Small events, like more downtown lights, took the place of larger events like the Christmas parade this year.

This year was marked by a number of things that never were: a curbside composting program that collapsed before it could begin; an Amazon warehouse that looked to be a solution to a brownfield site only to disintegrate under the details of a business transaction; a return of rail – a return to normal – none of which came to be.  

We also found ourselves saying goodbye to a fair number of local leaders in education, government and sports. And of course, there were the closures. For a surprisingly long time, West Chester seemed to be insulated from the business effects of COVID. Retail and restaurant heavy, closures were minimal while new options continued to pop up, but in the end not all would survive. 

There were bright spots too. Everhart Park said goodbye to a dated playground structure and reformed into a destination for single-digit residents the area over; developers backed out of a massive project planned for Crebilly Farm that would have surely been felt in the borough and caution came to Miner Street. Sometimes it is hard to believe this was all in one year. 

So here you go. A look at the good and the bad, the people, places and things gone by this year. 

Things

“I know a number of people will think this is great news but the issue remains – what gets put there?”

Don Braceland, West Chester Borough Council

Amazon.

611 E. Nields Street former home of a Wyeth penicillin plant.

This summer cautiously optimistic news began to spread across the borough, a buyer had been found for the greenfield property at 611 E. Nields Street. The buyer who shall not be named (cough) Amazon (cough) would bring well-paying jobs, green infrastructure to the site – and a much needed tax revenue boost to the borough. To do all that they would need to build and run a 24-hour-day warehouse operation in nearly the same location Wyeth ran its penicillin plant. There were of course questions about traffic and worries about what stipulations the world’s largest retailer might try to skirt but in the end none of those things mattered. By fall Amazon had backed away from the project for good. While officially they were said to be “reevaluating a number of operations.” There was some indication that the deal fell through because the parties could not come to an agreement on who was to own the building – with both Amazon and Developer Eli Kahn, preferring to hold the deed on the property. 

“I’ve been told Amazon likes to own their buildings and Mr. Kahn likes to lease,” Borough Council member Don Braceland shared on Facebook.

The loss of the project was disappointing as the project promised jobs and a much needed tax revenue boost to the borough and the school district. 

“I know a number of people will think this is great news,” wrote Mr. Braceland of the active brownfield site, “but the issue remains – what gets put there?”

Speeding home.

This year stop signs were added to W. Miner at Darlington and New Streets. The suggestion came earlier this summer after a PennDot-commissioned traffic study concluded the intersections could benefit from a little caution. The study’s researchers observed driver confusion, moderate-to-high pedestrian crossings and limited sight distance. A fairly accurate description, I’d say. 

A full return of the event.

After cancelling everything in 2020, this was to be the year of the return – well, maybe not early in (that vaccine rollout was a bit of a mess) but certainly by the end of the year. Sadly, that was not to be. First went the Christmas parade – whose long lead time requires a decision nearly a year in advance. Then it was the Iron Hill Criterium, Chili Fest, Restaurant Festival and after some back and forth, the West Chester Halloween parade. The borough instead opting for recreating the traffic nightmare that was the Trunk-or-Treat event. Perhaps, 2022 will be our year?

Curbside composting.

Mere hours after what was supposed to be the start of the compost subscription agreement with the borough, WasteWell owner Jen Panaro emailed subscribers to let them know she was discontinuing service. 

“I run WasteWell as a small business myself, and unfortunately, I no longer have the capacity to operate it,” she told subscribers just before making her last collection November 9. 

The closure was a disappointment to many West Chester residents eager to see a curbside composting option. However, with no viable option remaining I wouldn’t bet on seeing a borough-sponsored option anytime soon – that is unless someone else is looking to get into the curbside composting business?

2021 word: “Destination Park”

Unimaginative play. 

Weeks after opening, the new Everhart Park playground continues to be draw for kids across the borough.

Kids got their first look this fall at the much anticipated, new and improved Everhart playground featuring six slides, a treehouse, a ninja obstacle course – and the much anticipated zip line. After two years of dreaming children mobbed the equipment at the unofficial opening and have been steady visitors ever since.  

One evening weeks after the tape and barricades were removed as kids continued to run screaming from one obstacle to the next, a parent remarked to me that they hoped the Borough knew what it was doing because they just created a destination park. And so it appears, they did. 

“All of us together, after five long years, have finally slayed a Very. Big. Dragon.”

