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Dumont, N.J.: A ‘Modest Town’ Where $500,000 Still Goes a Long Way

At the main crossroads in Dumont, in northern New Jersey, stands a sandstone Reformed church dating to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Just up Washington Avenue, a Revolution-era homestead survives as the public library. Next to the freight-train tracks is a diner thought to be the oldest in the state.

Dumont, an unassuming borough of two square miles, values its history and relative anonymity.

“Lots of people don’t know about Dumont because it isn’t near highways or advertised on highway signs,” said Indira Monegro, 42, a registered nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, who moved to town last year. “When I tell people where I live, they ask, ‘Where the heck is that?’”

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Ms. Monegro and her husband, Jose Monegro, 43, a professional D.J., are like many buyers who find their way to Dumont: budget-conscious New Yorkers. The couple and their two sons previously rented an apartment in the Bronx. They looked at more than 50 houses in Bergen County, where Mr. Monegro has relatives, before paying $420,000 for a well-tended three-bedroom Cape Cod a block from the combined elementary-middle school that their younger son now attends.

In Dumont, the family has found an ethnically diverse community that is also so close-knit that Mr. Monegro has grown his handyman sideline beyond his expectations. “After we moved in, I was building our shed and a neighbor asked if I could do work at his house,” he said. “Now I’ve worked in more than 100 homes in town. Word travels like wildfire here.”

The Monegros excuse what some might consider an inconvenient location. “For us to get to Route 4” — the way to the George Washington Bridge — “it takes 15 minutes,” Mr. Monegro said. “Most of these towns, the highway is right there. But I wouldn’t trade it.”

Bill Beckett, the broker-owner of McSpirit & Beckett Real Estate, in nearby Tenafly, describes Dumont as “a modest town, in the best sense of the word” — and the rare place in northeastern Bergen County where a budget in the $500,000s goes far.

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“Dumont tends to be more cohesive, because of its small size and centralized layout,” Mr. Beckett said. “It’s almost square-shaped, with a center of town and an elementary school in each corner. For those with small children, it’s a manageable scale.”

With plans to start a family — and stung by the home prices on Long Island, where they grew up — Carolyn Cresci and Craig Boiarsky also bought a Cape Cod in Dumont one year into the pandemic, theirs with four bedrooms. Ms. Cresci, 30, a digital fund-raiser, and Mr. Boiarsky, 25, a data analyst for a media company, moved from a rental in Jersey City, N.J.

“There were 16 offers on this house, and I have no idea how we got it for what we paid” — $460,000, or $41,00 over the asking price — “but we feel grateful,” Ms. Cresci said. “We bought it from a family of six who upgraded to a bigger house. Their kids were upset about leaving — but they stayed in Dumont. That speaks volumes about the community.”

With an empty refrigerator on their first night there, Ms. Cresci and Mr. Boiarsky searched on Google for a place to eat and wound up two blocks over, at Grant Street Cafe, a convivial place known for craft beer and thin-crust pizza — the sort of watering hole one might find in Jersey City or Hoboken. “Now we go there once or twice a week for drinks or dinner,” Ms. Cresci said.

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Dumont, 18 miles from Midtown Manhattan and five miles from the shopping malls of Paramus, has about 18,000 residents and a median household income of $107,172, a shade above the county median. Its immediate neighbors are two boroughs with similar demographics — Bergenfield and New Milford — and the more-affluent Haworth and Cresskill.

Two-lane Washington Avenue, running north-south, and two-lane Madison Avenue, running east-west, are the principal thoroughfares. They meet where the steeple of Old North Reformed Church rises over a suburban landscape of Capes and older colonials on 50-foot-wide lots, and garden apartments built for soldiers returning from World War II. Larger properties — mostly split-levels — are concentrated in the far north, near Haworth.

The eclectic offerings in Dumont’s cozy central business district include a cobbler, a coffee-bean seller, a vintage clothier and a hardware store that advertises live bait (the Oradell Reservoir, a fishing destination, is nearby). They are augmented by a Stop & Shop supermarket at the Bergenfield border and a strip mall at the Cresskill border.

Acknowledging that downtown is dated and needs additional parking and perhaps even an ice cream shop — something Dumont used to have — Andrew LaBruno, the mayor, said the borough has engaged with a planner to look into possible redevelopment and revitalization.

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“We need a little sprucing up to make the town more lively, and look for ways to entice people to come to Dumont and spend some money here,” Mr. LaBruno said, while admitting that “50 percent” of residents like things the way they are and don’t want change.

New Jersey Multiple Listing Service data show that from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, 208 single-family houses sold in Dumont at a median price of $480,000; a year earlier, 192 single-family houses sold at a median price of $450,000. On April 20, the listing service’s website showed 14 single-family houses for sale, priced from $369,900 to $619,000.

Dumont’s average annual property tax bill was $11,893 in 2021, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, 4.5 percent less than the county average.

At the borough’s newest apartment community, the 146-unit Washington Promenade, which opened in 2020 on a former agricultural property, rents range from $2,405 to $3,450.

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With more than 15 parks and playgrounds, an arboretum running parallel to the railroad tracks and a private swim club, Dumont is decidedly family friendly. The green spaces are backdrops for festivals, summer movies and concerts, and an annual 5K race.

“Dumont’s one of those towns that really hasn’t changed much,” said Karen DeMarco, who grew up there and runs a Facebook community group and, with her husband, Carmine, a regional food distribution charity from a local church. The couple moved to Dumont from Ridgefield, a Bergen County borough crossed by highways, 15 years ago, when their three children were young.

“The whole idea of being able to let your kids get on their bikes and ride in the neighborhood without you panicking — that’s Dumont,” Ms. DeMarco said.

The dining scene skews casual. Besides Grant Street Cafe, in a small retail cluster north of downtown, choices include Fink’s BBQ Smokehouse, for pit-smoked meats; Denaro’s, for submarine sandwiches; XO Taco & Bar, for Mexican food; La Taberna, for steak and tapas; a pair of Italian restaurants and a pair of sushi spots. But for longevity, no place beats the tiny, memorabilia-filled, circa-1920s Dumont Crystal Diner, as much a landmark as the old church steps away.

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Of the 2,468 students in the public school district, 46 percent identify as white, 32 percent as Hispanic, 16 percent as Asian and 4 percent as Black.

There are four elementary schools: Grant, in the northeastern quadrant; Honiss, in the southeast; Lincoln, in the southwest; and Selzer, in the northwest. Honiss and Selzer also house the middle-school grades, sixth through eighth.

Dumont High School, near downtown, enrolls 785 students. In 2020-21, average SAT scores were 554 in reading and writing and 558 in math, versus 557 and 560 statewide.

From Dumont, New Jersey Transit buses reach the Port Authority in Manhattan in about an hour; the fare is $6 one way or $167 monthly. There is no passenger train service.

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Dumont was incorporated in 1894 as Schraalenburgh, an old Dutch name some residents thought unfashionable. After four years, the borough was renamed for the mayor, Dumont Clarke, a New York banker.

During World War I, much of Dumont was taken up by 770-acre Camp Merritt, a staging area for soldiers bound for European battlegrounds. Some 570,000 men, including Harry S. Truman, passed through before boarding transport ships in Hoboken, N.J. The 65-foot granite obelisk in the traffic circle at the Dumont-Cresskill border memorializes the 578 soldiers, nurses and civilians who died at Camp Merritt during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

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