Listening to them, it’s easy to see the upside: great views, short ferry ride to the city, better value for the money. But it’s also easy to see the downside: It’s not New York. It’s not even New York State. It’s Jersey City.
“Look, not everyone is prepared to make that move,” Cliff says. “If you’ve moved from the West Coast or from another country, you want to be in Manhattan. That’s part of your dream. For us, I think we’d gone past that. And there’s so much potential here.”
His store is a glimmering white box stocked with Seven jeans and Y-3 sneakers and Paul Smith Crombie coats, located in the tree-lined downtown neighborhood of Paulus Hook. Some Jersey City lifers still call the area by its old nickname, Gammontown, from the Dutch word gemeen, which means “abandoned” or “vile,” as the neighborhood was once known for its persistent infestation of rats. Now the brownstones are filled with prosperous transplants from Manhattan’s financial and fashion industries—the kinds of people Cliff would spot carrying bags from shops in Soho and wearing $200 jeans, which convinced him a store like his could succeed. “The stigma is slowly but surely changing,” says Cliff. “Now we have what the West Village has. The meatpacking district has a guide. Now we have our own guide.”
Rob Finn, a 29-year-old who grew up in Jersey City and recently bought a house, explains it like this: “My whole life, I’d say I grew up in Jersey City, and people would give me that look. Now when I say it, they don’t give me that look anymore. The look they give me is more like, ‘Oh, I hear there’s a really cool wine bar there.’ ”
For Amanda and Cliff, their bet on the city has paid off—so much so that, recently, they were priced out of Liberty Towers. They’ve since bought a chic home on a pretty block in Greenville, which is known as one of rougher areas in Jersey City. Only three years ago, crossing the Hudson on the ferry, they felt like pioneers. “But we got pushed out already,” says Amanda. “It’s already working against us.”
So there you have it: Downtown Jersey City is already over. Forget I said anything. Or, rather, Jersey City finds itself both dawning and in its twilight, both undiscovered and overdeveloped. It’s the beneficiary and victim of our restless devouring search for the next “next”—the promise of an idealized future in some reminder of the romanticized past.
As it turns out, this isn’t a “Jersey City is the new blank” story; it’s “Blank is the new Jersey City.” People priced out of downtown are moving on to nearby Journal Square or Jersey City Heights or Greenville. Heck, a couple of months ago, the New York Sun declared Newark the sixth borough—why not, it’s only a few more path stops down the line. The Times, a year ago, went one better, proclaiming Philadelphia the next great neighborhood for New Yorkers. Artist friendly! With a Soho feel! And the commute’s not as bad as you think! And I will admit, I remember thinking, just for a moment, Hmmm, maybe Philadelphia … Like most people, I’m willing to chase my dream of New York almost anywhere.