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Along with a handful of other young families from Hoboken, my family moved to Montclair in 1989 when I was 8 years old. The Hoboken families settled on various blocks around Watchung Plaza, and my brother and I entered Watchung and Nishuane schools. Dance lessons as a child at the Hoboken YMCA helped me dance my way through my entire Montclair childhood: Gisele Renee, Hillside, and Glenfield schools; Premiere Dance Theatre, summer dance camps at Montclair Kimberly Academy and Montclair State University; and the town's only yoga studio at the Touchstone Building on Glenridge Ave (Starseed).

A slightly dusty natural food store on Bloomfield Ave is where my adolescent dancer self would find sundry items to maintain a dancer's physique.   A robust diet amounting to soy cheese, rice milk, and carob chips did little to help explain to my parents what a "vegan" was. When Fresh Fields, later bought by Whole Foods, set up shop on the upper reaches of Bloomfield Ave in the mid-nineties, it was a big deal. Those were the days that walking up Bloomfield Ave from Glenfield School with friends was mostly walking past vacant stores, head shops, Romp n Stomp, and a notable grunge music store. What is now thriving Bay St Station with clusters of condos and rentals was just a single rail line disconnected from other stations in Montclair.

The Watchung Plaza post office, where my family went frequently (in 1995, consider that email was still pretty nascent), experienced a shooting that left four dead. It occurred one block from my house. I was 13 years old. Montclair is know for its activism and thriving arts scene, thus my middle school dance class performed a piece I choreographed at a benefit for non-violence/gun control. It is still performed at Glenfield School every three years. It was the mid-nineties, so we paired the dance with The Cranberries song, "Zombie." In high school, I left Montclair to attend NJ School of Ballet and later, Dance Theater Workshop and Alvin Ailey in Manhattan. By 15, I was commuting to New York City via DeCamp Bus #66, five days a week from the Montclair High School bus stop.

In 1996, Anthropologie, off Church St, was still the Bangz hair salon and there was no Urban Outfitters on South Park St (there was no South Park St back then), so to find the right clothing (critical to any teenager's image), you needed to physically travel to NYC to browse the teenage utopia that was UO. Once the city became part of my daily life, Montclair, like most suburbs feel to a teenager, felt claustrophobic and irrelevant. I attended a boarding arts high school my junior year. My main connection to Montclair over the next decade was crossing the Hudson to clean out my closets when my parents downsized or visiting for occasional holidays.

No one was more surprised than me when I found myself putting a down payment on a small, foreclosed ranch house in 2014. Married with a six-month-old son, it checked a lot of boxes, and there was a job opportunity in NJ that was worth moving back for. After a decade of city living, what perhaps surprised me the most was how easy and enjoyable I found the suburbs to be once I had become a mom. Every embarrassed bone from my youth about growing up in the suburbs was overshadowed by how pleasant May really is in Montclair, by my son learning to walk among the Iris gardens and sleigh riding down the sledding hill for his first snowfall. Both of my children were born at Mountainside Hospital, my husband joined the local cycling team, and we learned how early one needed to leave for brunch on the weekend to still get a table. 

Living in Montclair as a "grown-up," I was curious about the local entrepreneurial spirit. I chatted with shop owners about why they started their businesses here and was fascinated by the vibrancy of the town, despite other suburban business districts suffering with the competition of e-commerce and urban migration. Since I moved, long-standing businesses like the Hampton House (70 years), Photo Cullen (90 years), Murphs (30 years), and even the Bellevue Theater have shut their doors. However, abandoned car lots are becoming hotels, side alleys are revitalized with murals, and once-seedy DMV inspection stations have been converted to a beloved bread company. I envision this podcast as a fount of stories told by those who have reshaped Montclair; the creative and entrepreneurial community transforming the town and how they toe the line between tradition and modernity. My son and daughter won't know that Lululemon was an appliance store, or that Raymond's started as a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop with barely 10 tables on Church St. But through these stories, they may feel a sense of the living history that is Montclair.

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joanne lamarca mathisen, contributor

I moved from Manhattan to Long Island when I was 4 years old. By 7, I had discovered Sonny & Cher and decided when I grew up I was going to move to Hollywood and be just like Cher. The closest I got was performing a Barbra Streisand song at our school Superintendent’s retirement party when I was in high school. I must have liked pretending to be other performers because in my 20s, I was a Gloria Estefan impersonator in my spare time. It was a side job after entering a lookalike contest where the judge was a Cher lookalike. She is now one of my best friends.

