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It’s Friday, April 29. The West Chester Christmas Parade is back. Its lead sponsor is not. QVC is out, leading to a lot of suspected format changes. Also, Blazin’ J’s is nearly here. After months of coming soon signs, downtown West Chester gets ready to open its first new restaurant in a while – and what exactly has everyone so crazy for this chicken? Plus, residents may soon be able to walk to a grocery store. It’s the little wins. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Phoning it in: QVC is out as Christmas parade sponsor
If there was a doubt left last week, it was allayed this week – the West Chester Christmas Parade will be returning. Yes, that is borough-wide cheering you hear in the background.
“The West Chester Christmas Parade is back, and it’s definitely by popular demand,” said Katie Walker, President of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce in a press release confirming the event’s return.
Last week Ms. Walker went before Borough Council and laid out the situation. The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, who sponsors the parade, needed borough cooperation (and monetary support) to bring the event back. Ms. Walker spoke of the financial hardships faced by the Chamber since the start of the pandemic – hardships that required cuts to staff and budgets and left the Chamber ill equipped to bring back the parade without community support. What, however, was not mentioned was that those problems were amplified by QVC leaving, after 13 years, as title sponsor of the event.
“We always appreciate the support of QVC, whose four-year commitment to sponsor the West Chester Christmas Parade ended in 2019,” the Chamber said in a statement. “We are fortunate in our Greater West Chester community,” the statement continued, “to have the support of a multitude of local businesses – large and small – who contribute supporting sponsorships. It’s just one more reason to focus on buying and shopping locally.”
Among those businesses, Chester County Hospital which will sponsor the Chamber’s “Lights Up West Chester” event including the Christmas parade this year.
The parade must go on
After securing some concessions from West Chester Borough Council last week (including reduced event fees and parking revenue offsets), the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted unanimously this week to proceed with the planning of the parade, albeit on a smaller scale than in years past.
“People are telling us they would prefer to honor all things local this holiday season including the local residents, schools, businesses and organizations that make Chester County so special,” Katie is quoted as saying in the release.
While I know there were fans of the pomp and circumstance and the 45,000 spectators that descended on the Borough was a boon to the business community, I personally am not complaining. The three plus hour productions of the past were at times a bit beyond my attention span.
Together for Public Schools
If you have attended a West Chester Area School Board meeting over the past two years, you may have gotten the impression there are a lot of people angry with the district and their handling of the pandemic, which is not necessarily the case. As often happens, those with something to change come out in force while those who are satisfied stay home.
“We are encouraging people just to show up,” said Together for Public Schools spokesperson Stefanie Birl about the group’s efforts to even out the voices heard at school board meetings. Together for Public Schools, now 1300 strong on Facebook, is a group of mostly parents formed just about a month ago to show support for school board members and the direction the school district is going.
According to Stefanie the group’s goal is to work with, rather than against, public schools and to support public education for all students. This includes supporting teachers and administrators but also the District’s diversity and inclusion and social and emotional learning programs which the group maintains are unfairly under attack by organized public school opposition.
“There is a well-funded organized movement attempting to shift the narrative about public education, using antagonistic tactics that waste resources and undermine teachers, schools and the community,” the group said in a statement. Among the tactics listed include book bans targeting minority and marginalized students, promotion of extremist school board candidates, frivolous lawsuits and the spreading of conspiracy theories.
To be specific the names that repeatedly bubble up when this topic of organized opposition arise are “Students First WC PAC” and “Back to School PA,” both political action committees started during the pandemic by parents whose felt they weren’t being heard by leaders. Locally, the name you are most likely to recognize is Beth Ann Rosica. Ms. Rosica is lead plaintiff in the case against five school board members; she also managed the unsuccessful School Board campaign of Ada Nestor, whose views many West Chester voters found to be too extreme, and she now serves as an Executive Director of Back to School PA.
Recognition Ms. Rosica has leveraged to quietly grow into a national figure on educational reform in her own right. If you do a quick Google search, you will find no more than half-dozen articles she’s penned, podcasts she sat on, and events she’s spoken at on a variety of school reform topics. Next week she is listed as a featured speaker at the Virginia Education Putting Children First Summit.
But to be fair, isn’t TPS the same as Students First West Chester just for parents that are in agreement with the direction the school district is headed? Stefanie says, no. Together for Public School is not a political action committee nor does it receive outside funding, she says. And while the goal is to drive people to the polls in support of like-minded candidates, they are hoping to put forward a slate of bipartisan candidates. “I think there are people following us from both sides and that’s our goal,” Stephanie said. (Full disclosure, while I couldn’t find SFWC stance on the subject, Back to School PA also touts its promotion of candidates from both sides of the aisle.)
