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It’s Friday, March 11. After two high-profile closures the question has been raised, what is West Chester’s plan to bring in new businesses? A look at the borough’s recruiting efforts, the challenges of downtown and what is actually available. Spoiler: two prominent locations are already leased (including one you’ve been asking about for two years now). Plus, a pretty little park is proposed for the East end of town and West Chester PD passes an important milestone. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Last week we said goodbye to Jane Chalfant, a High Street staple since the 1930s. This week we learned Alice Thomas and Jean Newsom’s Antique Shop on North Church Street also closed its doors. According to a profile in the Daily Local the duo decided to retire from the antiques business after the lease for their store was not renewed. A restaurant is planned for the site.
According to that same article, this is “possibly the last African-American business in the borough.” Which is definitely not true. (The article has since been updated to “one of a handful” and in actuality, there are 18 minority-owned businesses just in the Business Improvement District. If you consider the entire borough that number is even higher.) A fair bit more than a handful but still a small percentage when compared to the more than 400 businesses that operate in the BID. (I’ll save you the math, that’s 4% of the total; this is compared to the 7.9% black or African Americans that make up the general borough population.)
However, any loss is another hit to the diversity of downtown. And diversity does not just apply to the owners of the businesses, but the businesses themselves. As chains, even small, elite chains, have entered (Sedona, Tsaocaa, Kilwins) and small businesses such as the two above as well as Tranquili Tea, The Classic Diner, and Rimon’s have left, the question has been raised – “What is being done to preserve the diversity and uniqueness of downtown?”
I reached out to John O’Brien, Executive Director of the Business Improvement District which exists for this very reason, or precisely to “retain, expand and recruit viable businesses.”
So, what is being done to retain and recruit businesses to the area?
According to John we first have to define this problem. “When we examine the data, we don’t really see a large number of vacancies popping up,” he says. “There are currently seven retail spaces that are actively available for lease. Six months ago that was 10. Some places that people may see as vacant actually have a tenant coming in.”
For the spaces that are available, John says the BID markets them on DowntownWestChester.com (here’s the link, if you are curious, which spaces we are talking about. Note this is a combination of retail and office space.) They also support new businesses with marketing and promotional support, work to create events that draw people downtown (hello, Restaurant Week) and his office is not afraid to speak directly with business owners directly.
“I have personally pitched prospective tenants on why they need to come to West Chester,” says John.
But while that is a fairly attractive package, it’s not always enough. “Starting a small business is difficult for anyone,” says John citing the migration of customers from brick and mortar to online shopping. (Kiki Comerford of Jane Chalfant shared they had run into this problem when they had tried to sell the space. “It’s a big shop to fill,” she said. Many potential buyers were looking for something smaller.”) There is also the huge upfront costs needed to start a business and particularly a restaurant. “The restaurant side of things requires huge capital investment and if you want a liquor license it will easily cost over $500k,” he said.
Then there are the limitations of the borough itself. “Our buildings are old and some of them have limited space,” says John. “Finally, the perennial issue in West Chester continues to be parking. The more we can do to make parking easier and affordable the better. Our stores do not survive on borough residents alone, so we need to factor that in.”
But what about real estate prices? I have definitely heard grumblings of raising rents. “Cost is always a factor, but our cost per square foot is fairly comparable with what you would pay in a lot of areas of Chester County,” says John.
Taking that all into consideration, John isn’t willing to count anyone out. “I don’t have a problem with ‘chains’ and honestly, I am not a big fan of the term,” he says. “Someone who has two or three locations is termed as a chain, which is trying to denote them as a faceless part of some large conglomerate, but in reality, they are hardworking small business owners.”
A lovely little street park
Next week Borough Council will review the proposal for a new park lining the eastbound entrance to downtown. The park which will march down the side of East Gay Street and wrap down Adams Stree is called a linear street park and it is the brainchild of the West Chester Tree commission.
The park, which is technically an enhanced streetscape, calls for new plantings, street trees, rain gardens and a curved path made of porous pavement to be added to the area. There are also plans to add an education component and bump outs which mimic those further up Gay Street. These along with the rain gardens and plantings could help (a little) with stormwater management in the area.
“We could really make a statement here at this entrance,” Tree Commission Chair Jeff Beital told the Smart Growth Committee this week. If full Council approves the proposal next week, it is onto funding. The Tree Commission is hoping to secure a grant to fund the project.
West Chester Police are tested, and pass
Last week the West Chester Police Department learned, its hard work had paid off. After more than a year of preparation followed by an intense assessment by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission WCPD received state accreditation. West Chester Police Chief James Morehead has described the process as “a deep dive” into the borough’s policies and standard operating procedures.
The new status comes with more than just bragging rights. In addition to helping the department establish a credible framework for evaluating and improving agency practices and procedures, accreditation opens the department up to more grant opportunities and gives it access to the mindtrust of other accredited agencies.
