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Food Court (Formerly Ridgewood), NJ

Towns That Might As Well Go With What They’ve Got

By JIM TOSONE

Published in the Sunday New York Times on June 24, 2001

The Village of Ridgewood. A town of charming center-hall colonials, schools that are thought to be way-stations to the Ivy League, and restaurants that are rated Excellent. And restaurants rated Good. And restaurants rated Fair.

According to my count, Ridgewood’s business district has 61 restaurants—and 62 parking spaces. On a typical Saturday evening, you circle the block in your Jeep Grand Cherokee in search of a parking space, ready to swoop in for the kill. On the following Saturday evening, you finally find a space. If you’re an early diner, you must calculate the amount of money to put in the parking meter with same care you use when fine-tuning your asset allocation model. You then duck into the Ridgewood Wine Seller for a quick purchase, since many Ridgewood restaurants still have not figured out whom to bribe for a liquor license. And after the mandatory 15- to 20-minute wait in the doorway of your favorite restaurant, you’re escorted to a table.

The sheer number of dining establishments in Ridgewood has transformed the business district and driven out other types of businesses. Those who see this as a problem fall into three groups: town officials, who see everything as a problem except for the problems they create; restaurant owners, who do not see it as a problem until after they’ve opened their restaurant; and restaurant patrons, who somehow manage to believe this is a problem while complaining about there being “no place to eat around here.”

Ridgewood’s restaurant situation raises a larger question. Why should all New Jersey towns struggle to be all things to all people? Why not have each town dedicated to one industry? There’s precedence elsewhere: Orlando for children’s entertainment, Silicon Valley for technology, Miami for drugs. It’s Adam Smith’s idea of specialization of labor.

And there’s only one way to ensure the free-market principle of specialization of labor. We must mandate it, we must make any alternative illegal, we must carve it in stone for all eternity. So I’m looking for a visionary state legislator (stop laughing) who is willing to sponsor a bill that would:

o Require that all restaurants in New Jersey be moved to Ridgewood and that the town be renamed the Garden State Food Court.

o Require that a translucent dome be built over Paramus, making it the world’s largest indoor shopping mall.

o Require that all local public schools be moved to Princeton. We’re paying Ivy League per-pupil rates for our kids’ education, so we might as well get a prestige town name thrown in. To transport our kids to Princeton each day, the state will confiscate all private buses currently used to haul the elderly to Atlantic City.

o Require that Atlantic City focus all of its efforts and attention on the gaming industry, while letting the rest of the city collapse. (Strike that. It’s already the policy.)

o Require that all local and county governments be moved to Trenton. This, along with moving the public schools, would provide us with true property tax relief, since our property taxes would then be zero. Sure, our state income tax will skyrocket, but that’s going to happen anyway.

o Require that all antiques, with the exception of Frank Lautenberg, be sold in the town of Chester.

o Require that anyone moving from Park Slope live in Montclair. This way they’ll already know their new neighbors, who moved from Park Slope last year.

o Require that all airports in New Jersey be shut down except for Teterboro. If this happens, the time for a Continental flight to Boston would be about eight hours—a one-hour improvement over the current flight time from Newark.

Specialization has the potential to make New Jersey a paradise on earth. And to those who ask where all the cars bound for these towns are going to park, I have but three words: the Pine Barrens.

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