For most people, Hopewell is more of a region than a downtown. That many institutions, from the newspaper to the school district, carry the designation “Hopewell Valley” goes a long way to supporting this idea.

Clark Reed, a developer, business owner, and member of Hopewell’s economic development commission, wants to change that. Reed looks out at East Broad Street, the heart of the downtown business district, and envisions a future tied to the town’s past.

Something ’50s, yet not; something small-town, yet hip. He wants to take the image of Hopewell as a pass-through town and region and make it into a destination, particularly for diners who want to walk around a nice little town after a world-class meal.

When Reed looks at Broad Street, where his newest business, a Thai restaurant named Da’s Kitchen, sits, he already sees the transformation happening.

The very fact that downtown Hopewell has a Thai restaurant, speaks volumes for the town’s growing cultural awareness. Open for only a few months, Da’s already is a weekend hotspot for townies and, more importantly, for people who aren’t just passing through Hopewell to points elsewhere.

Da’s is part of a set of businesses that have popped up in Hopewell in the past decade that aim to turn the town into a park-and-walk destination with lots of options. At the forefront of Hopewell’s renaissance are the restaurants.

Reed says the town is becoming known as a dining destination to rival the glory days of Trenton’s restaurant district, and that the restaurant that started it all is the Brothers Moon. The Brothers Moon, owned and operated in part by executive chef William Mooney, opened in 2001 and has since built a solid reputation as a fine dining establishment.

From this toehold, says Reed, other restaurants catering to a range of diners have entered the picture — from the upper-scale establishments such as the Blue Bottle Cafe‚ and the Bell & Whistle to the casual, take-a-break ambiance of Nomad Pizza and Boro Bean coffee house.

With this dining destination reputation established, Reed is most excited about where Hopewell is going from here. He is particularly excited about the projected May opening of Double Brook Farm’s store.

Double Brook, a project of ex-Wall Street financier Jon McConaughy and his wife, Robin, is taking the corporate approach to humane, local farming. The McConaughys have constructed a vertically integrated business — one which operates the entire spectrum of an industry, from resources to products sold to the public — based on the idea of growing produce and raising animals for food to be sold through a market. In late summer, Double Brook is expected to open its own restaurant (U.S. 1, July 13, 2011).

Robin McConaughy says that she and her husband envision the store and restaurant as gathering places, not just as outlets for home-grown products. The McConaughys are still putting the finishing touches on the regulations and permits, and a wet winter has set things back some for them, Robin says. But the store should be opened in about two months and the restaurant will likely have its soft opening in August or September.

Also expected to open in a few months is Reed’s newest business, Jack & Charlie’s 23, an ice cream shop named after his two sons (and offering 23 flavors), situated directly next to Da’s and a few doors down from Reed’s original retail business, the Paddle Company.

The Paddle Company supplies gear and equipment for paddle sports, from ping-pong to platform tennis (which is a lot like regular tennis, but with a little squash thrown in), and does particularly good business with U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East.

Reed says he has always been the athletic, sports-fan sort, a quality that seems to have served him well in his previous career as a floor trader at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. Reed was born in Hopewell and grew up on Hamilton Avenue, where his father, Don, lived for 25 years.

Don Reed, a 30-year financial professional who retired in 1994 as the senior managing director for Bear Sterns in charge of initial public offerings, was also a trustee of McCarter Theater and, as his son would be, a graduate of Villanova University.

Clark graduated in 1996 with a degree in marketing and took six months off to go biking and traveling through Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sumatra, Malaysia, Bali, and, of course, Thailand. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Reed says. “Everybody was going to Europe; I wanted to go to Asia.”

The experience, he says, turned him from a boy into a man. It also gave him a serious taste for Thai food that would come into play about 15 years later, when Reed met Da Detoro, a Thai master chef who ran a restaurant inside the Princeton YMCA.

Reed was so impressed with her food that he asked “What would it take for you to come to Hopewell?” Detoro answered “A state-of-the-art kitchen,” which Reed then supplied. He would not comment on how much it cost to put Da’s together.

The restaurant opened last year. It is Reed’s first, an experience he says is “a little like being shot out of a cannon. I didn’t realize the fervor there would be.”

Well before Reed got into the restaurant game, however, he went to the west coast, where he spent 1997 to 2003 at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He returned home in 2003, when his father died, an experience that Reed says profoundly affected him.

For one thing, he knew he was “just done” with the stock exchange, so he decided to get into business in his old stomping grounds. “San Francisco wasn’t the life I wanted,” he says. “Hopewell is the life I want.”

Reed got involved in real estate and operates Reed & Sons, a development business that is part of what he says is a much larger movement to renovate downtown Hopewell. He owns three commercial buildings that contain 17 residential apartment units.

