Joe Collier traveled from his home in the North Ward to Joe's Shoe Shop on Halsey Street in Newark to get his favorite alligator shoes shined and repaired.
A lifelong resident of the city, the 60-year disabled Army Vietnam veteran and father of three has seen it all. But what he sees unfolding on Halsey Street is unfamiliar.
"They are fixing things up down here because they are really trying to get the people with money to come back to Newark. Times have changed. Nothing stays the same. Nothing," Collier said as he put his freshly shined alligator shoes back on. "And people are going to come back."
In June, Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State held a town hall forum at NJPAC asking the question: Is Newark gentrifying? On Halsey Street, at least, it seems to be headed in that direction.
In the shadow of the Prudential's new gleaming office tower, a very different Newark is quickly emerging with new and soon-to-open shops and eateries that contrast with Halsey Street fixtures like Joe's Shoe Shop.
Diagonally across the street from Joe's on the corner of Halsey and Cedar streets is building recently renovated as part of Prudential's wholesale remake of a two-block swath of the neighborhood. The front of the stores are whitewashed, with bright crimson awnings over the upper windows of the two-story building.
Scheduled to open in the fall in a space previously occupied by Queen Pizza is Ron Tomson, a high-end, Los Angeles-based men's haberdashery, which sells men's blazers for upward of $350 and jeans for $165. It's the kind of fashion retailer you'd expect to see in SoHo, not downtown Newark.
"They're opening up the new Prudential building right in front of us. That's why the guys coming across the street think they can sell clothes for that much," said Ghanaian immigrant Joe Adade, who has run Joe's Shoe Shop for the last decade.
Ghanaian immigrant Joe Adade, who has run Joe's Shoe Shop on Halsey Street for the last decade.
Joe's shares space in a two story building renovated long ago that is also home to Beauty in Everyone, where wigs, specialized African-American hair products and blow dryers line the walls and the Corporate 99-cent store, where an eclectic selection of sandals, spaghetti sauce, greeting cards and Krazy Glue is arrayed on display.
All the storefronts in the building have metal gates that are promptly drawn at 6 p.m. as business crowd clears out, while the new buildings across the street have large windows with no gates, an optimistic sign from those investing in Newark.
A few storefronts from Joe's, Jimmy John's gourmet sandwich shop just opened, the first national restaurant chain on Halsey north of Raymond Blvd. Further north on Halsey, a Whole Foods is planned for the ground floor of what was Hahne's department store.
Adade said he hoped his new neighbors invigorate the local economy and change the economic game for him and for Halsey Street.
One side of Halsey Street, where Joe's Shoe Shop is located.
"I don't know the future, and I hope for the best," Adade said. "I love competition. When you have competition, that makes you think, then that makes your business grow. You learn what to do."
Collier, who lives in government-subsidized housing, seemed to accept the inevitable changes coming on Halsey Street.
"It's all about putting more money into the economy here in Newark, and then you draw more people and more money in. People will want to buy property, especially if they're not afraid anymore of being robbed or stuck up," Collier said. "Then the good people will come in.
"As for the good people who are still here, it's their choice," Collier said, his alligator shoes shining brightly. "Nobody is going to put you out. But, it is what it is. Some things you can't change. That's life. Either you're going to be in it, or you're going to be out of it. The choice is yours."
The emerging Halsey Street, where Ron Tomson is scheduled to open in the fall.