Lisa Sessa Ebert was born and raised in Maplewood and although now a resident of Springfield, she still spends most of her free time (and money) in Maplewood and South Orange. She is a Research Administrator at the College of Staten Island and a Nutritional Cleansing Coach with Isagenix International.
On a recent Saturday afternoon I was heading to Springfield Avenue in Maplewood to pick up some cupcakes at Gigi’s Cupcakes. While I visit “The Avenue” fairly often, it was a gorgeous late summer day and I decided to take my time and stroll along with my eyes open instead of rushing to a class or shop. In doing this, I was struck with the feeling that something exciting is happening here.
The first thing I noticed was an old chain link fence with a hand-knitted banner that reads “Beautify Me. Love, Springfield Avenue.” As I looked at it more closely, I thought about how lovely it is that some knitters got together and made something with their hands, expressing this beautiful sentiment in their work, and then hung it along this fence, on this Avenue, for no other reason other than to share some beauty and make us smile.
As I walked along, it became clear that there is an energy here, a vibrant and authentic vibe that leads me to the thought that if the Village is the “heart” of Maplewood, Springfield Avenue is surely its “soul.” Soul is defined as the essence or embodiment of a specific quality. Along Springfield Avenue that quality is surely Wellness.
Seemingly organically, a mecca of health-related shops have opened, owned mostly by creative locals who share a vision of serving a multicultural population with a variety of ways to feed our bodies, minds and souls.
As I strolled along I took note of many of them. At CKO, a kickboxing studio opened by resident Tara Connell, a group of 20 were sweating to Sharon Geraghty’s class, and I marveled at how she motivated and inspired this crew to new heights. I stopped into Eastside Fitness and saw a neighborhood gym without “large-gym” chaos and with very reasonable fees.
I entered Viva Z Club as a NIA class was in session and admired the creativity of the space and the class itself. I spoke to Nancy Adams who was taking the class and was a big fan of it, as well as of Lydia Kendall Miller’s Zumba, Bellydancing and other classes. Peaceful and meditative Shakti lured me into its gorgeous yoga space and marketplace where I love to peruse the meditative baubles, and next door I couldn’t help popping into my favorite healthy spot for lunch, Health Love and Soul, (HLS) where both meat eaters and non-meat eaters can find delicious and affordable options, and where I am forbidden to pass without picking up the homemade banana pudding. Tim Reynolds of The Gym on Springfield, located above Shakti and H.L.S., was one of the first to set up a fitness center on Springfield Avenue. Further down the street are Destination U.G.L.I.E. — for Uplifting, Goal-oriented, Life-changing, Intense, Exercise — and R.U.S.H. Fitness.
As I walked I saw more evidence of “knit bombing”: trees and street signs and fences that were wrapped in gorgeous knitted scarves. This place has soul. You can feel it. And after talking with many of the residents who have opened these establishments, I have no doubt the soul of Springfield Avenue comes from them, and from the many people who patronize and realize that this is a really cool place. Each shop has its own personality, but every person I spoke to was friendly and interested in what I had to say and each felt proud to be on the Avenue.
I found it inspiring to learn that many of the fitness centers come together to support each other and to embrace the variety of their offerings by sharing this information with their own patrons. For example, Viva Z Club carries CKO’s schedule and vice versa. That these operators recognize the value of sharing information and providing choices to consumers made is something to be celebrated.
The Springfield Avenue Partnership embraces the “Wellness” mecca and Julie Doran and Deb Colon work hard to be sure area merchants are heard and supported. As I finished my stroll, it hit me that Wellness in its truest sense is being served here. Its not just about physical fitness; it is about spirituality, too. It’s also about emotional health, feeling good and looking good. Wellness is about feeding our souls, whether it is through a cupcake at Gigi’s or Edo’s, a blow out from Fringe, a fresh and healthy lunch at H.L.S., a painting class at Express Yourself, a knitting circle at Knit Knack.
On Springfield Avenue you can feed your soul in ways as varied as the local residents who operate the establishments and the people who come to these places. And if you are like me, it feels really good to feed your soul in this way, among the colors and sounds and beats of Springfield Avenue, which reminds us to…”Beautify Me.”
Want to check out what Springfield Avenue has to offer? Come to HarvestFest on Sunday, October 12, full of arts and crafts, activities for kids, live entertainment and delicious food.
1925 Springfield Ave.
1914 Springfield Avenue
1933 Springfield Ave
1865 Springfield Ave.
Viva Z Club
1874 Springfield Ave.
Shakti Yoga and Living Arts
1861 Springfield Ave.
Health, Love, Soul (H.L.S.)
1859 Springfield Ave.
The Gym on Springfield
1861 Springfield Ave.
1883 Springfield Ave.
1874 Springfield Ave.
Express Yourself Studio
1877 Springfield Ave.
(Uplifting, Goal-oriented, Life-changing, Intense, Exercise)
1729 Springfield Ave.
10 Burnett Avenue (across from Walgreens)