The building that houses Da’s and its attached neighbor, the Peasant Grill, once housed a bait-and-tackle shop and a flower shop; around the corner is Angel Paws, a pet shop that, like so many buildings in the old part of Hopewell, was built on a foundation of oyster shells, the 19th century way to lay the base of a house.

More than his own renovations, Reed sees the future of Hopewell’s growth right under everyone’s feet. A million-dollar sidewalk grant from the state literally has paved the path for Hopewell to become a walk-around town. Outside Da’s, and on several corners stretching along Broad Street, newly laid, brick-trimmed sidewalks connect a growing number of shops and restaurants.

Reed says the renaissance of Hopewell is largely being made possible by such beautification grants, and by a collection of “six or seven guys” like himself and Jon McConaughy who are taking an active approach to renovating the downtown’s buildings and image.

Curiously, though, Hopewell’s makeover as an up-and-comer is colored with a hefty dose of the past. Reed often speaks of Hopewell as a town able to hang onto a 1950s sense of Americana. “There are a lot of third, fourth, and fifth-generation people here who care for and guard the town,” he says. These people have managed to keep the town’s traditions as it has developed.

Hopewell does have a rich Colonial history that has been much of its stock and trade over the years. The development of the town can be traced back to a 30,000-acre parcel of land owned by the British Royal Governor of West Jersey in the late 1600s.

Hopewell also claims its very own signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hart (who, incidentally, also was connected to the Scudder family, whose name still resonates in towns that abut the Delaware River). And, though he had nothing to do with the American Revolution, sawmill owner James Marshall also came from Hopewell. If you don’t know Marshall’s name, you know what he started — it was his discovery of gold in the California mountains in 1848 that kicked off the Gold Rush.

The town’s Historical Committee monitors new projects in an effort to keep the character of Hopewell intact. There is, therefore, no model on which Hopewell is basing its revival. It does not want to be Princeton, nor Lambertville, nor anywhere else. Reed says there is a concerted effort to retain Hopewell’s Colonial heritage and that of its boom times, the industrial 1950s, when the town expanded as an alternative to city life in Trenton.

As Hopewell grows, it is significantly aided by its geography. For one thing, Hopewell is situated directly between Princeton and Lambertville, two highly visited destination towns. If nothing else, this means that a good number of people see Hopewell on the way to and from those destinations.

But the internal layout of the town also helps a lot. Broad Street is not just called Broad Street for want of a better name. It actually is quite wide, which it had to be, says Reed, because it used to carry the town’s trolley lines.

As a result, Hopewell trumps Princeton and Lambertville in parking. Hopewell has ample street parking, and it’s all free — something Reed says is conducive to the get-out-and-walk (and don’t be in a rush to get back to your car) image the town is trying to build.

Also helping Hopewell’s rebirth, Reed says, that no such movement happened before the bottom fell out of Wall Street a few years back. Unlike its neighbors, particularly Pennington and Lawrence, Hopewell did not go through a building or renovation boom only to see it pop along with the bubble in 2009. From a more grounded perspective (and a foundation not now concerned with debt), Hopewell is a good bet, Reed says.

To live in town, as opposed to just drive in to have dinner there, is a slightly different picture. Not a lot of people move out of Hopewell, and as a result, there are relatively few houses for sale.

Taxes and amenities rival those of neighboring towns, so while it is pricey to live in Hopewell, particularly near its downtown business district, it is not more so than any other well-off town in central New Jersey.

Reed is not well-versed in residential real estate trends downtown, but he does have an eye on the commercial trends. He says he is “possibly” planning more development on his own, and knows that among those six or seven guys moving Hopewell forward, there is talk about renovations and redevelopment all around. He expects to see more shops of all kinds and a more continuous line of businesses from one end of East Broad Street to the other end of West Broad Street.

In the meantime, Reed is going to forge ahead with his brand of capitalism and nostalgia. He helps run Cruise Nights — no dates have been announced yet for this year — that showcase antique and classic cars and which will run more frequently this year than in years past. And he is, to a large degree, a spokesman for Hopewell, which he says is poised to make a name for itself this year.

“This,” he says, “will be the summer of Hopewell.

#b#Hopewell Real Estate Listings#/b#

As of March 7, there were 63 houses for sale in Hopewell Borough and Township. The more expensive ones tend to ring the rural parts of the township. Like Bordentown, there are two distinct Hopewells — the borough and the township.

The borough is Hopewell’s historic district, where most of its Colonial ties still hold. Currently on the market are:

54 Columbia Avenue: Built 1972. Colonial. Four bedrooms, two full baths $450,000. Taxes: $10,914. Listed by Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International-Princeton.

