December 29, 2013 at 4:52 PM
WESTFIELD, NJ – For many years, Westfield has been a destination for young families moving from cities to the suburbs and, increasingly, for those who grew up here to return to and raise their own children.
A vibrant business community, a top-notch school system, ease of commutability to New York City and charming neighborhoods have drawn new homeowners to the town for decades and have kept the real estate market here booming this year, even during months that are traditionally slow.
Combined with its unique mix of amenities is Westfield’s low crime rate (one of the reasons Movoto Real Estate ranked Westfield its third-best “city” in New Jersey).
Though the effect of the overall economy can’t be overlooked, The Alternative Press dug deeper into why Westfield’s real estate, in particular, is so hot right now:
Thriving Local Businesses
“There are weeks that go by that I don’t leave town,” said Lorena Barbosa, broker and owner of David Realty Group, who has lived in Westfield for 10 years. “My doctors are here, my kids’ doctors are here, both supermarkets—Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop."
In addition to the businesses located thorughout the town, Westfield’s downtown gives shoppers the opportunity to visit a variety of national chains, smaller boutiques, an independent bookstore and a plethora of restaurants in a very walkable and charming setting.
“Westfield is unique in that we have large square footage spaces in our buildings that attracted national retailers that brought a lot of investment to the downtown revitalization effort,” said Sherry Cronin, the executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC). “Nevertheless, one-third of our retailers and restaurants have been in business in downtown Westfield for 25 years or more – a testament to the strength of our customer service.”
In addition, the DWC—the management entity of the special improvement district—works with merchants to adapt their brands in their buildings. For example, it often encourages businesses to conduct historic restorations on their buildings’ facades to further enhance the look of the SID.
Downtown Westfield has the fortune to be anchored by such stores as Lord & Taylor and, most recently, Urban Outfitters, Cronin said.
In the Westfield school district’s most recent survey, 86 percent of those who responded said the school system was an important factor in their decision to live here.
“Our enrollment remains one of the largest in 30 years,” said Dr. Margaret Dolan, Westfield’s superintendent of schools. “What I see more and more often are our graduates returning to Westfield to live and raise families.”
Westfield's school district has 6,200 students in pre-K through grade 12 this year. The district has 10 public schools.
At the core of the district’s success is a strong partnership among students, teachers, administrators, parents and an entire community who value education.
“A deep vein of volunteerism runs throughout the Westfield schools, as in the town itself,” Dolan said. “Our high school community service club was singled out this year in a ceremony held by the Department of Education in Trenton.”
One of the challenges for educators today is preparing students for jobs of the future. Westfield teachers help their students to become critical thinkers, and they use variety of instructional methods to keep kids engaged.
Westfield High School, with its focus on college preparatory courses, offers 170 courses, including 19 Advanced Placement classes to its students. In 2012, Westfield High School ranked 17th statewide in combined SAT scores, Dolan said.
Friendliness—Family and Otherwise
“It’s a very family-oriented community,” said Jodi Luminiello, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker and the woman behind the Facebook phenomenon 365 Things to do in Westfield.
One Sunday in October, the downtown was packed with costumed children and adults alike enjoying trick-or-treating at local businesses. Families from Westfield and surrounding towns flock to the yearly Spring Fling and FestiFall street fairs, sponsored by the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The library offers children a spacious, cheerful room for children to explore books, and Memorial pool is a friendly meeting place in the summers.
For green space, you can’t go wrong with the town’s many beautiful parks, such as Mindowaskin, which is located next to the municipal building near the downtown shopping district.
Like Dolan, Luminiello also sees a strong sense of volunteerism among all ages in Westfield, such as with Greta’s Run, a 5K run/walk held in September to raise funds for special needs programs at the Westfield Area Y in memory of a Westfield High School student. After Superstorm Sandy, the community banded together as well.
“A lot of people opened up their houses to others, to come in and get warm, charge up their phones, computers,” said Luminiello.
Workers who commute to jobs in New York City can take the train from Westfield or can opt to catch a bus. Proximity to major highways is also a plus, residents say.
In March, NJ Transit plans to test out a “one-seat” ride during off-peak hours on the Raritan Valley Line, the train line that runs through Westfield, using new dual-powered locomotives. Currently, riders who commute into New York must transfer from a diesel-powered train to an electric-powered train in Newark.
While the one-seat ride could be a big advantage for Westfield real estate—significantly raising home values if the town ever gets a direct ride during peak hours, according to the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition— it will ultimately be just “one more reason people want to come to Westfield,” said Luminiello.