“We are now connected with many other accredited agencies, giving us access to the latest best practices and policy development,” said Dave March, chief communications officer for the police department. “Our Administration and Officers have worked extremely hard to obtain this certification and we are proud of the work to reach this level,” he said
Believe the best in people, and lock your doors. West Chester police are urgently reminding residents to lock up and not leave valuables, or an entire cargo storage container, unattended after car thefts jumped in February (3 vehicles reported stolen compared to 0 in the same period in 2021) and another, a 2019 Toyota Highlander stolen from the 200 block of Shropshire Drive, was reported this week.
“The WCPD can not stress enough for our community to lock their vehicles and do not leave valuables in plain sight,” they posted on their social accounts.
Ring cameras are everywhere. West Chester Police are looking for assistance nabbing another porch pirate. This time the package was stolen from a porch on 600 block of W. Market Street – and despite his strict adherence to COVID mitigation protocols, the cameras got a pretty good look at him.
If you information about either of these incidents, please notify the West Chester Police Department at 610-696-2700
High fives to Henderson’s Carmen Cortese who orchestrated a jaw-dropping comeback in Saturday’s regional final to take the title in the 120 pound weight class. After falling behind 3-1 to Quakertown’s Mason Ziegler, Carmen managed a defensive, pin sealing the victory as time expired.
Carmen is Henderson’s first Class 3A Southeast Regional champ since 2005. He is now headed to states. Joining him will be his teammates Palmer Delany and Billy Wilson, Rustin’s Marek Seaman who took second at 172 and East’s Max Parnis.
Perhaps, it’s not a surprise when you record the 7th longest jump in the country, but it’s still an honor. This week, Rustin’s Ava Alexander was named first team all state in the Triple Jump, second team in the long jump and honorable mention in the 400m.
Also a round of applause to Henderson’s United Bocce team which won the Chester County Bocce championship and will now be heading to regionals!
And to wrap up sports, a shoutout to Henderson grad Luke Wierman who is tearing it up on the Big Ten fields. Now in his third year at Maryland, Luke was recently named Big Ten Conference Specialist of the Week after a game-altering performance in a 20-8 victory over Loyola, the ninth-ranked team in the country. I don’t know much about Lacrosse, so I’ll leave the details to the experts.
Also, a standing O to Mrs. Kendra Werner, Choral Director at East High School. This musical season marked her 30th with the district and while we were unable to go, I heard her interpretation of the Little Mermaid was a pretty impressive feat.
And speaking of wowing on stage… West Chester-born Luke Taylor is heading to Hollywood thanks to his “below bass.” I just wish I had known earlier we could lay claim to a sea shanty star. I clearly don’t spend enough time on TikTok.
Say hello to a curbside composting option, for real this time. TerraCycle Home is expanding offerings and operations to West Chester.
TerraCycle Home is a new division of TerraCycle, a well-established global company that helps company’s recycle just about anything. “We helped Colgate recycle those toothpaste tubes,” shared Alex Helander, Business Director for TerraCycle Home. Now they are bringing that same mindset to your doorstep. With two new curbside pick up programs one which deals with food waste, the other with hard-to-recycle plastics. In the case of the borough that would be plastics #3-#7.
“We are very clear. We are not here to collect plastic bottles or anything else that is already being collected. This is for all the other stuff you would love to recycle,” said Alex.
Both programs work roughly the same, you are provided a bucket. You fill it with your selected waste – food or plastic (no need to sort your plastics; no risk of “contamination.”). Then you decide how frequently you would like pick-up. The plastic program costs $20 every two weeks; the compost program $15. There is a moderate increase if you want more frequent pick ups. They provide you with a list of materials that can go in the buckets and if you participate in the plastic program there is no need to sort materials, and no risk of contamination. There however, is also no free compost like the last program.
Both programs are available now for residents that are interested.
Also, if you are a small-business owner, say hello to a new, local banking option. Benchmark Federal Credit Union recently announced it is opening a new commercial business division specializing in commercial lending services, commercial real estate and small business loans. Membership to the credit union is open to anyone that lives, works, goes to school or worships in Chester County.
Say goodbye to any hope Chester County’s two shuttered hospitals will reopen soon. The Daily Local is reporting this week prospective buyer Cayon Atlantic Partners, who had been challenging Tower Health to force the sale of the properties so they could reopen, has decided to walk away from the project. “At this point, the passage of time makes continuation of this lawsuit untenable,” West Chester attorney Guy Donatelli said. Mr. Donatelli was representing Cayon in the lawsuit. The bulk of the patients from the two closed facilities have been redirected to Chester County Hospital, stretching wait times and putting a strain on services.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has opened a new hospital in King of Prussia (now the closest children’s facility), however the effects of this opening on Chester County Hospital are thought to be minimal.
Also, saying goodbye, West Chester-native Aiden McFadden to the MLS reserves. After being drafted by the Atlanta United last year, the Henderson grad found early success playing for Atlanta United 2, the MLS squad’s reserve team, now he gets his shot in the big league. It is a short-term loan, for now, as the squad deals with a series of injuries.
