Robbinsville: The Brooklyn of NJ?
Brooklyn used to be thought of as a place where tough guys come from. “I’m from Brooklyn!” If you said that in the voice of an Italian mobster, you’re not the only one. Yet today, Brooklyn is a far cry from its former self. The borough now conjures images of skinny jeans, beanies and thick-rimmed glasses. Regardless of whether you’re a hipster-hater or not, Brooklyn’s renaissance is an undeniable model of urban revitalization. Though Robbinsville is a distance from New York, it’s easy to see some parallels to such a reinvention.
I’m a lifelong resident of Robbinsville, NJ. I was here when it used to be Washington Township. I remember as a kid, peering out at a vast sea of dirt from the back seat of my mom’s old Nissan Sentra, wondering what in the world they were building where Centro now stands. As a member of the last Robbinsville class to be exported to Lawrence High School, I can remember being teased that we Robbinsville kids were all farmers. Seems ridiculous, I know. But we all got pretty excited when they put that Taco Bell in, didn’t we? That can’t be a good sign.
And there are questions that frequently cross the minds of Robbinsvillians which can be revealing about our quaint little town -
Will we ever get a grocery store to fill that Marrazzo's-size hole in our hearts?
Will it be a Trader Joe's?
Why is there a fourth drug store going up?
Is it still Catherine's Birthday?
Or perhaps you’ve wondered why we’re still constructing more city-scape store fronts when a quarter of them are still empty? Maybe you’re like me and dreamed up the possibility of a Starbucks in Town Center. Or better yet, a Chipotle.
Let’s face it, Robbinsville has had a sort of identity crisis over the last two decades. Are we a farmer’s paradise? Surely not. At least, not anymore. We’ve transformed. Like a phoenix, nay, a raven, rising from its own smoldering ashes. We are up-and-coming, evolving and building ourselves into something we can all be proud of when we try to explain to people where Robbinsville is. We’ve made some changes, but is our metamorphosis complete?
Not too long ago, on our first date at Centro, my girlfriend and I found ourselves laughing hysterically at our town’s new, self-branded slogan: She pointed out the sign across the street, “Robbinsville: Be at the Center of it All.”
In a town lovingly referred to as “The bubble,” such a statement seemed ridiculous and yet affable, in the way a heavy-set, unattractive man might introduce himself as an underwear model to an attractive woman. It’s kind of pathetic, but cute and likable at the same time.
A year or two ago I lived with a roommate in Foxmoor, both of us lifelong residents of Robbinsville. I was a substitute teacher at Robbinsville Schools at the time, and my roommate, Brent, taught English at the high school. When we would have friends over from out of town, we half-lovingly and half-jokingly referred to Robbinsville as "the Brooklyn of New Jersey.” This was especially audacious since some of our friends actually lived in Brooklyn. Joking about Robbinsville is like teasing a younger sibling; you can make fun of Robbinsville if you’re in the family, but we get pretty defensive if an outsider has something to say about it.
“The Brooklyn of NJ," we called it. Our friends would laugh, and yet, even they appreciated its charm. As much as we were joking and poking fun of our hometown, there was a part of us that was undeniably serious about our hyperbolic statement. Robbinsville, as much as it drives us crazy to lack the amenities some towns take for granted, is a unique town of great character.
We may not have a grocery store. And we may lack some name-brand stores in town center, but damn-it, we’ve come a long way.
Ever go to DeLorenzo’s? It’s a pizza-Mecca. Ever go to Centro on a Friday night? That place is bumpin' but still keeps it classy.
Have you sat at the Town Center Lake with a sandwich from Dolce and Clemente’s watching the sunset? Nothing’s better. Just be careful, the geese can be aggressive. Ever go to Ernie’s? Ernie’s is indescribable. Really, I’m not even going to try to describe Ernie’s. It’s a little bit like trying to describe the Mona Lisa. You just have to see it for yourself.
Sometimes I walk my dog late at night in Robbinsville (you’ve probably seen me) and I feel completely safe. Heck, I usually leave my car door unlocked because I feel so safe in Robbinsville (good thing you don’t know which car is mine).
And how about the people? The people are great.
Robbinsville is a family town. No doubt about it.
Back when I used to work at Marrazzo’s in high school, I’d see neighbors, friends, coaches and the like, all happy to be running into one another. Marrazzo’s was the sort of central plaza of our town. A meeting place where people gathered for 50-cent hamburgers. That sounds like something out of the 40s, not the 90s. But really, there was something magical about those 50-cent hamburgers!
Even though we’ve had some losses (RIP Marrazzo’s), we’ve gained so much, and we’re picking up steam. I think we all know, even though we may criticize it sharply at times, that Robbinsville is a special hometown. It may be hard to describe why it’s so special to those who haven’t experienced it. It may be hard to understand how it can be so inconvenient at times and yet a sort of suburban, small-town paradise in another sense.
So next time you hear it or see the sign: Robbinsville: “Be the Center of it all.” Allow yourself a loving chuckle, but don’t be surprised if a few years from now Robbinsville comes to be known as “The Brooklyn of New Jersey.”
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My name is Brandon Rasmussen and I’m a Realtor. If you are thinking of buying, selling, or renting a home I can make it simple and stress-free. Give me a call or text at 609-651-5167. Or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.