With a baby starting to crawl and their Upper East Side rental feeling cramped, Yelizaveta and Dan Friedman set their sights on Mr. Friedman’s native Bergen County, N.J. After looking at homes in Ridgewood and Glen Rock, they settled on a more northerly suburb, Hillsdale.
“The town checked a lot of boxes for us,” said Mr. Friedman, 39, an architect in Manhattan. (Ms. Friedman, 38, works in information technology for an arts organization.) “Good schools, more property for your money, and lots of parks and green space.”
In 2017, the Friedmans paid $630,000 for a four-bedroom house on a third of an acre in what real estate agents call the Tandy and Allen section. Tandy and Allen were midcentury developers who created a subdivision of 200 ranch-style houses with such distinctive touches as a living space above the garage and dual-sided fireplaces between the dining and living rooms. The Friedmans’ ranch came with a stream bordering the backyard, a magnet for wildlife.
Now the parents of two, the couple have settled in and Mr. Friedman recently joined the municipal planning board. Their experience during the pandemic has validated their decision to move to Hillsdale.
“Especially working from home now, we’re taking a lot of walks in the area,” Mr. Friedman said. “This really is a welcoming place, with a lot of friendly people — and a lot of young people coming in.”
Many New Jersey residents know the borough of 10,500 for Demarest Farms, which has apple and pumpkin picking in the autumn and, during this summer of quarantine, drive-in movies in its parking lot. Another Hillsdale attraction is Dolores Santucci, 93, who sells hot dogs and sausages from a sidewalk pushcart in front of her son’s time-warp Karl Ehmer pork store, an anchor of the compact downtown. After taking several weeks off, the Hot Dog Lady, as the Record newspaper calls her, donned a face shield and was back slinging wieners.
Nichol DeGruccio, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Hillsdale, said the borough, which has rail and bus service, is seeing a surge of interest from pandemic-weary New Yorkers. “Inventory remains low, because sellers have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to quote-unquote get back to normal,” she said, adding that she has seen bidding wars.
Ms. DeGruccio calls Hillsdale the “Goldilocks” of Bergen County’s Pascack Valley: “not too big, not too small, not too expensive, not too cheap, not too busy, not too boring.”
Comparing Hillsdale with two of its immediate neighbors bears out that description. Westwood, whose heavily trafficked downtown is within walking distance for some Hillsdale residents, is the valley’s retail hub; bucolic, upscale Woodcliff Lake lacks a central business district and even a library. Hillsdale, three miles square, occupies the middle ground.
That appealed to Seth D. Griep, a 42-year-old lawyer, and his husband, Thomas Vetter, 30, who works for a fence company. Previously high-rise dwellers in the county seat, Hackensack, where Mr. Griep’s job is based, the couple bought a four-bedroom, nearly century-old expanded Cape Cod on a quarter-acre in 2018, paying $415,000. Mr. Griep jokingly calls it “the Hillsdale lodge,” because of the neighborhood’s off-the-beaten-track ambience and quiet streets, ideal for jogging and biking.
“But one of the reasons we moved here,” he said, was the proximity to the “town center of Westwood and their fantastic selection of restaurants.”
What You’ll Find
Twenty-five miles from Times Square and convenient to the Garden State Parkway, which cuts through its western end, Hillsdale is primarily a community of well-kept single-family homes on spacious lots. Colonials, ranches and split-levels are in abundance, and there is a smattering of condos. Neighborhoods are verdant and most lack sidewalks, lending a countrified air.
Broadway and Hillsdale Avenue intersect at the borough center, which features the 1869 train station, a manicured veterans’ memorial and a mom-and-pop retail cluster of the basic variety: deli, bagels, hardware, salons and such.
“From what I gather talking to real estate agents, people come to Hillsdale because they like the schools and the small-town feel,” said John Ruocco, the mayor. But that small-town vibe, he added, “is a double-edged sword, because our downtown is quaint, but old. Some millennials might think, ‘Gee, can’t you change the facades of the buildings?’”
For now, the local government is tending to the industrial zone between Pascack Brook and the railroad tracks, a few blocks from downtown. Last year, 11 acres were declared in need of redevelopment. Mixed-use is envisioned, with some apartments satisfying the borough’s state-mandated affordable-housing requirements, Mr. Ruocco said.
What You’ll Pay
From July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, the median sale price of a single-family house in Hillsdale was $514,500, based on 96 transactions, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service. During the same period a year earlier, 107 single-family houses sold at a median price of $477,000.
On July 15, the listing service’s website showed 30 single-family houses available, priced from $375,000 to $929,000. At the low end, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1940s Cape Cod on Hopkins Street was listed for $464,000, with annual property taxes of $10,725. At the high end, sitting on a half-acre on Royal Park Terrace — in a neighborhood west of the Garden State Parkway that has some of the borough’s largest properties — was an updated four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom split-level listed for $899,000, with taxes of $17,295.
Annual events like a children’s fishing derby — canceled this year because of the pandemic — fall festival, Halloween parade and apple gathering at the Demarest Farms orchard make Hillsdale decidedly family-friendly. Upstairs at the train station, hobbyists exhibit model railroads. Summertime finds many children at the borough’s swim club (although this year the complex remains closed).
The borough’s dining scene, not as large as Westwood’s or Ridgewood’s, skews Italian: Osso Buco, Domani and Della Cucina all have alfresco seating. There is also Matsu, a Japanese bistro; Rockin’ Roots, a plant-based cafe and juice bar; and the Cornerstone, a casual spot with a bar menu.
The Hillsdale public school district has two elementary schools and a middle school for grades five through eight. The district’s racial and ethnic composition is approximately three-quarters white, 14 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 1 percent Black.
Students advance to Pascack Valley High School on Piermont Avenue, which enrolls about 1,200 and also serves neighboring River Vale. Average SAT scores in 2018-19 were 570 in reading and writing and 578 in math, compared with 539 and 541 statewide. The class of 2019 had a near-perfect graduation rate, and 90.4 percent enrolled in postsecondary education.
In a much-debated move prompted by this spring’s civil rights demonstrations, the high school district’s Board of Education dropped “Indians” as the nickname and mascot of Pascack Valley High School and “Cowboys” as the nickname and mascot of its other high school, Pascack Hills.
The train ride to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan takes 60 to 70 minutes on New Jersey Transit’s Pascack Valley Line, including the transfer at Secaucus; the fare is $9.75 one way or $298 monthly. An annual permit for the commuter parking lot costs $170.
The private Rockland Coaches bus company has two Hillsdale routes. Getting to the Port Authority terminal takes about an hour; fares are $8.85 or $9.45 one way ($145.95 or $156.65 for 20 trips). Some Hillsdale commuters take New Jersey Transit’s No. 165T bus from Westwood; the fare is $7 one way, $199 monthly.
The sandstone farmhouse built in 1767 by Garret Durie, a blacksmith — still standing, on Ell Road — was plundered by Continental and British troops during the Revolutionary War.
In the mid-1800s, the borough’s citizenry appropriated the pastoral-sounding moniker Hillsdale from the name of the local schoolhouse. Originally part of Washington Township, Hillsdale became a township in 1898 and was reincorporated as a borough in 1923.