Recognizing my strongest talents did not lie in music, after college, I worked for an industrial production company. After a year there, I moved back to New York City and joined the NBC Page Program. After a while, I landed on the Today show where I spent most of the next 30 years covering too many red carpets to remember and producing special hours with Katie Couric. My most current role at Today was overseeing the 4th Hour hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb or as I call them, Angelica and Eliza because I was Peggy.

I moved to Montclair kicking and screaming after marrying my husband in 2004 but next to marrying my husband and having a baby, it was the best decision I had made in a long time. My husband has lived here since the late 1980s and convinced me of its diversity and richness. The property taxes may be high but we see it as a privilege to live in this community. Where else can you throw Thanksgiving dinner and have five different countries represented at your table?  Where else can your kids grow up like they’re living in a big city but still have the comfort of a close community … and their own backyard?  

These days, I’m co-hosting “The Happy Hour” on Sirius XM’s Today Show Radio, Channel 108. When I’m not trekking to NYC, you can find me fulfilling my fashion fix by running the Spiritwear for Glenfield Middle School, writing for my Old Moms Rock blog, working with the Montclair Public Library, and very often, in the carpool.


margo bruton, contributor

As the daughter of two British immigrants, I lived in a working class neighborhood in the fairly small city of Reading, Pennsylvania. For the next 13 years, we spent our time bouncing between my mother’s immigrant steel-working family in the US and my father’s fairly well-off clan of Mining & Shipping folks in England. I was a hit with my school friends here because I could whip off a flawless British accent on demand, rendering extra candy from the Anglophile storekeeper at the corner candy store. 

As a  teenager, we stopped the back-and-forth across the Atlantic and moved to Illinois. It was a shock. I found a vista of endless cornfields, gas stations, and convenience stores, and no downtown to be found.  I tried cheerleading but it didn’t work; my passion remained in ballet and theatre, and I desperately missed the East Coast. I met many friendly folks out in those cornfields and I’m not throwing shade on the Midwest, but I was definitely a square peg and knew I would die without summer visits to the Jersey Shore.

Cut to my years after college. I made a beeline to New York City with its energy and life and diversity. I pursued a career in the theatre. I loved NYC and the life I created, with its energy and hustle. As I matured, I loathed the cramped apartments, dirt, and incessant noise.

 I found Montclair in the late 1970s when the Whole Theatre Company hired me and I worked with Louis Zorich and Olympia Dukakis. I fell in love then with the exact same mix I find so appealing today. I was still based in NYC, so it took me a couple of decades to actually move here. Finally, 12 years ago, I settled into a lovely Victorian house complete with those beautiful trees we cherish here in town (or what we have left of them after micro-bursts, kettle-bell snowfalls, etc.) I’m happy I have found what I craved all my life—a mix of city and country, a diverse population of people connected to the wider world and yet committed to this town. I love all the offerings of our shopkeepers. I love our social organizations and our cultural richness. I definitely found “my place.” 

I have worked in Video and Television Production for the last 20 years, doing corporate video, product introductions, and TV commercials for companies like Merecedes-Benz and Chubb Insurance. I also write, direct, and produce for the TV show “HouseSmarts” on NBC in the New York area.

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tracey diamond, brand specialist

It’s funny the things you remember when you find yourself actually going forward with the things you dream about doing.  When I was in high school we had to take a test filling in forms to figure out what would be the best career path to take or study in college.  I always was placed in the creative/artistic field.  I used to doodle on everything.  My school notebooks were always covered with drawings.  But the thing that I remember most about that was that whenever I was asked about what I wanted to do when I grew up, in my mind I always answered that I wanted to do something that would answer the question Why?  Why are things the way that they are?  And why are they not?  I was curious about everything.  I still am.

When my kids were young, I would tell people I was a stay-at-home mom by day and night, writer and artist by nap.  The creative arts have always been in my heart and a part of my every day in one way or another.  In my pre-momhood days, I worked in Advertising, Marketing and Graphic Design in various ways while also following my fine arts passions painting murals, creating set designs, teaching art lessons, developing a fashion line, assisting a photographer, writing children’s stories, to name a few.  So when I filed for divorce and was deciding where to raise my kids, Montclair was the only New Jersey town that made sense to me – the love of the arts, a school system that supports kids’ individual interests versus general education, and the focus of small businesses communities similar to our Vermont world – it matched no other.  

