About 5 1/2 years ago, my husband was transferred from Bank1 in Phoenix, AZ to JP Morgan Chase in New York. (Before anyone starts freaking out about “too big to fail”…yadda yadda yadda, please note that he is not “that” kind of banker—no crazy big investment banker bonus because he’s in operations—and he works for Chase—the “responsible adult” of the big banking world). Now, I am originally from the East (PA) and we vacationed at the Jersey Shore, but that is where my association with the Garden State ended. And after I left my home in Central Pennsylvania, I moved west…to Pittsburgh, to Columbus, and to Phoenix. And, aside from being far from my extended family, I was thrilled to be in Phoenix…the lifestyle was amazing, the house was amazing, the 300+ days of sunshine…you guessed it…amazing!
But work is work and with 4 young sons to feed, you don’t turn down a job. So back East we came. Needing to commute to an operation site around the Meadowlands, and attend meetings in NYC, we made the decision to move to a New Jersey town with a direct train line to Manhattan. And so the search began. I researched towns and school districts and commute time to the City on the web, but we were still going in blind. I looked at home after home on realtor.com, and was sure that with the cost of living difference between Phoenix and New Jersey, well, let’s just say that I was sure I would be trading my resort-like paradise for a trailer!
I had a few towns on my list, and Maplewood, at least online, felt like the best fit. My real estate agent obliged by showing me several homes in the area, but was pushing other towns that he was more familiar with. I stuck to my guns and the first time he drove me through Maplewood Village, I was sold! Are the taxes high in Maplewood…you betcha! Are the homes older, and in constant need of updating…you betcha! Were they overpriced and hard to get at the height of the real estate boom in 2004…you betcha! But if I have to live in New Jersey, seems like a great place to be!
My boys were pretty young when we arrived, the youngest was about to turn 5 and the oldest was 14. Now they are all in double digits, and the oldest is approaching 20. They’ve done a lot of growing up in Maplewood and it’s been great for them. The town is wonderfully diverse and very community-oriented. We lucked out with the location of our home…views of the grand Township building and Memorial Park (and the July 4 fireworks) from the front porch, a tennis court at the end of our backyard, walking distance to all three schools, the train station and Maplewood Village is a 5 minute walk through the park—couldn’t have planned it better.
And for the boys, they get to “come of age” in a town that supports small, independent businesses instead of strip malls and box stores. They get to walk to the local movie theatre instead of driving to the 20-screen multiplex. They get to go to schools that push the Arts as much as the Athletic Programs. They get to live in a town where interracial and same-sex marriages are accepted. They get to make friends with kids from diverse economic, religious and racial backgrounds. They get MaplewoodStock. And Maplewood Village…the part of town that made me tell my agent that it had to be this town…it has become my favorite place to be and the reason it would be hard to leave. I can WALK to my Salon and Day Spa, the grocery store, the bookstore, my favorite gift shops, a few pizza places, several great mid-scale and upscale bars and restaurants, a jazz bar, a movie theatre, a coffee shop, an ice cream shop, a cheese shop,a fish market, a deli, my auto mechanic, the postoffice, and more, all within a four block stretch! And of course St. James Gate…my favorite bar…where you will find us most Friday happy hours and an occasional Sunday afternoon…a place where everybody knows your name and the bartenders remember your drink and ask about your kids.
Would I return to the beautiful scenery and weather of the desert? I would. I admit that I hate the rain and the cold that this part of the country has to offer. But I would miss Maplewood very much. It feels like home now. It’s comfortable and safe and a small-town lifestyle that I’m thrilled the boys have experienced. When I restart my western migration, I will only settle in a place that feels like this…a diverse, friendly, walkable community full of music and art and life and community spirit. No matter where I go next, I’ll be looking for that feeling that Maplewood brings…that feeling of home.