Look up. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Christmas tree hanging above Saloon 151.

With so much going on around town, catch up on what you may have missed.  

It’s Friday, December 11.  Downtown West Chester records its first restaurant closure during COVID. Schools get ready to return to in person while everything else shuts down. Plus, a long list of goodbyes (and a few hellos), top West Chester athletes and a variety of hyper-local ways to give back this holiday season. Grab something hot, and let’s get started!

“Please help any of your favorite restaurants and bakeries!! We need you now more than ever.”

Mae’s West Chester on Facebook
Usually the most wonderful time of the year: West Chester businesses are doing all they can to survive the holiday season.

Main Street strong. It looks like the Borough may have its first official restaurant casualty of the pandemic. On Market Street where there once was Spicy Pig Cafe, there is now Cirillo’s Artisan Pizza. We were only there for breakfast but I was pleasantly surprised both times. 

After weathering most of the spring, summer and fall, it looks like winter will be the true test of the downtown business community especially after Governor Wolf instituted another 3-week, ban on indoor dining.

“Please help any of your favorite restaurants and bakeries!! We need you now more than ever,” Mae’s West Chester, a local farm-to-table cafe, wrote on Facebook shortly after the Governor’s announcement. 

To date the Borough has opened more restaurants than it closed in 2020 including four new establishments over the spring and summer, three more this fall and Stove & Tap is due to open later this month at the former Landmark location. While West Chester has so far been pretty lucky, a lot can change over the next three weeks. Keep an eye on your favorites, visit when you can. Like, share and leave reviews on Facebook when you can’t. Let’s keep the downtown something we are excited to head back to once this is finally over.

West Chester takes a bold public statement on voting rights.

Public art is on a roll in 2020. 44 West is looking to upgrade its plaza experience by adding a pair sculptures to an outdoor space already marked by an engaging fountain. One of the two sculptures, an interactive, welded steel creation by Chester County artist Lisa Fedon recently received approval by the Public Art Commission. The piece, titled Dimensional Truths, features movable parts meant to be manipulated by the public. The design is a tribute to the life of local developer Jack Loew who had the initial vision for the property before his passing in 2014. 

This is just the latest announcement in a year marked by an explosion of the public art initiatives from ad hoc chalk art to community collaboration on the barriers that marked the closing of Gay Street (and are now doing double duty in West Chester parks). The year started with a world of hearts in store fronts across the Borough this spring followed by big mysterious, disappearing displays from West Chester’s favorite unanimous street artist and culminated in a bold, mural marking the centennial of the Women’s Suffrage movement.  

I hope I don’t jinx this… According to an email that went out this morning from SuperIntendent James Scanlon, West Chester Area Schools are (fingers-crossed) returning to hybrid instruction on Monday. The decision to move forward with the return comes just after Governor Wolf enacted some pretty strict new lockdown measures affecting everything from indoor dining to gym use to holiday performances and after-school sports. While students will be in class, they will only be in class. All sports – school-led, intramural, and rec – are all paused until January 4, as are all clubs and theater groups. Meetings can continue but they must be virtual.  

There is also new, clear guidance as to when a school will close based on the number of presumed positive COVID-19 cases it has. Small schools (under 500 students) must close if they report 5 or more cases in 14 days; medium schools (500-900) will close at 7 or more; and large schools (900+) will close after 11 or more cases.

Big public meetings coming up. Including on the future of Business Improvement District.

Some more important dates. As we approach the midway point of the final month of the year, West Chester Borough is looking to cram in some last minute hearings before calling it a wrap on 2020. So mark your calendar now if any of these topics interests you. 

Public Hearing on the Real Estate Tax Increase: Tuesday, December 15, 6:45 p.m.

Recap: At their last meeting Borough Council, voted 6-0 to approve the 2021 budget as presented by Borough staff. In order to cover proposed expenditures in their entirety, a revenue increase was needed. This is coming in the form of a six percent real estate tax increase. Final vote on the tax will be help after Tuesday’s meeting.

Public Hearing on the Sewer Rate Increase: Tuesday, December 15, 6:45 p.m.

Recap: At their last meeting Borough Council, voted 6-0 to raise the sewer rate. According to the proposed ordinance: “effective February 1, 2021 the new sewer rate will be $30.11 for the first 2,000 gallons of water used and $7.99 per 1,000 gallons or any part thereof which exceeds 2,000 gallons.” Final vote on the tax will be help after Tuesday’s meeting.

Public Hearing on the Business Improvement District (BID): Tuesday, December 15, 7 p.m.

