Ridgewood, NJ: A historic suburb with city views

When Corey Kaylor learned his medical brokerage firm was relocating him to New Jersey two years ago, his wife, Michelle, was excited to return to the Northeast, where she grew up. But after years of roaming the country—most recently six years in Arizona—neither she nor anyone else in the family knew much about life in the New York metro area.

During a fact-finding mission in September 2020, while driving through Bergen County, North Jersey, they encountered Ridgewood, which reminded Mr. Kaylor of the fictional town portrayed in the television series The Gilmore Girls.

“We didn’t know anything about the area, but we fell in love with Ridgewood,” said Ms. Kaylor, 45, a real estate home stager. “It felt like Stars Hollow, with all the outdoor dining and a guy playing guitar in the village square. My husband said, ‘Hey, they even have a town troubadour here.’”

But finding a home in Ridgewood at the height of the pandemic-driven suburban migration wasn’t easy. The Kaylors lost five bidding wars before finally buying a 100-year-old, five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom Tudor-style home last June for $1.28 million.

The Kaylors’ discovery of Ridgewood comes as no surprise to Christine Gubb, a real estate agent at Keller Williams who has lived in the Bergen County village for 50 years. “Everybody’s talking about Ridgewood,” said Ms. Gubb, 65. “When someone moves to this area and they’re like, ‘Where do you want me to move?’ they are told, ‘Go to Ridgewood.’”

For more than a century, the village has attracted professionals drawn by the highly rated schools, the business district with its restaurants and upscale shops, and the large houses.

With two young children and a third on the way, last winter Allyse and Raymond Bader decided it was time to leave their two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and explore opportunities in Connecticut, Westchester County and North to explore Jersey. Ridgewood seemed a good fit, evoking what Ms. Bader, 37, called “the feel of the Upper West Side with the architecture, old and new, that was interesting and beautiful.” In May, the couple closed a five-bedroom Tudor-style home built in 1930 and completely renovated in 2014, paying $1.9 million — about $200,000 over the asking price.

Her June move-in date was pushed back when Ms. Bader, who works in curriculum development at Columbia University’s Teachers College, went into labor two weeks early. Now, a mother of three, she’s anticipating moving to “a beautiful, walkable city and a really strong community,” she said. “I can’t wait to settle down.”

Esther and Josh Louis are another couple who made their way to Ridgewood from the Upper West Side. For the past year, the couple and their 7-year-old son, Henry, have been living at Mr. Louis’ childhood home and sleeping in his bedroom. In July, they will move into the four-bedroom Colonial Center Hall, which they purchased for $1.457 million.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride,” said Ms. Louis, 48, a senior manager at the Royal Bank of Canada. “We look forward to finally getting off this ride.”

Ridgewood has six neighborhoods named for nearby elementary schools: three on the east side of the railroad tracks bisecting the village, and three on the west side.

The Heights, a neighborhood in the Ridge District on the west side, has streets high enough to offer a view of the New York City skyline, and houses some of the most expensive in the village. But many of Ridgewood’s roughly 26,000 residents prefer to live on the East Side, within walking distance of the high school and downtown.

Much of the housing was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after the rail lines from New York were extended west and Ridgewood became a summer vacation spot for city dwellers. The facades of these older Victorian and Colonial homes are mostly intact, although many of the interiors have been drastically altered.

“Buyers love the exterior charm of the historic homes, but they want the interior to be completely modernized,” said Christina Gibbons, a realtor with Christie’s International Real Estate and a resident of the village for 16 years. “If it’s already renovated, it’s a home game; If they have to do it themselves, they could take a break.”

While families with children are drawn to the schools, Ridgewood also appeals to those seeking a metropolitan setting. After realizing she could do most of her club management work remotely, Susanne Warfield left New York City 16 years ago in search of a quieter place with a zest for life. She paid $687,000 for a four-bedroom Dutch Colonial home in Ridgewood that she shares with her 75-pound German pointer, Harry.

“I’m a single working woman and I didn’t want to be in a place with only houses,” said Ms. Warfield, 60. “I like that there are so many restaurants. And every morning a lot of people walk by. I don’t have kids in the school system, which accounts for most of our taxes, but that’s the cost of doing business and living in a place like this.”

In late June, the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service listed 35 homes for sale in Ridgewood with an average listing price of $1.15 million. The most expensive was a five-bedroom Mediterranean-style home built on 0.8 acres in the early 1900s and listed for $2.85 million; The cheapest was a four-bedroom colonial building built in the 1950s, which was listed for $545,000.

The median price of the 136 homes sold as of June 22 of this year was $961,500; During the same period in 2021, 143 homes were sold for a median of $810,000.

Rents are tight. While four new complexes have sprung up in recent years, most apartment buildings have waiting lists. Recently available apartments have included a one bedroom in the older Mayflower Apartments for $1,890 per month and a two bedroom, two and a half bath unit in the Dayton, a newer building near the village center, for $5,730.

Downtown Ridgewood has more than 100 restaurants and as many shops in the streets surrounding downtown’s Van Neste Square Memorial Park. The village is also a cultural hub: Bookends bookshop is a stop on many author book signings, and the Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival is held annually at the 1932 art deco Warner Theatre, now a Bow Tie Cinema.

A popular hangout is Graydon Pool, a natural swimming hole in the center of the village that offers swimming programs, tennis and pickleball courts, and playgrounds, with seasonal memberships for $130 (or $30 for seniors). Part of the 577-acre Saddle River County Park — including a wild duck pond and dog park — is also in Ridgewood.

Ridgewood’s six elementary schools — Hawes, Orchard, Ridge, Somerville, Travell, and Willard — define the neighborhoods and, to some extent, residents’ experience of living in the village, as families tend to pledge allegiance to their local schools.

Preschoolers attend Glen School, while sixth through eighth graders attend Benjamin Franklin or George Washington Middle School.

Serving approximately 1,700 students, Ridgewood High School is consistently ranked among the top public high schools in the state, with 94 percent of students attending college. The high school offers 69 honors classes and 30 advanced placement courses. The average SAT scores in 2020-21 were 635 in literacy and 651 in math, compared to the state averages of 557 and 560.

Private school options in the area include the Academy of Our Lady, a Glen Rock Catholic school serving students from preschool through eighth grade, and Immaculate Heart Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Washington Township.

New Jersey Transit offers train and bus service between Ridgewood and New York City.

Trains to Penn Station in Manhattan take about an hour, changing at Secaucus; Tickets cost $9.75 one-way or $298 for a monthly pass. NJ Transit buses 163 and 164 make the trip from Van Neste Square to Port Authority in Manhattan in 80 to 90 minutes; The fare is $7 one-way or $199 for a monthly pass.

More a pond than a swimming pool, the spring-fed Graydon Pool was created by damming part of the Ho Ho Kus Creek in the 1920s and expanded in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project. In 2009, debate erupted over a proposal to replace the 6-acre, sandy-bottomed swimming hole with a concrete-lined, chlorinated pool. But the recession put an end to those efforts, and the pool remains in its natural state today.

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