Catching Air in Montclair

PEOPLE come and people go. Their cars fill the parking lots and street spots and they scuttle between shops to run their errands. And in all that hustle, a heel gets hooked or a toe gets jammed and they come down hard on the chipped, aging sidewalks of upscale Montclair.

Jerry Leach sees them fall. He’s the Wackenhut security guard in front of Bank of America.

“I saw six people fall in three days,” he says, pointing to two sections of sidewalk between Albertson’s and the bank.

It’s nothing new. The Town Crier has reported numerous falls in Montclair, and had promises from Oakland’s Public Works Department and even the city manager that repairs would be made.

Yet, years later, nothing has been done. It seems the city would rather settle lawsuits than prevent them.

But Leach thinks that may change, at least in front of his post. Orange cones mark the spot where repairs will be made to the sidewalk and grocery store driveway. It’s the same spot where a woman went down, hard, on her shoulder and ended up going to the hospital. And it’s the place where a senior fell and hit his head, and the blood had to be cleaned up with napkins.

In every case, Leach was there to help and file reports on the incidents. That could be why the city is springing into action. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and we all need to squeak a little louder.

But a key incident occurred recently on a section of sidewalk just up the street, near the stone wall that surrounds Montclair Park. Leach said an elderly man was resting on the wall when he got up and tripped on the lip of the sidewalk.

“He fell forward and his head put a dent in the back quarter-panel of a Lexus that was parked nearby,” Leach said.

The car’s owner showed immediate concern, asking the man for his insurance information. His auto insurance. She had a dent and she wanted it repaired. I hope the man’s head was as easily fixed.

By the way, Jerry Leach couldn’t be more suited for his job. He’s worked 60 hours a week since last December’s armed robbery at the bank, patrolling the area, eyeing the park (where the robbers emerged) and keeping a lookout on everything in the neighborhood. Leach had military training in his youth and decided to put it to work when he retired from transportation sales in 2001. Nothing gets by him, (he wasn’t working security when the robbery occurred) and there hasn’t been an incident since he came to Bank of America.

Next time you see him, stop and say hello. He’s a great guy with a lot of good stories to tell. Just make sure you watch your step. You wouldn’t want to trip on the sidewalk.

SHOP TALK: Village Soundz has closed its doors on Mountain Boulevard next to the barber shop. Word is a pet supply store is opening up, which should be great for all the dogs that parade by there daily.

Meanwhile, reader Sharon Yale says there are new owners at Thornhill Coffee Shop.

“Jim and JoAnne Heider raised their children there,” she writes, and they were big boosters of nearby Thornhill Elementary School. I’ll feature the new owner in an upcoming column.

And Esther Torres has moved her popular skin rejuvenating center, Au Natural, across the street to a larger, better suited spot above La Salsa. Her grand opening last weekend was a lavish affair, catered by Montclair Bistro. Esther’s daughter, Monica, will join her mom at the new location (complete with a garden courtyard) as an aesthetician-manicurist.

PATCH WORK: Piedmont Avenue’s popular pumpkin patch (say that five times fast) is going back to its roots on Halloween. The developer of new luxury condominiums on the site, John Protopappas, says they’ll honor the memory of the autumn gourd by naming the complex Villa Zuccone, Italian for “house of the little pumpkin.” Twenty-six residential condos and two retail condos are slated for completion by August 2007, replacing the pumpkin patch and Christmas tree lot that operated there for some 30 years. Look for free pumpkins to be given away at the site this Halloween, in celebration of the lot’s long-standing tradition.


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