Goodbye, 2020: 16 People and Places West Chester Lost This Year

Let’s take a minute to say farewell to 2020 and some of the people and places it took with it.

For the past few weeks, I have avoided year end lists and annual recaps. This has not been a year on which I’ve wanted to reflect or worse yet, relive. I am ready to say goodbye to 2020. But as much as I’d like to leave it all behind, I thought it would be remiss not to take a minute to remember all that we lost this year. While some were fleeting, many were West Chester fixtures, leaving their indelible marks on the Borough.

Here you are – the one and only recap you will see from me this year: 16 people, places and things we said goodbye to in 2020. If I missed any, and I am sure I did, please add them to the comments so we can all pay our respects.

Restaurants

“We want to thank everyone who’s come in and enjoyed a cup of coffee with us over the past 12 years.”

Starbucks on Gay & High via Instagram
High Street, West Chester, PA.
Starbucks a cornerstone of the High and Gay Street intersection closed this year.

While in general West Chester restaurants have fared pretty well this year, chain-restaurants which were pretty limited to begin with seem to have taken a disproportionate hit when it came to losses. Here’s a look back at some of the restaurants we said goodbye to this year.

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. No word yet on what will replace the fast food giant but rumors suggest it could be a Starbucks (although right now it seems every open location is rumored to be a Starbucks. Speaking of…).

Also shuttering their doors, Starbucks on Gay and High Streets. This May the Seattle-based chain closed its doors on the Borough after twelve years. Rumor has it they may be looking to make a return to the Borough in the base of the new 44 West building (or the now closed Burger King building) but nothing has been confirmed yet. In the meantime, there are plenty of quality coffee options left in the Borough.   

La Forno Pizza, 701 W. Nields. Perhaps this shouldn’t be much of a surprise as this W. Nields Street location has a tendency to chew up restaurants and spit them out, but 2020 proved to be too much for this pizza joint. La Forno opened in 2019 to overall reviews were good, but in the end that was not enough to weather a pandemic. A new option, West Chester Pizza Cafe, has taken the location in hopes of breaking the trend.   

To Spicy Pig Cafe, 234 W. Market Street. It took until nearly Thanksgiving but downtown West Chester finally (sort of) recorded its first pandemic related restaurant closure this fall. Spicy Pig Cafe closed in mid November only to be quickly replaced by Cirillo’s Artisan Pizza. Both restaurants are helmed by Bob Mersereau, Jr. who will give the location another go, this time as a pizza parlor. We were only there for breakfast but I was pleasantly surprised both times. 

Downtown

“I’m proud to have been part of a great team which has provided the energy, leadership, and resources for an economic renaissance in downtown.”

Malcolm Johnstone, former Executive Director of the West Chester Business Improvement District
Party venue ideas in West Chester, PA
This summer we said goodbye to Mr. Johnstone who is credited for bringing people back to downtown (here the Chester County Historical Society – which we also said goodbye to this year.)

To Malcolm Johnstone. After nearly two decades helming the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) and overseeing an impressive revitalization of downtown that started with a “dismal downtown” economy and culminated with West Chester receiving the Great American Main Street Award in 2017, Mr. Johnstone relinquished his post this summer taking a position instead at the Cultural Alliance of Chester County.  He was replaced by John O’Brien who came in with the ominous task of leading downtown through the grip of the pandemic. A tough act to follow but so far Mr. O’Brien is off to a very good start.

To the Chester County Historical Society. This year the place for all things Chester County and history reinvented itself to be more accessible to the community. As part of the reimaging, and rebranding came a new name, the Chester County History Center, new exhibits and a new membership option. Members will receive 15-month access to the center and invitations to special exhibits, like the new “Becoming Chester County.”

To Lulu’s Casita. A fave among the toddler set, the indoor play area/party destination/parent sanity break, has not been able to make a post COVID-19 return. While I could not get confirmation the close is permanent, their Ardmore location has been open since July and a customer facing business that doesn’t return calls or messages from their target demographic, isn’t a good sign. Will they return in 2021? Your guess is as good as mine but as of December 31, 2020, they are closed.  

To Level 13.  “Game over,” the esports gaming center stated in a May 19 post on its Facebook page before thanking fans and announcing they would be closing their High Street doors for good. The esports venue set up shop in the Borough at the end of 2018 and savored some success among the gaming crowd before succumbing to COVID-19 pressure this spring. 

