispanic, and Chinese. People here have not forgotten their working class roots, which I see as a major plus. And our garbage men pick up bulk waste from the curb every week, all year around. Having said goodbye to Montclair after 16 years, I am enjoying WO more than I knew possible. One surprising plus is how quiet it is here, even though I live on a major road. Goodbye Diva Lounge noise! Goodbye fire engine and ambulance sirens! There is life after Montclair. Yeh!

  29. Again people living in a bubble. yes, montclair has changed for the WORST. massive amount of crime, high taxes, crappy schools. WAKE UP PEOPLE, your town sucks!!!

  30. But where else in Essex County can you go and find beautiful old homes, diverse, interesting population (at least for the time being)and good schools?(No one has convinced me the school system is failing. I would imagine the increase in per capita income and yuppies who expect and demand the best in everything, would make for better, not worse schools, one thing that might be considered a plus in all the changes.) I may mourn for the Montclair that was, but if I had to stay in the area, I am not sure I could find a better option.

  31. nonstop muggings, break-ins, shootings, cant find a better place? how about near the jersey shore. beautiful communities, zero crime and a lot less rif raf coming in from east orange. people in montclair are fooling themselves into thinking this community is going to change. it’s only getting worse!

  32. The trends that some of you lament as diminishing the quality of life you once recall enjoying in Montclair are, by not means, limited to Montclair, northern NJ, or even the NY metro area.
    Cultural and commercial homogenization is a byproduct of the modern age that is sweeping across this country. If you think the evaporation of locally-owned “mom & pop” type business is bad around here, try visiting many parts of the south and southwest – and you will mostly find strip mall after strip mall filled with chain and franchised businesses. That is just the way it is today.
    The middle class is getting squeezed all over this country; its just more obvious here because of the local wealth factor.
    And as for the “yuppification” factor and conspicuous display of wealth, that too seems to be another societal trend in a nation that, although we have no state religion, worships at the altar of Mammon above all.
    So, I don’t think it’s a Montclair thing. It just may seem that way because the “old” Monclair is your frame of reference for how things used to be.
    That said, change often begets progress, but not always. I’d take Carvel over Coldstone Creamery anyday.

  33. The Jersey Shore, or PARTS of it, like north end of LBI, are wonderful, but hardly an option if you are commuting to New York City. Where else that is commutable is really better? Non stop muggings and break ins? Sure, we always had some in Montclair, auto thefts too, but non stop? Get real. Montclair is not Rio, after all. Essex County NJ life requires a certain amount of street sense, common sense, and caution.
    As for “rif raf from East Orange” — that smacks of some real prejudicial mentality on wakeupcall’s part, and does not bear discussing.

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