By Barry Carter | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Downtown Westfield has always been the heartbeat of the community, where people have gathered to socialize or to conduct business, since the town was settled around the railroad in 1720.
“It’s the place where you meet your neighbor and check on how everybody is doing," said Sherry Cronin, executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation. “It’s a classic town for modern families."
And, it’s among the top five finalists vying to be crowned the best downtown in New Jersey on NJ.com.
The public has the final say with online voting that is open until 9 a.m. Wednesday. But before you click, take a stroll with me to meet some of the people who rave about the place where everybody knows your name.
Kelly Higgins, 24, moved to New York six years ago, but she couldn’t stay away from her home. She’s back in the arms of this family town, wrapping herself in its embrace.
(Photo by Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for Nj.com)
“I missed it. I really did," said Higgins. “I love it so much."
It’s easy to see why. There’s so much to do and see in an 18-block downtown district that has over 450 businesses, many of which have been around for more than 25 years.
“I haven’t’ been to a shopping mall in almost two decades now," said Matt Maranz, a resident and television producer. “It’s kind of nice to be able to walk or just come downtown and do everything you need."
From boutiques like J. McLaughlin to large department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Westfield’s 30,000 residents don’t have to travel far for much. Trader Joe’s is downtown for groceries to go.
There are more than 50 restaurants for the diverse palate. Mexican, Asian and French to Portuguese, Italian and Indian. Whichever cuisine you choose, including an array of sandwiches in town, don’t worry about the calories. There are healthy choices, too.
Stores along E. Broad Street. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Any meal, however, can be digested with a brisk walk around Mindowaskin Park, which looks like a postcard right now with radiant fall colors painting leaves still clinging to tree limbs on East Broad Street, the main thoroughfare.
There are coffee shops, a movie theater and an old school arcade for all ages, with pinball machines and classic video games. Remember Pac Man and Galaga? I almost lost my mind. After 9 p.m., its B.Y.O.B for adults, who want to have few cold ones or sip wine as they relive games of their past.
“We provide that something extra to do," said Ken Kalada, owner of YESTERcades, which is also located in Red Bank and Somerville. “People can escape from their daily lives."
This summer, thousands of them got lost with the Sweet Sounds Downtown Jazz festival. Every Tuesday from July to August, musicians were on four corners playing at the same time.
A boy and a pair of men enjoy playing games at YESTERcades located on Broad Street. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
The weekend before Halloween, Westfield outdid itself with residents and visitors gathered there to honor Charles Addams, its famous native and creator of the “The Addams Family." Westfield hosted AddamsFest, a three-day celebration of his life that included lectures, exhibits and screenings.
“Every street you go on, there’s something interesting," said Caroline Lofredo, who was having lunch with her friend, Kristen Barletta. Both women, who work for a wine importer in town, are always at Farinolio, a new Tuscan bakery café that has won them over.
The cuisine, they say, is as authentic as the owners who greet them.
“You walk in and they’re like, 'how are you doing?'" Barletta said.
Francesco Colbertaldo, a co-owner, said he was looking for a town willing to accept something new, where he could interact with customers, and answer their questions about the food and help Westfield continue its growth.
“We needed to start somewhere," Colbertaldo said. “Westfield became that somewhere."
David Fink was blown away, too, when he moved here 16 years ago from northern Virginia to live and set up his advertising business, DavidHenry Marketing & Media.
“It’s a tight knit community where people look out for each other," he said. “It’s the perfect blend of Americana."
For Stephen Bellamy, Westfield reminds him of small villages outside of his native London. He opened Boxwood Coffee Roasters in the center of town this past April.
“I think Westfield is the closest thing to that quaint vibe," Bellamy said.
Folks can eat or just walk around, but they definitely stop at Boxwood. With laptops open, patrons come for coffee, pastries, open mic and a quiz game night. It also has become a spot for small business owners to have meetings.