Rutherford, New Jersey
Big Apple bedroom community takes a bite out of new city-led initiatives
Garden State City growing to meet its resident-focused needs
With the Big Apple on its doorstep, the quaintly-named borough of Rutherford, N.J. is a borough on the move and meeting the needs of its valued residents. Nestled in Bergen County in northern New Jersey, just a mere half an hour out of New York City and boasting just shy of 20,000 residents, the borough is a charming place that is often called “the gem of southern Bergen County.”
Named for John Rutherfurd, who spelled his surname differently and served as a senator in the now state of New Jersey some 230 years ago, the borough is known for a bustling downtown and much development over the last several years.
We recently spoke with Mayor Frank Nunziato, Rutherford Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Jennifer Ersalesi, Borough of Rutherford Public Information Officer, Kim Bogosian, and local insurance agent and President of the Chamber of Commerce – Dan Meredith. They told us what makes their community such an attractive option for both residents and businesses moving in.
Ersalesi says Rutherford is a hub of much economic activity these days, as you might expect of a satellite benefitting from the financial gravitational pull of the Big Apple. Indeed, Rutherford is a very business-friendly place, where new businesses abound.
“They just keep opening!” Ersalesi enthuses.
The Borough’s aptly named Park Avenue area is the home of many such new enterprises, along with some pricy and beautiful real estate, and there is a lot of development in the western end of Rutherford as well, as Ersalesi also points out.
Developers are working on what might be thought of as a British or European model; something more commonly seen in historic American communities circa World War II and still as recently as some 60 years ago: a lot of ground-level storefronts with residential capability above—the sort of thing that is very attractive to young, urban professionals with a great deal of disposable income to be lavished on downtown amenities and businesses.
Nunziato points out that the Rutherford Borough Council Has been carefully reviewing such projects for years now that would fit nicely within Rutherford’s designated transit village area in the Downtown. The mayor, who is 57, adds that since he was a kid, there have been areas near the bustling train station that need improvements using right vision and an eye on the 21st century.
“I would describe it as a beautification of the downtown area,” Nunziato observes.
Nunziato says some friends of his in local businesses said they were thinking of moving out of downtown, but he advised them not to do so.
“I said, ‘If you move out of town, you’re never going to be able to afford to come back!’” he informs with a chuckle.
Rutherford residential properties are in very high demand, and property values are soaring. With this kind of unprecedented growth, Rutherford is a prime location for all kinds of new development.
Further, it’s not just residential. There’s commercial real estate as well, with warehousing and distribution centers generating a great deal of interest in the industrial area. To cite but one example, retail giant Amazon recently built a large distribution warehouse facility in Rutherford. However, the good news aesthetically is that this won’t affect the downtown beautification the Borough of Rutherford is working on, as Nunziato points out.
“We have three more developments that are on the table,” he reveals, adding that this will be all, and the Borough of Rutherford will not allow anything farther past its busy transit zone (much railroad activity), which is located at the confluence of Orient Way and Park, Union, and Erie avenues.
Bergen Logistics is another big local player, as Nunziato points out. Bergen Logistics is a leading pick/pack and fulfillment warehouse company for electronically-based commerce. Yet as the mayor notes, not even the presence of warehouses will hurt Rutherford’s determined overall drive for beautification.
“It generates a good amount of revenue for our community,” he says of warehouses.
Technology is a key player
Technology is crucial to the success of any modern municipality. Bogosian spoke of the positive impacts of technology on Rutherford.
“One of the things that we utilize the most and the best are social media,” she says, citing Facebook and Twitter, adding that these components were non-existent before Nunziato became mayor in 2020, and they came in very handy during the COVID pandemic.
Bogosian adds that such media are very effective at getting the word out, especially in these modern times of decline of print media, as traditional newspapers and magazines go the way of the eight-track tape. The new computerized media are quite useful for letting citizens know the outcomes of borough council meetings, new business deals, and so on.
“It’s pretty sad,” Bogosian adds of the collective demise of newspapers.
“But we all find a way to adapt to what we have to work with. We first began utilizing social media during the COVID emergency but now use it as part of everyday business.”
Talking of COVID, Nunziato says the pandemic changed Rutherford quite a bit.
“There was a mass exodus out of Brooklyn and Manhattan,” he says of his community’s changing landscape. “I think that’s what’s driving our value, our home pricing, and everything else. It’s gone through the roof.”
The mayor also cites new restaurants coming into Rutherford as another positive factor for the borough’s economic growth. Among them is the Song’E Napule Pizzeria and Trattoria, which also has a sister restaurant in New York. In addition, there is a new Mexican restaurant, the Taquería Nacho Libre, which is also doing very well by all accounts. And this growth is not just in the realm of restaurants- overall membership to the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce has tripled since 2020.
“We’re growing,” says Nunziato, “and we’re trying to stay on top of it and manage it in a manner that is beneficial to everybody but not taking away from the original feel of our community.”
Rutherford, he adds, is known for being a place big on independence and self-reliance.
“We’re a very small and prosperous community at this point,” he opines, “and I’m a lifelong resident. When I was growing up, our downtown was so barren. Stores left. The town was not in a very good position. Yet now, we’re prosperous. You can’t find a location to put another store in our Downtown. Our out-of-town visitors on the weekends are overwhelming, so we’re pretty self-sufficient.”
Why would someone want to do business with or live in Rutherford? For Nunziato, the answers are abundant and obvious.
“We’re eight miles out of Manhattan,” he notes, citing Rutherford as the rail line’s last stop before the New York City borough.
Further, he cites a recent State of New Jersey grant of some $5 million to redo Rutherford’s major park. That would be Memorial Field which consists of several acres along the Passaic River dedicated to recreational facilities.
“We’re a very family-friendly town,” says Nunziato, jokingly adding, “and that’s our biggest problem! The number of families moving in, and the number of children being brought into this community have changed the way Rutherford plays sports.
“We were a big baseball and football town. Now we have all these other sports, so that’s our biggest concern: trying to make sure we have enough space for those types of events.”
Ersalesi shared the mayor’s assessment. She added as well that Rutherford is a very walkable community.
“It’s easy to navigate,” she says. “Your kids can get to and from school on their own.”
Nunziato concurred. Excluding the industrial section, Rutherford is about a mile and a half wide, as he points out. It’s been recognized as a Tree City, USA for its arboreal canopy.
“We offer a lot of things,” says Ersalesi, “because we’re able to offer the same charm and infrastructure from 100 years ago. People are looking for that again but with modern amenities, and that’s what Rutherford provides.”
That easy commute to the Big Apple and an overall high-end feel to this charming municipality conspire to make Rutherford a place with a high quality of life and something for everyone, as Nunziato observes.
The secret? Simple, he says.
“I think it’s the mayor!” he quips.
Nunziato praises Meredith for having his finger on the pulse of the local business community.
“We’ve created a business community here,” says Meredith, “that we like to call the fastest-growing circle of friends in the area!”
AT A GLANCE
What: a growing, bustling city of not quite 20,000 residents
Where: just eight miles out of New York City