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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

Rediscovering NJ Towns - South Orange

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

It’s a gorgeous, Friday morning as I pull into a parking lot and head to my meeting destination. My friend Laur and I had arranged a 2 mile walk through South Orange. I am especially lucky to grab this time with her today because not only is she my good pal, but she grew up in this town and is able to share an up close and personal perspective.

Unlike NJ towns further west, South Orange has been a commuter town since its early days. Known for its tony hamlets, South Orange has an abundance of beautiful older homes within easy reach of the Main Street. Just west of New York City and Newark, the serious shoppers 50 years ago headed to those destinations. But key stores were also being built in the close-by towns of Millburn and Short Hills: Bloomindale's, B. Altman, Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue on large lots that would later become indoor malls. So, South Orange had little need for large department stores. What it needed and had, were the every day practical stores on its Main Street like: grocery stores, cleaners, pharmacy, town center business buildings and close-by schools. Of course, I would be remiss to forget the local Chinese restaurant and pizzeria which were both hopping busy on Sunday nights. Until the 70’s, the train required several switches to enter NYC, so many people still drove or took the bus into the big city. But once the South Orange train had a direct midtown route, lots began to change.

If I were to characterize the Main Street today, three establishments come to mind: coffee shops, nail salons, and ethnic restaurants. It is once again a very lively town with a blend of old and new. South Orange has attracted many young adults and families who have chosen to migrate back to the suburbs after their city experience. There is a concentration of 30 and 40 year olds who found Brooklyn and NY City living fun as singles and newlyweds, but too tight, expensive and dangerous for their growing families. Many kept their jobs and now brave the 30-45 minute train commute to mid-town. They have injected a youthful energy into every aspect of the town from home renovations, to school curriculum and a resurgence of hip restaurants and healthy active lifestyles. Located down the street from Seton Hall University, is feels like it would be fun to live here.

Laurie and I ate at a brand new little restaurant with our friend, Marlene, The Order, that literally opened its doors last week. The atmosphere was simple, warm and quite computerized. But the food was pure Mediterranean with sumptuous spices on the chicken and a delicious looking tzikki sauce (my eyes were in my neighbor’s plate as well). I wished them luck as we finished up and said our good byes.

Next town.....not sure yet. Any suggestions?

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