Being a part of the Montclair community has been an incredible journey for our little family as well as personally and professionally.  I could not have picked a better place to move to with my kids and am grateful for all this town has opened up to our worlds and the ways in which we have been able give back.  My son just graduated high school to be following his own passion in computer science and my daughter is pursuing her love in the performing arts all because of how living in Montclair has both embraced them and the opportunities the magnet school system opened to their worlds.  For myself, with our community’s open arms, I have been able to blend my artsy world with my degree to build a successful business as a graphic designer, Tracey Diamond Designs, where I focus on building brands and creating cohesive design for clients. 

My vision with Podclair - very much as the same as in being an artist - is to inspire others to look at the world around us with a new set of eyes and see our everyday surroundings in ways that we never imagined before………and get lost in the magic of our community for more than just a little while.

Every sound paints a picture…Every picture tells a story…Every story connects an image…Every image ignites the mind.

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tina cowles, guest contributor

Growing up in California and the Washington, DC area, I attended six elementary schools, including one outside San Francisco that was surrounded by tumbleweeds. My brothers and I would try to outrace the tumbleweeds, but they shifted around quickly, kind of like my life as I grew older. Moving to the Boston area for college, Chicago for grad school, and the South as I learned the TV news business—with a few pit stops in between—my life moved as quickly as those San Francisco tumbleweeds.

Eventually I followed my boyfriend to Manhattan, where I spent years living on too little sleep, a lot of work, and weekends (when I wasn’t working) rollerblading up Madison Avenue for brunch near Central Park. Once the rent hikes became our prime conversation, we scoured Brooklyn, acquainting ourselves with the streets, neighborhoods, and the best places to eat. One day, after one offer fell through, I saw a listing for a little white house “in some town called Montclair.”  We had no intention of moving to New Jersey or buying a house, but it was too snowy to rollerblade. A day later, we were caught up in a bidding war over a little white house in New Jersey—in that town called Montclair.  We couldn’t have picked a better place if we had tried.

Years later, we are still in that house, and it is the longest I have lived anywhere. I have overseen four renovations (which came in handy as a producer for a home improvement show) and started a million DIY projects and finished some of them. Our kids bike all over town (their rollerblades lasted about a week) and they are filling the basement with art projects, sports equipment, and laundry. It is amazing how many places there are still to discover or interesting people to meet, just when I thought I knew Montclair!

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Aisha harris, guest contributor

 I am a third-generation resident in Montclair, NJ. I attended Montclair schools, and participated in the Montclair High School Cross Country/Track and Field team for three years. I have always appreciated growing up here, and the history it holds. This town has always been home. When I bump into an unfamiliar person in a store or on the street, they often recognize me from a family member.

I remember leaving for college to Centenary University, and feeling a bit of separation anxiety. Deep down, I wanted to continue pursuing my education in Montclair, since I had attended Montclair schools; this was my comfort zone. However, I was eager for a new environment, change, different people, new everything. The beauty of attending Centenary was having both. I went to class during the week and worked in Montclair on the weekends. I loved it!

Montclair has always been a warm and safe place to come home to. I enjoy the people in my space here, the experiences I have acquired, and the people I have met. There are a few eatery places in Montclair I enjoy such as Villa Victoria, Red Eye, Alan's Deli, Le Salbuen Cafe, Falafel Hut, etc. There are also a few stores in town where I love to shop such as Dem Two Hands, Urban Outfitters, and Oasis.

When I first learned about the idea behind Podclair, I thought it was a great idea, as it will fill in the gap or answer unknown questions about new and old businesses in Montclair. People who move to Montclair from other places are eager to learn more about what the town has to offer. And this is what Podclair will provide.

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Sandra Silva, contributor

A digital and print designer living in Montclair, NJ. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design from Rutgers University in 2003. Sandra also earned her Masters of Fine Arts from New Jersey City University in 2007. Sandra is currently working as a Marketing Manager and as a Freelance Designer for a variety of clients including the Montclair Center BID. You can find her behind her computer, at Starbucks locations ordering her “must have” latte’s, creating digital art and organizing art events.