To Jacqueline’s Boutique on Gay Street. Downtown newcomer Jacqueline’s was forced to close its store front not long after celebrating one year in the Borough. The exodus came so owner Jacqueline Tucker could attend to educating a couple of newy virtual students. Fortunately for fans of the funky boutique, online orders are shipping daily and appointments are available by appointment. 

To Old Soul Decor. In May, the Best of Main Line 2019 award winner was forced to close its Market Street doors – but don’t worry after months of “soul” (and location) searching, Krystal Reinhard has reopened at 171 Cedar Alley. The gorgeous space is open by appointment and on select weekends. “Old Souls” can follow Krystal on Instagram for the latest.

People

[Dr. C] seemed to have boundless energy and positivity which he poured into our school.”

Peggy Gastner, retired reading specialist, Stetson Middle School

This summer, Stetson Middle School unexpectedly lost its principal, Dr. Charles Cognato. “Dr. C” as he was known reportedly passed away peacefully in his sleep on June 1. A tribute to his memory was created by students and faculty and shared by the school district where he served as principal for 15 years. A scholarship has been established in his name and will help support students attending Bayard Rustin High School.

“He never walked away from the Borough, even when the Borough was less desirable.” 

Bernie Flynn, West Chester Borough Council on the passing of Jack McFadden

To West Chester restaurateur Jack McFadden. The well-loved entrepreneur who helped start West Chester’s revitalization in the 1990s passed away unexpectedly this September at the age of 72. Mr. McFadden is credited with bringing us such iconic establishments as The Restaurant and The Bar (now Kildare’s) and the Turks Head Inn and renovating 16 E. Gay Street which we all now know (and love) as the Classic Diner. Outside of West Chester he brought us the Marshalton Inn, 4 Dogs Tavern and The Gables. R.I.P. 

Sports 

“We will not associate with any organization that does not stand for equality, justice, and human dignity.”

YMCA of Greater Brandywine
Shortly after completing renovations to install a CrossFit gym at their Oscar Lasko location, the YMCA was forced to end its relationship with the program.

To CrossFit at the YMCA. Less than two years after opening its completely redesigned CrossFit gym at its Oscar Lasko location (1 E. Chestnut Street), the YMCA of Greater Brandywine terminated its relationship with the fitness program. The end came after CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman’s controversial tweets last summer regarding the death of George Floyd. While it’s not CrossFit by name, the Y continues to offer small group training at their downtown location.

To West Chester Baseball coach Jad Prachniak. Coach Prachniak announced last month he was stepping down after nine successful seasons with the Golden Rams. During his tenure, West Chester University’s baseball program racked up two national championships, two regional championships, two conference crowns and three PSAC Eastern Division titles. He will continue his coaching career as an assistant coach with the University of Delaware baseball program. The search for a new head coach is currently underway.

To Henderson High School’s Native American associations. The 2020 school year started with a new look for Warrior faithful. Over the summer, Henderson decided to remove any Native American associations from its Warrior nickname. The school kept the name but lost the feathers and imagery of a Native American warrior long associated with the logo.   

Events

turks head music festival free outdoor west chester pa
Hot, hot heat. Free music, lots of vendors. Always entertaining, always hot. Just not this year.

This is also the year we said goodbye to almost all (maybe all) signature West Chester events. From the Christmas parade to the Chili Festival to the Mother’s Day Run, it was just not a year to gather together in the Borough. 

Events we missed this year:

While there were a lot of goodbyes in 2020, it wasn’t all bad. We welcomed five new restaurants, found a teepee in a park, celebrated a bunch of new public art, shut down Gay Street and made it through it all with drinks to go. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year. This will be the last you’ll hear from me on 2020 but I’ll be back with the first Roundup of 2021 this Friday (at least I hope so.)

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester.

3 thoughts on “Goodbye, 2020: 16 People and Places West Chester Lost This Year

  1. Biggest loss for me? Sprout Music Collective. The most ambitious musical experiment in town. So many great memories in that cave. Not sure how they got away with their booze and their hours, but man they booked some great live music in there. I hope something similar returns soon…. Support Live Music.

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  2. We really missed the Spring & Fall Gallery Walks. They are such fun events and the chamber had the planning down to a science, even gratis umbrellas for the inevitable rain! These brought out great crowds, supported the arts and involved many types of businesses throughout town. Hosting zoom artist talks and Instagram Live events doesn’t even come close.
    Liz, The Art Trust

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