Mindy Rhodes, Friends of Crebilly Farm

Unnecessary development.

This year also marked the end of residential home builder Toll Brothers’ attempts to develop Crebilly Farm, a 320-acre property near 926 and 202.

After years of back and forth, the Westtown Township board voted in August to deny the developer’s application causing them to pull out of the deal indefinitely. The plan, which called for 317 new homes to be built, raised concerns with many locally particularly around impact and historic preservation. 

In 2017, the West Chester Area School District voted to request a $645,000 annual impact fee from the builder to offset costs to the district as a result of the development. 

“Simply put, a public school district cannot fairly shoulder the entire cost of a huge surge of students at one time,” then superintendent James Scanlon stated in a letter to the community. 

With the deal with Toll Brothers now dead, current owners the Robinson Family are in talks with Natural Lands to conserve the property. If the nonprofit can raise the necessary funds it would preserve the land, which is thought to have been traversed by Revolutionary War troops on their way to the Battle of Brandywine, indefinitely. 

The Fauci Pouchy.

A pandemic favorite, the Fauci Pouchy and other cocktails to go came to an end this summer. With the end of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 disaster also came the end of the to-go cocktail, a pandemic provision designed to help restaurants weather the shut downs. There continues to be bipartisan support for making the measure permanent but like with most things political, I am sure someone will go in and muck it up.

Places

Classic Diner, E. Gay Street

Rimon’s Coffee and Grocery, W. Gay Street

I first learned about Rimon’s from a Daily Local column by reporter Bill Rettew. It was owned by a couple from Indonesia who invested their savings to open a convenient mart downtown offering a mix of coffee, sandwiches and random supplies. In 2019, when the column was written, they were doing a brisk business relying on the patronage of local construction and courthouse workers, both of whose populations have shrunk over the last two years. The mid-block corner shop closed its doors late last year.

Tranquili Tea Temple, N. Church Street

When Tsaocaa Bubble Tea opened, I was surprised. I wasn’t convinced we had enough tea-drinkers to support two tea shops and sadly, we don’t. This fall we said goodbye to Tranquili Tea Temple on N. Church Street. In a message left on the door of the shop, the owners blamed the closure in part to a labor shortage but thanked the community for their support. I only went in a handful of times. If I am spending money on a hot beverage, it’s going to be on a coffee, but I often chatted with owner Tracey Wang Stuligross as she handed out samples on a Saturday morning. She was always very pleasant, knowledgeable and awfully dedicated to the tea business. A truly local business that will be missed.  

Fans of Tracey’s tea selections can still get their fix at the King of Prussia location

The Salvation Army, E. Market Street

After 23 years in the borough, the Salvation Army closed its E. Market Street doors on August 31. This marked the last holdout on a property bought several years ago by local developer Eli Kahn with an eye to redevelopment. I heard apartments were planned for the local but it appears the developer is currently looking to fill the roughly 35,000 square foot space offering a combination of warehouse, retail and office space – so TBD what happens next. 

Cirillos Pizza, W. Market Street

Last year this location made this same list as the Spicy Pig, earning the distinction as one of the first downtown restaurants to fall to the pandemic. Then after a major menu overhaul it reopened under the same ownership as Cirillos Pizza, an artisan pizza shop offering signature pies like the memorable pickle pizza – which was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, pizza is a tough business in this town. Just before Thanksgiving, they closed their doors again. This time for good. 

“We tried to hold on as long as possible with no help. Unfortunately we had to close our doors,” they shared with fans via their Instagram page.  “Thank you to all our regular customers who kept us going. A 2-year labor of love. Hopefully the future is brighter moving on!”

Tee It Up Golf, Hagerty Boulevard

The miniature golf course with a driving range shutdown unexpectedly in August. However, the loss may have been for the best judging by some of its last reviews – poor customer service, questionable hours, unmaintained grounds – and perhaps, outright fraud. 

“Signed up online for a golf lesson on March 17th but only after 2 months phoning and leaving messages did I get a response – too late, damage done. Asked for my money back which they promised to post me – nothing received. Really, really poor customer service.” One reviewer wrote on Trip Advisor. 

“COVID-19 has decimated our business and left us with no other options at this time.”

Mitch’s Market Street Gym

Mitch’s Market Street Gym, W. Market Street and Eat. Drink. Om. Yoga Cafe, E. Gay Street

Mitch’s Market Street Gym closed its doors this summer after 22 years serving the West Chester community. In a sad message to members the gym said, “COVID-19 has decimated our business and left us with no other options at this time.”