Recap: Every five years the Borough must review the plans for the Business Improvement District and reauthorize its existence for another five years. The Borough has reviewed and approved the presented plan and now it is your turn to weigh in, should you choose. 

Public Hearing on the COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance: Wednesday, December 16, 6:30 p.m.

Recap: On October 2 Mayor Dianne Herrin instituted an emergency order creating an outdoor mask mandate (when 6 feet of distance can not be maintained between you and someone outside your household) and capped indoor gatherings at 10 people. The issue was later taken up by Borough Council who voted 4 to 2 to turn it into a proper ordinance and keep it in place for 60 days. Well those 60 days are just about up so Borough Council will be reviewing the need to extend or end the ordinance. Of course, as the state just instituted the same measure, this may be a short hearing.  

The warnings. The Grinch is back. West Chester Area Police Department is reporting the Grinch has been seen back in the Borough. If you have any information or have seen the furry green fiend with a heart two-sizes too small, please notify the police on the post up above.

Also, keep an eye out for porch pirates. It’s that time of year again, where lots of easily snatched packages just prove too great a temptation for some. If you won’t be home when the package arrives, try to arrange for a neighbor or friend to pick it up for you so it doesn’t sit unattended on the porch for long.

Finally, watch what you throw in that recycling bin. After seeing costs rise because of contamination of its recycling stream, West Chester Borough announced last Friday it would be taking a closer look at recycling bins. Those that have non-compliant items in them will not be collected and instead will be marked with a bright green non-compliance notice. To keep your bin in line only include: flattened cardboard, metal cans, glass, paper and plastic bottle and jugs (plastics #1 and #2 only).  

Accolades. Congratulations to West Chester University whose early childhood education programs were recently ranked among the best in the nation. Not bad company to be in during a substitute teacher shortage.  

Also, high fives to West Chester fall athletes. It’s been an unusual year to say the least, but these talented individuals still managed to stand out. A round of applause to the following individuals on being named to the first team of a Ches-Mont All League team. 

Boy’s Soccer: National Division League MVP, Johnny Regester, East, First team: John Zurlo, Henderson; Ryan Cogill, East, Owen Van Dyke, East; Johnny Regester, East; American Division: First team: Judah Knaub, Rustin, Dimitri Makris, Rustin; Girls Volleyball: National Division, First team: Lizzie Carr, East; American Division, Emma Klanica, Rustin, Kara Kennedy, Rustin; Boys Golf: Ryan D’Ariano, Rustin; Dylan Kochis, Henderson; Josh Baker, Henderson; Eric Miller, Rustin; Girls Golf: Victoria Kim, East; Emma Guldi, Rustin: Girls tennis: National Division, Singles – Ella Tunnell, Henderson; Doubles – Ella Tunnell, Sophia Ming, Henderson; Nancy McSwain, Anna Dinacci, Henderson; Field Hockey: National division, first team: Gianna Cugino, Henderson, Kylie Patton, Henderson; Lauren Franco, Henderson; American division, First team; Morgan Becker, Rustin; Boys Cross Country: First team: Gavin Brophy, Henderson; Jack Davidson, wC Henderson; Girls Cross Country: First team: Amanda Kelly, Henderson; Jenna Mulhern, Henderson; Sofia Piccone; Rustin; Sonia Piombino, East; Liesl Scherrer, Henderson; Weronica Ziemniak, Henderson

West Chester University

Goodbye. To West Chester Baseball coach Jad Prachniak. Coach Prachniak announced this week he was stepping down after nine seasons with the Golden Rams. He will be continuing his coaching career as an assistant coach with the University of Delaware baseball program. A national search is now underway for his replacement. During Prachniak’s tenure – West Chester University’s baseball program racked up two national championships, two regional championships, and two conference crowns. Those are some big cleats to fill. 

West Chester University senior Antoine Lewis. In sad news, West Chester University Athletics shared this week that senior Health and Physical Education major and member of the men’s basketball team, Antoine Lewis, had passed away. Antoine was described as a “passionate and driven student” and “admired member of the men’s basketball team.” Antoine’s teammates at West Chester University have set up a GoFundMe page to assist the Lewis family with funeral expenses. They are just shy of their goal of $21,000 if any would like to help put them over the top.

We are also sad to report the passing of West Chester resident Amy Walp. Amy was very active in the West Chester community and integral in bringing the QVC/West Chester Christmas Parade to town each year. Amy is described as “kind and hard-working” by those who knew and worked with her and will be missed. If you would like to make a donation in Amy’s name, you can do so by giving to the WCU Foundation. All donations will go to the Amy Walp Memorial Color Guard Scholarship Fund.

