What Does Moody’s Know About Collingswood?
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else for anything,” a long time Collingswood resident stated. “There: I can reduce news to 10-second sound bites and that’s all I have to say.” Maybe my “man on the street” poll had a bias: The street was Powell Lane, and the “men” (and women) were attendees of the Book Ball, a fundraising celebration to honor the Collingswood Public Library’s 100th birthday. Powell Lane is the very street on which all of the Lumberyard condos—the development that Moody’s Investors Service pointed to when lowering Collingswood’s bond rating recently—are built.
With the bond issue all over the news, I thought it would be the subject of every conversation at the party. It wasn’t. I had to bring it up, and when I did I was consistently met with responses like, “Collingswood is still going to be Collingswood. That cannot be taken away.” Many people said they’d rather focus on the recent Forbes article naming Collingswood one of the top 10 most transformed towns in the nation.
In the rush of media, I noticed that every article employed some kind of positive adjective next to Collingswood: “Hip Collingswood”; “Cool Collingswood”; “Much lauded Collingswood.” I couldn’t help but find it a bit ironic: The same articles that were attempting to illicit fear about Collingswood’s status applauded its status. The residents at the Book Ball spoke to the same concept: Collingswood is still awesome. I met a young couple who recently bought here. The wife’s response to the Moody label was a shrug of the shoulders: “We love it here. We’ve been here five years, and I’m already convinced we’ll die here.”
An 11-member rhythm and blues, horn-driven band got the dancing started right away. When the band took breaks it was all Springsteen, all the time. Decorations were book pages folded into origami roses, book pages made into incredible hanging chandelier-like ornaments, and everywhere you looked, books as centerpieces, books to accent each item at the silent auction, books and more books. Many folks were dressed as authors and many more as their favorite characters.
A couple in costume who have lived across from Knight Park for 30 years were just as glib about the bond issue as the newer residents. The husband said, “I’m not looking forward to my taxes going up, if they do, but what are we going to do? There’s no need or reason to worry about it. We have time.”
His wife, who I should note is from Sicily, said, “I love it here; it’s that simple. It is beautiful, and we have so many fabulous restaurants. It is so easy to go to Philadelphia, and I love Philadelphia, too.”
People noshed on donated food from those “fabulous” restaurants: chicken marsala, penne in a vodka sauce, peanut-encrusted pork loin and more. Maybe that’s why the most caustic remark I received was, “Aren’t we all broke? I mean, really?” (And I did hear a couple “Fuck Moody’s” as the night wore on and the open bar remained open.)
I tried to find a hater, I really did, but I just couldn’t. I circled the Mayor and different people who he spoke to throughout the evening, to see if anyone was attacking him, and they just weren’t. I talked to people I knew and stone-cold strangers, telling folks I wouldn’t use any identifying information if I used their comments. One woman said, “Look around you, look at this very moment, look at this community. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Quote me please!” and began to loudly and passionately spell her last name.
I thought I hit paydirt when I met a semi-retired couple who live in the Lumberyard condos. They complained of occasional noise from the downstairs restaurant and events, and a leak over a parking spot, but ultimately said, “It’s perfect. We love it here.”
One of my favorite kind of residents—the ones who grew up here, went away for college and career, and then came back when it was time to raise their own families—said, “I cannot see this affecting us in any real way. The rest of the country is in a recession as well, and I’m cautiously optimistic about both the country and Collingswood.”
Mayor Jim Maley, after telling me about shopkeepers coming out of their store the day of the Moody’s proclamation to give him a hug, is optimistic and unsurprisingly, has no caution, saying, “We’ll have this resolved by the end of the year.” And in true Jersey style, ended our talk with, “We’ll do what we gotta do.”