And it turns out Mitch’s was not the only fitness outlet in the borough to close this year. Eat. Drink. Om. Yoga Café also announced it would close its doors after 10 years providing serenity and balance to the West Chester community. 

Pita Pit, W. Gay Street

Pita Pit owners Tiko, Bessa and Bella, took to Facebook to say goodbye to their loyal customers.

After six years stuffing unleavened bread with your favorite toppings, Tiko, Bessa and Bella, owners of the Pita Pit, shared they would be ending their West Chester run on November 30. “It has been an honor being a part of this wonderful city and community!” they shared via Facebook. “Thank you for being my favorite late night food!” former resident Emily Burke wrote in response. 

People 

West Chester Borough Council members Don Braceland, Bill Scott and Michael Galey, Mayor Jordan Norley

west chester pa borough hall council meeting plastic ban
Borough Council members, from the left, Michael Galey, Don Braceland and Bill Scott just before the vote to ban single use plastic bags and straws in the in the borough.

West Chester Borough Council members Don Braceland, Bill Scott and President Michael Galey left their posts this December after serving two terms each. During their tenure the members presided over the single-use plastic bag ban, the approval of the 44 West “Plaza plan” and the closing of Gay Street.

Also, this year we said goodbye to Mayor Jordan Norley, who stepped up and helped West Chester out by once again serving as interim mayor while we sorted out another transition at the ballot box. During his time in the office, Mayor Norley set up a Diversity Task Force to help recruit a more diverse candidate pool for open police positions and worked the police department to complete a five year plan.

Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste was sworn in as the next mayor on January 3, 2022.

Borough Manager Mike Perrone, Public Works Director O’B Lang

Also out on the town front, Borough Manager Mike Perrone and long-serving Director of Public Works, O’B Lang. Mr. Lang was credited with a smooth running public works department –  think efficient trash pickups, clean parks, (mostly) timely snow removal, routine borough repairs. Mr. Perrone, a 35-year employee of the borough, started in building and housing becoming a nationally recognized zoning officer before eventually being tapped to serve as Borough Manager. During his brief (four-years) time in charge he worked aggressively to slim down spending and shrink the government’s footprint, eliminating numerous positions and slashing the operating budget by more than $2 million annually. 

WCASD Superintendent James Scanlon, WCASD Board Members Chris McCune, Randall Speckman and Brian Gallen

This year also officially ended COVID management duties for several West Chester Area School officials. Chief among them was the retirement of Superintendent James Scanlon. After 12 years at the helm of the district Dr. Scanlon announced his retirement in May stepping down in August. During his time with West Chester he ushered in some real wins while also leading through some tough times. Among his credits: introduction of full-day Kindergarten a one-to-one (one electronic device -iPad, laptop- per student) program, a college credit partnership with West Chester University and a nonprofit West Chester Education Foundation to help support staff in creating meaningful real-world experiences for students. 

Also saying goodbye, after leading through several years full of uncertainty and emerging science, West Chester Area School Board members Chris McCune, Randall Speckman and Brian Gallen. Chris will be stepping down after 6 six years, Randall and Brian after four. During their tenure, all three participated in the opening of Greystone Elementary, the execution of a redistricting plan and the rollout of the COVID health and safety plan.

Henderson Football Coach John Lunardi

Coach Lundari, working with the Booster Club, has made player safety a priority.

This year also marks the end of an era, be it a rather short-lived one, for Henderson football. Citing family obligations and a new one on the way, head coach John Lunardi announced he was stepping down after the season. 

“My wife and I are expecting our third child and I will be unable to give both my family and the football program the attention and commitment they both deserve,” Lunardi wrote in a letter to football parents.

After a couple of chaotic years, Coach Lundari will leaves the field with a record of 12-15 but likely an impact much greater. “John Lunardi was one of the good guys in the profession. He was all about the kids,” Daily Local reporter Pete Digiovanni wrote on Twitter.  

There were other things that came and went, of course, and many more people who will be missed – not least of which are those who lost their lives to COVID. 2021 on a whole proved to be a year that was more of a transition than the return to normal that was expected. There are many things on the list above that I wouldn’t mind seeing again, 2021, I’m not so sure is one of them. Here’s looking to 2022.

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