SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Hot dogs, hot wings and hot fudge sundaes were devoured under a hot sun at Spiotta Park in South Orange on Sunday, Oct. 1, to celebrate the village being named “New Jersey’s Hottest Town” by New Jersey Monthly. The celebration, sponsored by the village trustees and the South Orange Village Center Alliance, provided lunch and activities to thank residents for their votes.
The “hottest town” contest, sponsored by the magazine, pitted 16 towns in the state against one another on property values, prices and time spent on the market; input from real estate professionals and the business acumen of the towns. South Orange rolled over the competition in each round, first besting nearby Glen Ride before knocking Denville and Weehawken out of the bracket and defeating New Providence in the finals.
“We felt good about it, and what better a way to celebrate than with all of our residents?” village President Sheena Collum told the News-Record at the event. Children’s activities and games lined Kroll Plaza, along with pumpkins that attendees could choose and paint, too.
“This shows that we’re headed in a positive direction,” Collum said. “And it’s not just about the property values and our proximity to New York City, it’s the other values that we have here and the people that live here. We’re a sanctuary city and our motto is ‘everybody belongs here.’ People are trying to get here.”
Residents are not the only ones trying to move into South Orange. According to SOVCA Executive Director Bob Zuckerman, there are seven new businesses opening between now and the end of the year in South Orange, leaving only three vacancies in the business district. It’s the smallest number of empty storefronts that there has been since Zuckerman came to the village four years ago.
“This is a way to demonstrate to the rest of the state why people want to come here,” Zuckerman told the News-Record at the event. “It’s publicity you just can’t buy.”
Zuckerman also said that, of the seven new businesses four are owned by people from South Orange and the surrounding area.
“That’s the greatest thing about it,” Zuckerman said. “These are local residents who love South Orange and want to be here. It helps us tremendously, because we can now say ‘Come to South Orange, we’re the hottest town in New Jersey.’”
In addition to drawing new residents, Zuckerman said winning the contest will likely improve the very criteria that caused NJ Monthly to select South Orange to participate in the first place.
“Our property values will probably go up, and that’s always nice,” he said.
At the celebration, which twice ran out of hotdogs, the values that Collum mentioned were on full display as residents made donations to the Hurricane Maria relief collection for Puerto Rico. George Berkeley, owner of the UPS Store on South Orange Avenue, led the collection of donations and nonperishable items.
Berkeley estimated that residents dropped off more than $4,000 worth of items at the donation tables during the celebration, saying there would be more by the end of the day. The store will continue to take donations throughout the week as well.
“The party helps,” Berkeley told the News-Record at the event. “It makes it easier for people to see what’s going on. I’m going to pack it all up and ship everything out, and then we’ll see how much was donated.”
Village Trustee Steve Schnall said that being named New Jersey’s Hottest Town is validation for everything that the village works to do for its residents and business owners.
“This has raised awareness for everything we’ve been doing,” Schnall told the News-Record at the event. “There are continued opportunities for residents to actively participate in the town. In some places, you get home from work and the neighborhood is quiet, there’s not much going on. That’s not who South Orange is. You see the ways that we’re engaged and give them a voice. The larger community reflects that feeling that it’s not just a financial thing.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of Sheena Collum