Historic Haddonfield, celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, sits amid larger cities such as Camden and Cherry Hill as if it were deliberately trying not to be noticed.
Heading north through the concrete sprawl of Route 30 in Camden County, past endless gasoline stations and mini-marts, an exit to the right suddenly leads past stately homes and quaint streets.
Main Street Haddonfield, along Kings Highway, is a brick-lined, leafy avenue — a kind of colonial Cape May, with a wealth of businesses ranging from bistros to boutiques to coffee shops operating out of centuries-old structures. Combined with the shaded, tree-lined streets, brick walkways and a perfect, columned borough hall, it almost looks as if it were created by Hollywood set designers.
Also, there is a dinosaur.
“I’ve been here three years, and it’s a great town to do business in,” said Christina Zingarini, co-owner of pet shop and groomer Doggie and Kitty Style. “The community is very supportive of the downtown shopping district. In addition to that, the town itself does a lot to support businesses.”
Events during the year include promotions such as First Fridays, Girls’ Night Out, outdoor craft fairs and sidewalk sales.
“One of us is here all the time,” Zingarini said of her co-owner. “And I think that is appropriate in a small-town main street. I think that’s part of the success. It’s a little different experience from mall shopping. ... People know each other in this town.”
Adding to the small-town atmosphere: Haddonfield is dry.
“It still has that legacy of blue laws,” Zingarini said. “So, you can’t open on Sunday until noon if you’re not a pharmacy or serving breakfast. I guess I could serve breakfast to dogs, maybe.”
At the women’s consignment shop Secrets, saleswoman Rosemary Watkins said that the change of seasons, spring and fall, are the best times of year for businesses — befitting a street under a canopy of trees.
“Especially a day like today,” she said on one recent sunny afternoon. “You’ve got a lot of people walking up and down whenever there’s any (event) in town.”
There are numerous clothes shops in town, including Richard Bennett Clothing for Men, in the same 1742 building as Doggie and Kitty Style. Owner Susan Berg has been here since 1982. Haddonfield “has maintained its quality level,” she said. “The downtown area has been kept up beautifully.”
Meanwhile, Scott Mahan, proprietor of the Happy Hippo toy store — at a corner location so historic it has its own page of old photos in the Tricentennial Guide — said when he first opened about 33 years ago, “the town was kind of on the skids. They had opened up the Cherry Hill Mall, but little by little, people realized the mall was not the utopia they thought it would be. So they came back. ... And Haddonfield has risen like the phoenix. It’s back.”
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from on the King’s Highway, from the oriental Pearl to the Bistro at Haddonfield to Sweet T’s Bake Shop. And, as Lisa Savaria said, there’s a coffee shop at each end of town.
“You can’t go wrong with food,” said Savaria, an employee at English Gardener Gift Shop, which also runs the British Chip Shop across the street — and, testifying to the growth of the town, soon will be in its third, ever-larger location. “All the restaurants are written up in the foodies.”
Eating outside at a sidewalk table, Rachel Marzi, of Magnolia, and Kristen Giammusso, of Hammonton, said Haddonfield is the place all their friends choose when planning an event.
“This is where we go to,” Giammusso said. “I love Hammonton, but there are not a lot of choices.”
There is less than a 5 percent vacancy rate for downtown retail space, Partnership for Haddonfield retail recruiter Remi Fortunato said, and the holiday season was the best in five years. The city recently saw the openings of the Haddonfield Sports Club and JAX Boutique, and Saxby’s Coffee opened again “for the second time around.”
“I believe we’ve weathered the storm as far as the economy,” Fortunato said. “Apparently, sales are up, and things are moving forward.”
There is plenty of parking, from metered spots along and around the main strip of King’s Highway to nine public parking lots within a block or two. And if a visitor is willing to walk, the meters disappear after a few blocks stroll from Kings Highway. The PATCO train, which connects to the NJ Transit Atlantic City Line, stops just around the corner from the downtown area.
As for lodging, though, there isn’t much in the downtown. The Haddonfield Inn bed and breakfast is a short walk away, but for hotels or motels, visitors have to head to Cherry Hill or the Route 30 strip — but it takes only about an hour to drive there from Atlantic City and an hour and a half from Cape May.
As for the dinosaur? It’s a life-size statue of a hadrosaur, named for the town after bones were found during one of the first digs in the 1800s. So, even amid buildings dating back almost 300 years and columned Victorian homes, the statue is a reminder that some things are older still.
Though, if you don’t want to contemplate the epic majesty of creation, there’s a cupcake shop right around the corner.
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