A new rail link is about to boost this 'burb into the big time.
No doubt you've heard of Montclair, the liberal New Jersey town often called the Upper West Side of the suburbs, famous for its diversity, its celebrated residents (Bill Bradley, Ian Frazier, and Yogi Berra), and its spectacular estates that resemble small national parks. Chances are you haven't heard of Montclair's often overlooked stepchild, Bloomfield, a neighboring town that's home to Frankie's Futurmatic Car Wash and the official Joe Pesci fan club. But with affordable homes and a commute to midtown that's about to be cut in half, Bloomfield won't stay sleepy for long. For now, it's still possible to find a comfortable three-bedroom home in this charming hamlet for $200,000 and live close enough to Montclair to take advantage of its shopping and restaurants.
- Meet the neighbors That's a big part of the appeal for Kelly Smith Killian, a 31-year-old freelance journalist in Bloomfield. "I can do all the stuff that I really need to do in Bloomfield," she says of things like getting groceries. "But if I want to go to a nice dinner or go antique shopping, I'll go into Montclair." Kelly and her husband, Keith, rent a one-bedroom apartment near the lower-priced south end of town for $855 a month but are looking to buy a three-bedroom home under $200,000.
- Small is beautiful Remarkably, there are actually plenty of options. The streets here are lined with Cape Cod- and Victorian-style homes in the $175,000 to $350,000 range. And, for Smith Killian, the setting is hard to beat. She describes the time a red fire truck pulled up to the Magic Fountain homemade-ice-cream shop, and school children swarmed the truck as firemen showed them the hoses and sirens. "It was such a cute little Norman Rockwell picture that I haven't seen anywhere else I've lived," she says.
- Sights to behold Bloomfield's town center extends the Rockwell imagery. The stately buildings of Bloomfield College surround a grassy quad (where scenes from the upcoming Drew Barrymore movie, Riding in Cars With Boys, were filmed earlier this year), and church steeples puncture the skyline all around. The town also has several lush parks, with ponds and park benches, where families gather for picnics and duck crossing signs are a common sight.
- Manhattan transfer When Dominique Brunet, 36, who is a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue, and his wife, Kristin Brunet, 32, an assistant curator at moma, started looking for a home to buy last year, they insisted on a maximum commute of one hour, door to door, to their jobs in Manhattan. And after looking everywhere from Bergen County, New Jersey, to Connecticut, the Brunets, who are expecting their first child in November, left their $1,250-a-month two-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill and bought a 1928 three-bedroom colonial with hardwood floors and "a beautiful fireplace" in the Oakview section of Bloomfield for less than $250,000.
- The commute Because of its proximity to the Garden State Parkway and Newark International Airport, Bloomfield is already conveniently situated, but this spring, the New Jersey Transit System will launch direct train service on the Montclair Connection -- a long-awaited 1,500-foot sliver of rail that will cut the commute to New York Penn Station from a half hour or more (including a change of trains in Hoboken) to a mere fifteen minutes.
- Prime areas Generally speaking, the northern part of Bloomfield is more desirable (and farther from Newark). The Brookdale area is coveted for its proximity to Brookdale Park, and the Oakview area has gorgeous homes that are among the closest to Montclair.
- The cons While Bloomfield has all the basic retail a town needs (a bank, a garden nursery, bakeries, grocery stores), it doesn't offer the kinds of trendy cafés or boutiques found in Montclair.
- Schools While the elementary schools in Oakview and Brookdale have solid reputations, only 49 percent of students of Bloomfield High's class of 2000 planned to go to college, down from 55 percent for the class of '96.
- Best brokers Joyce Palm at Weichert Realtors (973-220-7424); Denise Riordan, Schweppe & Co. (973-744-4701).
98 SYLVAN ROAD
Three-bedroom, one-bath, 1938 side-hall Colonial with natural woodwork, refinished hardwood floors in the living room, a formal dining room, den, laundry room, basement, one-car garage, and a large deck. On the market for $257,000.