100 East Prospect Street: Built 1951. Cape Cod. Four bedrooms two full baths. Wrap-around porch; hardwood floors; brick gas fireplace; large picture window; formal dining room with vaulted ceiling; ornamental fish pond; fenced and tree-shaded backyard. $425,000. Taxes: $9,454. Listed by Keller Williams Real Estate-Princeton.

72 Model Avenue: Built 1891. Victorian. One bedroom, 1.5 baths. Remodeled kitchen filled with raised paneled cabinetry; center island with eating area; powder room; laundry area and atrium door to side yard patio. $359,000. Taxes: $7,715. Listed by Weidel Realtors-Pennington.

64 Washington Avenue: Built 1957. Ranch. Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths. New tiled bathrooms; new oil tank in the basement; new carpeting; living room with hardwood floors; wood burning fireplace and picture window. $340,000. Taxes: $4,431. Listed by Gloria Nilson Realtors Real Living.

149 Lambertville-Hopewell Road: Built 1976. A-frame. Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths. Three levels; great room; two-story brick fireplace; upstairs master retreat with loft; bedroom and half bath. $369,000. Taxes: $10,095. Listed by Callaway Henderson.

63 Columbia Avenue: Built 1893. Three bedrooms, 1 bath. Being sold “as is,” original hardwood floors; high ceilings; bulls eye trim; back and side porches; detached garage. $278,000. Taxes: $4,147. Listed by Weidel Realtors-Pennington.

25 Princeton Avenue: Two-story single family. Three bedrooms, two full baths. Completely renovated with wine cellar in the old cistern; great room with sitting and dining areas; wood pine floors; unfinished third story suitable for a play room, craft room, study, or storage area. $380,000. Taxes: $3,367. Listed by Gloria Nilson.

10 Eaton Place: Built 1986. Single family. Three bedrooms, 2.5 baths. $334,750. Taxes: $3,674. Listed by Thomas P. McGann.

104 West Prospect Street: Ranch. Built 1980. Two bedrooms, two baths. Tiled floor entrance; living room with high efficiency wood burning stove; new oak laminate floors and Andersen picture windows in living room and dining room; large kitchen with tiled floor and breakfast area; over sized garage. $328,900. Taxes: $3,536. Listed by Weidel Realtors-Pennington.

72 Model Avenue: Two-story single family. Built 1891. Four bedrooms, 1.5 baths. Covered front porch; living room with wood stove and large formal dining room; large remodeled kitchen with raised paneled cabinetry; second floor with pine floors and four bedrooms. $359,900. Taxes: $3,786. Listed by Weidel Realtors-Pennington.

125 West Prospect Street: Two-story single family. Built 1951. Four bedrooms, 2.5 baths. Etched glass front door; two-story foyer; living room with Delaware River stone fireplace; 30×12 eat-in kitchen with custom cherry cabinets, granite counter tops and sliding glass doors to wrap-around deck; radiant floor heat, hardwood floors, two master suites with sitting areas; custom tile floors in master bath; whole house speaker system. $699,500. Taxes: $7529. Listed by Sotheby’s International Realty.

3 Newell Place: Open lot. A building lot on a quarter-acre cul-de-sac. Fully approved by Hopewell Borough for new construction. $149,000. Listed by Weidel Realtors-Hamilton Square.

85 Columbia Avenue: House listed as an as-is tear down. 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. 7,840-square-foot lot. Buyer responsible for tear down. $229,000. Listed by Sotheby’s International Realty.

Hopewell

#b#Facts & Figures#/b#

People. According to the 2010 Census, Hopewell combined has a population of 4,767; 1,922 in the borough. The sexes are split almost perfectly in half, and the median age of a Hopewell resident is 47. Average household income is roughly $112,000 a year.

Schools: Hopewell has six schools in its district, all of which tend to rank highly in the state. The Hopewell Valley Regional School District, which serves Hopewell and Pennington, ranked No. 38 (out of 322) on NJ Monthly’s 2010 rankings of school districts in New Jersey.

It was second only to the West Windsor-Plainsboro system in Mercer County schools.

Bear Tavern Elementary serves children in the Titusville section and western reaches of Hopewell Township. Children living in historic Borough of Hopewell attend Hopewell Elementary.

Sixth-through-eighth grade students from throughout Hopewell Valley attend Timberlane Middle School. It shares a campus with Hopewell Valley Central High School, which serves all district students.

Government. Hopewell Borough has an elected mayor and a council that consists of six members, each elected to three-year terms. The township has a five-member committee that selects its mayor annually.

On the federal level, Hopewell is in the 12th Congressional district, and on the state level, it is in the 15th Legislative District.

Honorable mention. There is talk (and has been for years) of reopening Hopewell as a commuter train stop, connected to Trenton, New York, and Philadelphia. Rail service to and from Hopewell began in 1874 and ended in 1982.

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