Bedroom Town

Jen Mayer, 28 of Hammonton getting off train at Hammonton Station coming back home from Philadelphia May


HAMMONTON - Tom and Sarah Gribbin, both attorneys, moved to Hammonton six years ago, in part because Sarah grew up there and loved it.

A more practical reason was also involved.

Their commutes would be about the same, even though they were in different directions. Tom would say good bye in the morning and head for his job in Philadelphia on the NJ Transit Train. Sarah would get in her car and drive the Atlantic City Expressway to her firm in Atlantic City.

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They weren’t the first in the family to pick Hammonton for its central location. Sarah’s parents, Steve and Suzanne Deyo, commuted in different directions as well.

“My parents were both teachers. My mom taught in Berlin, and my dad in Little Egg Harbor Township,” Sarah said. “For my mom it was a little closer, but it was also closer to our grandmother in Berlin, who helped with the kids.”

For decades Hammonton has billed itself the “hub of South Jersey,” advertising its proximity to where many major roadways meet. Many dual-career couples have found that location suits them just fine, giving them more flexibility to work far apart from each other.

The Atlantic City Expressway runs East to West through Hammonton’s southern end, and the White Horse Pike (Route 30) runs East to West through its northern portion, where it intersects the start of a main road North to Trenton, Route 206. Route 54 runs straight through town, giving easy access to points in Cumberland County; Black Horse Pike (Route 322) is just a couple of miles off the southern end of town, and Route 73 skirts the southwest corner of town, giving people a direct route to the Cherry Hill area.

When Steve and Tracy Carr were trying to figure out where to buy a house, they took a compass and drew two circles on a map of South Jersey.

One showed towns in a 45-minute commute from Wenonah Borough, Gloucester County, where Tracy is a teacher. The other showed a half-hour commute to the FAA Tech Center in Egg Harbor Township, where Steve works for a private contractor in systems development.

“I have an issue of falling asleep behind the wheel if I drive more than a half-hour, so my commute is shorter,” Steve said.

Hammonton ended up smack in the middle of where both circles overlapped, he said.

“We chose Hammonton entirely based on our commuting issue,” said Steve.

They have lived in town nine years now, and have become only happier with their choice. The downtown has developed and businesses such as Annata Wine Bar and Casciano Coffee Bar and Sweetery have opened in the last several years, he said.

Hammonton’s population is up more than 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, at a time when Atlantic County’s population increased by just 8.7 percent. Average household income in Hammonton is $59,755, compared to $55,222 for the county average.

Social characteristics show the town is more traditional-family oriented than the county as a whole, with 55.3 percent of households made up of married couples, and 27.7 percent made up of married couples with children under age 18. That’s compared to 46.7 percent and 19.5 percent for Atlantic County as a whole, respectively.

There are fewer female head of households with children under age 18 — 5.3 percent in Hammonton vs. 8.6 percent for Atlantic County. It is diverse, with about 15.2 percent of its residents native Spanish speaking, compared to 13.8 percent for the county. The town is well known for having one of the highest concentrations of Italian Americans in the U.S., at 44.3 percent compared to 18.3 percent county average.

According to the state Department of the Treasury and Taxation, the town had the fifth highest general tax rate of Atlantic County’s 23 municipalities in 2012, at $3.481 per $100 valuation. But it was just 13th highest for its effective tax rate, which compares municipal rates after adjusting for accuracy of local property valuations. That accuracy is largely a function of how recently the town has had a property revaluation, and Hammonton is due for a new one with its property assessed at just 63.4 percent of true value.

The owner of the average home in Hammonton, assessed at $135,662 in 2012, paid a $4,722.39 total tax bill in 2012 and will probably pay about $4,870.26 this year.

The tax bill will probably be about $3.59 per $100 valuation, which will include $0.87 per $100 valuation in municipal taxes if the town budget passes as introduced. There will also be a $2.02 school levy — unchanged from last year. The county rate for Hammonton has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be about 10 percent higher than last year’s levy of $0.632 per $100.

Ryan and Jennifer Mayer are one of the newer couples in town, having moved in last August.

Ryan, 30, runs a family business in Egg Harbor City and Jennifer, 28, is a paralegal in Philadelphia who commutes on the NJTransit train daily.

“I travel all over southern New Jersey for work,” Ryan said. “As far south as Cape May Point and Port Norris, and as far North as Mount Holly.” He figures Hammonton is right in the middle of his territory, he said.

They were mainly looking for something not too far from a train station to make getting to Center City easy for Jenn. They also wanted a quiet community with easy access to a commercial area.

“We didn’t just want to be out in the woods,” said Ryan, who grew up in Galloway Township.

They were focusing on the nearby Washington Township, Gloucester County, when Ryan’s father recommended Hammonton, a place they hadn’t visited often. They were impressed with the bustling downtown and train station, and ended up buying the first house they looked at, Jenn said. It’s a 109-year-old home that Ryan said had been in the same family for 85 years before they bought it.

“I had to learn to become a handyman pretty quick,” he said. “Right now I’m focused on growing a lawn.”

The house is close enough to walk to the train station in warm weather, Jenn said. She likes commuting on the train, generally catching the 7:15 a.m. into the city, and getting home at 6:45 p.m.

“It’s definitely good to relax and have that time to myself,” she said, adding she often reads. “I’m not at work and I’m not at home.”

They previously lived in Toms River for two years, and Jennifer’s commute from there to a law firm in Morris County was much less pleasant, she said.

“My old commute was in the car for an hour and a half, on a good day,” she said. “I was driving so had to pay attention all the time.”

They are still known as the new couple in Hammonton, but have felt welcome everywhere.

“You take the dog for walk and people say hello and ask how your day was,” Jenn said, adding there are always events in town.

That wasn’t their experience in Toms River, they said, where the downtown has languished for the most part.

“We can be in the area where I grew up in less than half an hour, and in Philadelphia in less than half an hour,” Ryan said. “We have access to everything, but at same time it’s very quiet. We leave our windows open at night and don’t have any noise. We feel very safe, and secure.”

The Gribbins agree.

Their daughters Grace, 3; and Brynn, 7 months, spend their days with Sarah’s parents while Tom and Sarah are at work.

Sarah loves the fact that her daughters are taking dance lessons from her own childhood dance teacher, Miss Dawn at Dance Magic in Hammonton. And Tom appreciates the swim club in town, like the one where he learned to swim in his hometown outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sarah has taken a job with a law firm in Haddonfield, Camden County, so their routine has changed a bit. They drive together to Haddonfield, then Tom hops on the PATH train to his Center City Philadelphia law firm.

What hasn’t changed, they both say, is the feeling they get when they arrive home at night.

“I work in one of the largest cities in the U.S., and love living in a small town,” Tom said. “All the stress from work disappears when I see the Hammonton sign.”

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