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Sure, New Jersey is defined by its big city neighbors of Philadelphia and New York City, but all the heart and soul is located in the small towns that make up its counties. And anyone who’s ever taken a stroll down one of these main streets knows sometimes there’s nothing better than escaping the hustle and bustle by taking a walk down memory lane.
The bricks on the four-block stretch of 96th Street that make up Stone Harbor’s downtown are dusted with sand from the nearby beach—one of the few in the state that’s gotten wider, not smaller, in recent years. At the height of tourist season, there are about 20,000 people in Stone Harbor, but the rest of the year it’s a quiet little beach haven of about 1,000 permanent residents.
On a sunny fall afternoon, you’ll see plenty of pedestrians out walking dogs, kids on bikes and skateboards, and busy shoppers in the town’s boutiques, which range from high-end clothing stores to old school surf shops and five-and-tens.
Everybody shares the tree-lined sidewalk, and there’s a general feeling of community that seems to permeate Stone Harbor, whether it’s packed with shoobies (beach daytrippers) or boarded up for the season.
Not only is Collingswood a beautiful town full of historic (and pricey) homes; its downtown main street, Haddon Ave., is kept bustling by the fact that there is always something going on. There’s at least one festival that’s held every month—the Second Saturday celebration—when the eclectic stores, art galleries, and fine dining establishments along the street stay open late. Live musicians play on the street corners, and children run around with ice cream cones in a scene that could easily be mistaken for a piece of midcentury Americana.
During the summer, half of Haddon Ave. is closed to traffic on the third Thursday of every month, and a classic car and motorcycle show is held with—you guessed it—more live music. There are also big festivals, like the May Fair and the Book Festival, which draw tens of thousands from across the region. And every Saturday, bright and early, the Collingswood Farmer’s Market opens one block off Haddon Ave., so local residents can stock up on local produce.
Head a little further down Haddon Ave. and you’ll come to the next great South Jersey downtown: Haddonfield. The tree-lined main streets (Haddon Ave. and Kings Highway) are dotted with benches for people-watching or enjoying an ice cream cone, and with the occasional statue—a few by local artist Seward Johnson, and one of a very big—and very important—dinosaur. Boutiques and art galleries are complimented by historical landmarks and high-class eateries. On the first Friday of every month, stores stay open late, and many provide refreshments and live music, making a visit to Haddonfield the perfect date night.
Not so long ago, this one-time industrial town was nearly done-for. Storefronts were empty thanks to a nearby mall that drove all the mom-and-pop stores off North High Street in the 70s. The glass industry, which had kept the town bustling since the days of the American revolution, had started to falter, and things didn’t look good for Millville.
But in the past two decades, local leaders have spent more than $20 million in public and private money revitalizing the town, and today it’s a haven of shopping boutiques and art galleries. Millville’s downtown has been renamed the Glasstown Arts District, and the name is well deserved; there are nearly two-dozen galleries with work on display.