To Burger King on High Street. A West Chester fixture since 1982 (rough estimate-based on Nextdoor memories) the fast food chain decided not to renew its lease when it came due this year. The closure aligns with the company’s plans to close hundreds of under-performing locations this year.  No official word yet what will replace it but rumors suggest it could be a Starbucks. Now if you want a Whopper you’ll need to head over to West Chester Pike.

Hello. To Cirillo’s Artisan Pizza. Yep, it looks like Borough now has another pizza option. I have yet to land on a favorite so maybe this will be the one. Cirillo’s located at 236 W. Market Street prides itself on creative combinations like, cream cheese, bacon and jalapenos or pear, arugula and goat cheese. 

Hello to Pine + Quill a new lifestyle boutique at 23 S. Walnut Street in the heart of the borough. According to their website, they specialize in high end and handmade decor and gifts. Just in time for the holiday season. 

Finally say hello to a new edition of the West Chester Press. After a six month hiatus the “Voice of the Borough” is back with a brand new December 2020 issue. In it you will find their 2020 gift guide – the West Chester-theme ornaments from the Visual Expansion Gallery are very cute – and the history behind the Public Library’s Holiday Home Tour. Check it out for yourself, here

“You can enjoy lights. You can smile even under that mask.”

Gavin Snyder, Rustin High School sophomore
Benchmark Federal Credit Union President and CEO Daniel J. Machon, Jr. (center) delivers gifts to Family Service of Chester County’s Amy DeFonzo and Margie Helms. Despite other changes in their work routines, Benchmark employees made sure to keep up their traditions of giving back to the West Chester community. Community partners like Benchmark have been particularly important this year.

Pay it forward. Pick your cause of choice and give if you can. Safe Harbor needs help to help all those in need; Salvation Army donations are down 40 percent; Toys for Tots is collecting through today and toys are still needed for the youngest Chester County residents (0-2 years old). 

Tonight will be the last night of in person dining for a while. If you are feeling safe and are able, help West Chester restaurants fill their (socially-distanced) tables. After tonight treat yourself to take out or holiday help (many restaurants are offering holiday meal packages) and go pick it up yourself so restaurants can save delivery fees.  

Or take a ride out to Route 202 at 895 S. Concord Road, where you will be greeted by thousands of lights and 45 holiday inflatables. The display is crafted by 16-year Rustin sophomore Gavin Snyder who is using it to raise money for the Chester County SPCA. He has set a goal of $3500. He raised $3000 last year. This is a COVID-safe holiday activity, so why not hop in the car and help him reach that goal?

Well, at least we have the tree.

The freakin’ weekend. What are you up to this weekend? We are finally getting around to putting up the outdoor lights. After going into the season, confident I was going to be one of those breaking out the decorations as soon as Halloween was put away, but we are instead later than usual. Oh, 2020.

However, I have plans to get that holiday spirit if I have to grab it kicking and screaming so we are going to take advantage of mild temps and try the West Chester Library Holiday Door Tour. Also, the Chester County Art Association is holding a Holiday Market just around the corner from us. It’s happening Friday through Sunday and vendors will be selling local hand-crafted items from booths both inside and out. Plus, food carts and art activities for the kids.  

Mark your calendars:

Christmas Eve Jingle – have you heard of this event? They are asking that on Christmas Eve at 6pm everyone come outside onto their doorsteps and ring a bell for 2 minutes to spread Christmas spirit and to help Santa fly his sleigh. It’s an online event, open to everyone but it has already garnered some interest among residents of the Borough. It could be pretty cool if everyone participated. Besides, it’s a pandemic. What else are you doing? 

Want some more good cheer? Word on the street is Santa can be spotted for the next two Saturdays riding around downtown on a fire engine. You’ll want to be there at 2:30 p.m. to assure your sighting.  

Hoping for a little sparkle this New Year’s Eve? Uptown is back with their year end celebration, and sure this year it will be virtual, but you can still expect a star-studded, entertainment-packed NYE Gala via livestream. There will be jazz and classical guitar, dueling pianos, broadway cabaret and a raffle. So break out your sequins and give your living room a little pizzazz this year – all while supporting a great cause. Get your tickets here.  

Plus, need a mental break from reality and want to focus on things to come? West Chester amazingly has five new restaurants in the works. Oh, let’s just count all the ways we’ll celebrate once this is all over!

Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

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