Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lakewood, N.J.'s fastest-growing town, is defined by its diversity 

On one block are Gelbstein’s Bakery, Bookman’s Kosher Meat and Poultry, and Schreiber’s Shoes, all owned and frequented by members of Lakewood’s large Orthodox Jewish community.

Down the street are Puebla Travel and Latin Music, El Nuevo Mexico Records and Panaderia Mexicana, which cater to the town’s growing Latino population.

By 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, the tempo shifts, as the Jewish-owned shops close for the Sabbath, but the pulse picks up in the Latino businesses.

Clifton Avenue is more than Lakewood’s Main Street business district. In this Ocean County community — named by the 2010 Census as the fastest-growing town in New Jersey during the past decade — the street is a microcosm of how the town functions, and a portrait of the residents who have turned this onetime iron foundry and resort town into Jersey’s boom town.

To the surprise of almost everyone outside of Lakewood, Census data released last week showed the township’s population soared by more than 32,000, from 60,352 residents in 2000, to 92,843 in 2010. The increase vaults Lakewood into the state’s top 10 list of most-populated towns, at number seven.

The 54 percent population increase, according to residents and community leaders in Lakewood, was fueled by growth in the Jewish community, the Latino community and a third group, senior citizens. The town’s African-American population, meanwhile, dropped slightly.

"There was a time when I was the only pizza place in town," said Moseh Lankray, 46, who has lived in Lakewood for 20 years and owns Pizza Plus. "With the growth, seven other pizza stores opened up."


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