Haddon Heights inspires affection

Posted: March 17, 2013

One in a continuing series spotlighting the real estate market in this region's communities.

Ask Dan White what it was like growing up in Haddon Heights, and the veteran real estate broker, who turned 49 Thursday, doesn't need time to think.

"Getting our milk delivered from Green Valley Dairy; jumping on my bike to Station Avenue for pizza and to buy a record at the five-and-ten," says White, whose late father, Dan Sr., was a milkman for the dairy before opening his real estate office in 1972.

Many call this picturesque Camden County community "Heights" and express great affection for it, even if they don't live here.

"I love Heights and love the people," says Carole Hudson of nearby Audubon, who opened Carole's Candy Corner on Station Avenue in 2011. Her back room is set up like an old-fashioned candy store, down to having little paper bags for purchases.

"The kids stop at the candy store on their way home from school, just as we did," Hudson says.

Haddon Heights remains close-knit and child-centric, as is evident on Station Avenue down from White Horse Pike. On one side of the old five-and-ten building, preschoolers in tutus learn steps at the dance school. Across the street, mothers shepherd their little ones into the public library for Wednesday morning story hour.

"A lot of strollers, a lot of joggers, a lot of dog walkers," says Sharon Sayres, who opened Paint a Treasure Ceramics with Marnie Kelly on Station Avenue in 2011.

Their customers are mainly local residents, "parents who feel comfortable sending their children for two-hour workshops without their having to be here to supervise," Sayres says.

Haddon Heights did not escape the real estate downturn, though, and the number of toddlers helps put a face on the current home-buying statistics that White offers.

Younger buyers appear eager these days to pick up one of the big American Foursquares or Colonial Revivals built in the early 1900s to attract the middle class to the borough, incorporated in 1904 on the Atlantic City Railroad line.

Even a median price of $250,000 doesn't deter buyers from spending $150,000 and up to retrofit the interiors of these houses while maintaining the exteriors, White says.

So when you come across one of the local historical society's pictorial markers showing what Haddon Heights looked like at the start, it's hard to distinguish between then and now, down to the 1890 rail station and freight depot. (Although Conrail freight cars rumble through every day, no passenger trains have stopped in Haddon Heights since 1965.)

As in every other New Jersey town, property taxes in Haddon Heights give many people pause. When houses sell for less than their assessed values, however, the borough is always ready to consider the evidence, White says.

About 58 percent of the tax bill goes to the local school district, says White, a product of the district who has unequivocal praise for it. A lot of newcomers "shop" high schools - parochial or private - or pay tuition to other districts, he adds.

Many who move here discover Haddon Heights through its Station Avenue businesses, White says. Thus, there is an effort to attract "destination" businesses that offer products or services not readily available elsewhere.

George Wise, of Wise Quality Family Jewelers, has spent 26 of his 30 years in business on Station Avenue, and he and his wife, Melinda, own a house here.

"When we opened, Station Avenue was mostly hairdressers and everyone said we were insane, but we are a special-order shop, and we depend on word of mouth," says Wise, who designs and makes his jewelry, as well as heading the business association.

"We are blessed to be Main Street America," he says, noting that "while rarely does a store stay open for long, vacancies don't last long," either.

Scott Kaitz, a collector for 40 years, shifted careers from real estate about 21/2 years ago with the Comic Book Station he operates with his brother, Michael. His shop is a destination for professional collectors who also end up spending at nearby stores.

Business is so good that Kaitz is running out of space, but there isn't anything much larger on Station Avenue and he'd prefer to stay downtown.

If you want to learn all you can about Haddon Heights very quickly, grab a cup of coffee inside and sit on the bench in front of John's Friendly Market at Station and Seventh Avenues. Just about everybody in town stops by over the course of the day - for coffee or a sandwich at lunch, or to pick up something for dinner or replace something they ran out of.

"John" was John Johnson, who died at 91 in May 2011 and was associated with the market, first as employee and then as owner, for 55 years.

Today, his daughters, their husbands, and four grandchildren run the market, but stories of Johnson's kindness and generosity to everyone would fill many a volume.

"There was a collection jar in the store for money for people who were sick," says White, who had had cancer but has been free of it for 18 years. "When I was going through chemo, I walked into the store and John called me over. He handed me money and said, 'We were collecting . . . this for you.' "

No name ever identified the recipients; the giving was anonymous.

"He gave me a lot more money than there was in the jar," White recalls.

By the Numbers

Population: 7,473 (2010)

Median income: $80,160 (2009)

Size: 1.57 square miles

Homes for sale: 62

Settlements in the last three months: 13

Average days on market: 149

Median sale price (single-family): $250,000

Median sale price (all homes): $250,000

Housing stock: 3,159 units; 91 percent singles, average age 50 years.

School district: Haddon Heights

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Daniel R. White Realtors; City-data.com; Realtor.com; Zillow.com; Movoto.com

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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