And finally, say goodbye to the West Chester East Basketball team from the postseason (for real this time). For those that have been following, the Vikings took advantage of a playback situation to get into the PIAA state tourney but lost this week to Scranton.
Pay it forward.
This week West Chester is joining the masses in showing Ukrainians some love. If you want to join, here’s how to help:
1) The Moms Club of West Chester is hosting a donation drive as part of their Ukrainian Refugee Service Project.
They are collecting humanitarian aid items such as:
- Protein bars,
- Snacks in packages,
- Baby bottles and formula,
- First aid supplies,
- Toiletry items,
- Warm clothes and sleeping bags.
See the full list of items needed here. Items are being collected through Sunday at Mae’s West Chester after which they will be delivered to the Philadelphia Regional Council.
2) Lulu’s Casita is hosting a Play for Ukraine Day, Wednesday, March 16, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s a pay-to-play event with all donations going to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine. Cash or aid items only. If you are going the aid route think diapers, feminine hygiene products, powdered formula, or blankets.
3) Cheers to the resistance. If you are more of a stand (or sit on a bar stool) in solidarity type, stop by Split Rail and raise a Ukrainian Mule to the resistance. Or, head out to Victory Brewing on Friday where they will be donating $3 from every beer purchased to the Care Ukraine Crisis Fund.
If you are going it alone, here are some organizations that have been properly vetted from Council on Foundations and Charity Navigator. (Thanks to the Chester County Community Foundation for help with the research!)
Now, coming back home. Jon Alstrom, a freshman at East, is going above and beyond to make the community safer for residents. Jon, who neither drives, “I plan to get my driver’s permit when I turn 16 in November” or lives in the developments in question, has started a petition to get a traffic light installed at the intersection of Caswallen Drive and Pottstown Pike (Route 100).
“Lately, the intersection of Caswallen Drive and Pottstown Pike has become a concern to residents living in the Caswallen and Crosspoint Developments. In the past month, there have been two major accidents at this intersection, this is two too many!” he writes in this Change.org petition. He cites reduced visibility from a nearby bend in the road and the high speeds of Route 100 as the main causes of the problem.
The petition currently has 727 signatures but he’s looking for a few more.
“My plan is to get to 1,000 signatures before presenting to the West Goshen board,” he said. If you would like to help Jon reach his goal and make the streets a little safer, you can sign the petition here.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We have a quiet weekend of gymnastics and soccer planned, which means there should be plenty of time to squeeze in a trip down to Gemelli for their Irish Coffee gelato. A little pre-Saint Patrick Day treat!
Also, Spicy Pig is opening, Jane Chalfant is closing. According to owner Kiki Comerford, Saturday will be their last day. Stop by to say hi or share a memory but don’t expect to do much shopping. “We have no clothes left,” says Kiki.
Also, is anyone going to Artrageous at West Chester University? It’s described as Blue Man Group meets Picasso, and it looks really cool. I wish calendars would have worked out so we could attend.
Mark your calendars:
- March 12 – Artrageous, WCU Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 4 p.m. Tickets $22/adult; $17/student.
- March 12 – Future Stars Benefit, Uptown! 1 – 5 p.m. Support the area’s future stars while enjoying a lunch buffet. Performances by the Uptown Singers, among others. Tickets: $35; $20 – kids 12 and under
- March 16, Play for Ukraine, Lulu’s Casita, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. cash or in kind donations welcome. All proceeds will go to support Ukrainian humanitarian efforts,
- March 17-19, Mama Mia!, Henderson, shows each night at 7 p.m. with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets $12/general admission; $10/students/seniors.
- March 19 – Fierce: Women of West Chester Walking Tour, Chester County History Center, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. This 1.5 hour walking tour will visit the homes and businesses of the women that shaped West Chester from colonial times to the present. Tickets are $15; discount available for CCHC members.
- March 19 – WCU President’s Speaker Series: Broadway’s Christopher Jackson, WCU Asplundh Concert Hall, 8 – 9:30 p.m. Tickets: $27-32 by location.
- March 19 – Six Nations Rugby Championship, Kildare’s, 9 a.m.
- March 20 – 2022 Spring Wedding Showcase. Chester County History Center, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.; admission is $5 pre wedding couple and includes two free drinks.
- March 21 – Sweet Charity Fundraiser, Whitford Country Club, 4 – 7 p.m. This event supports the Chester County Community Foundation.
- March 24 – The Discovery of a Masterpiece, virtual, 7 p.m. Local curator Mallor Mortillaro shares how she uncovered a masterpiece while cataloging artwork at the Hartley Dodge Memorial. Registration required.
- March 25 – Harlem Wizards, West Chester East, 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $15/each. In addition 40 special VIP tickets will be available for $50 a person. These seats are courtside and include a meet and greet with a couple of the Wizards and “VIP” parking. March 26 – Goose Creek Cleanup in West Chester Borough, 205 Lacey Street, 9 a.m. Registration is required. Site #112 for West Chester Borough and remember to wear work boots or waders if you have them.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and don’t forget, to change the clocks! I’ll see you next week.
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