“Candidates should run on their backgrounds and their views on education, and a community should be able to choose a school board based not on political party, not on confusing “crossfilings” but on clear motives and qualifications,” President Tiernan once testified in 2012 after coming to the school board part of a bipartisan slate of six “non-partisan,” “pro-education” candidates that campaigned (mostly unsuccessfully – Tiernan was the only candidate to win) without the support of either major political party. They did however, serve to return the conversation to education rather than politics. For a while anyway.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner
It’s been a minute since West Chester has opened a new restaurant downtown (I mean really new. Yes, Spicy Pig reopened, but they were here before). That all ends next week when Blazin’ J opens their first non-Lancaster based storefront on Gay Street. The original idea – high-quality, locally-sourced chicken (from Maryland), prepared (you’ll watch as your never-frozen chicken goes from fridge to flour to frier), sauced (choose from mild to J’s way, to the “melt your face off” blazin’) and served right-in-front of you – was a hit from the start.
“People loved the concept,” West Chester location owner Gary Danehower said of the chicken shack that started in 2019 and now has three locations, a food-truck and a near cult following in Lancaster. “When I wear my [Blazin’ J] shirt on the street there, people will lean out the window of their cars and yell, ‘I love that place,’” Gary said.
The menu is simple. Chicken (a couple different ways), hot sauces, salads, belgian waffles, and fresh cut fries, that’s it. They are probably best known for their J’s Way chicken sandwich – 6 oz chicken doused in house specialty hot sauce then topped with pepper jack cheese, hot house mayo and pickles. “It’s different. You’ll just have to try it,” said Gary. (Other fans are much more definitive: “best chicken sandwich” is thrown around quite freely in the reviews.)
West Chester will also be a sort of “test market” for more specialty salads like the newly developed “J’s Southwest.” A basic southwest base including romain, beans, corn and tortilla strips topped with 6 ozs of J’s chicken and a drissling of J’s special hot-house dressing.
If the whole thing sounds a bit like the Nashville hot chicken which is trending across the country and, spoiler, is expected at another location on the other end of Gay Street sometime this year, that’s because it is, but not.
“It’s different in that it’s not an oil-based sauce,” said Gary. “The oil base is just so heavy. We wanted something lighter.” What exactly that something is he couldn’t tell – proprietary recipes and all. I guess as Gary said, “You just have to try it.”
Update: Blazin’ J’s is now targeting May 19 for its opening date, not this Thursday as originally planned.
READER SURVEY: I started Hello, West Chester more than four years ago now as a way to share news and events that were happening around West Chester. Over the years the how and what have changed and grown. As I approach another new phase in this project, I would love to know what you think – via the first ever Hello, West Chester reader survey. Please take a few minutes and let me know your thoughts. I greatly appreciate it. – Cara
Stop making it so easy. West Chester Police are investigating a motor vehicle theft on Shenton Road where a Toyota Tacoma truck was reported stolen from the residence Tuesday morning. The theft is suspected to have taken place sometime between 11 p.m. the night before and 7:30 am when it was reported. Unfortunately for its owners, and fortunately for the thief, both the doors were unlocked and the keys in the vehicle which sat in the driveway.
This was not the only incident in the area. Attempted break-ins were also reported on nearby Shenandoah Lane. Fortunately the attempts there were not successful. Nothing else was reported stolen.
“WCPD can not stress enough to lock your vehicles at night and do not leave valuables inside,” WCPD posted (again) to their Facebook page.
Threatening someone to stop them from calling the cops only works in the movies. A lesson, William Wallace of West Chester learned the hard way. Mr. Wallace was arrested earlier this month after he forced his way into a residence on N. Darlington Street and attempted to steal multiple phones. He then threatened the victim to stop him from calling the police – which clearly was effective.
Just when you think you are out, they pull you back in. Last week West Chester Borough Council selected longtime public servant Troy Chapman, 87, to round out its 3-member Civil Service Commission. The Civil Service Commission is tasked with helping to select and test police candidates including a hiring process going on now.
Roll up your sleeve. An arbitration panel voted 2-1 this month to uphold the Borough’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Exemptions for health and religion are allowed, they say. Everyone else, it only stings for a minute. Officers have until May 9 to comply.
Well, apparently it is ranking season in the education world. Last week we heaped praise on Rustin which according to Niche.com ranked 21 among all Pennsylvania Schools followed by Henderson at 37 and East at 51. This week the ranking is from US News and World Report and it is East that is tops. According to these criteria, East is the 39th best school in the state. Rustin comes in at 52 and Henderson, 65. Schools were ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college. One key difference between this week’s ranking and last, US News puts the focus almost entirely on academic performance while Niche looked more at the holistic high school experience including athletics, activities and facilities.
Speaking of the full high school experience, West Chester Area School District was also once again recognized by the NAMM Foundation as a “Best Community of Music Education.” One of just 783 districts in the country to receive this distinction.
Now onto some spring sport shoutouts:
Record breakers: High fives to Rustin’s Maddie Miller and Dayshawn Jacobs who both broke school records this week. Maddie in the 800M where she came in three seconds faster than the previous record holder and Dayshawn in the high jump with a jump of 6’2”. Also, congratulations to Henderson’s Annaleise McCubbin who pitched her 100th career strikeout last week and Rustin’s Alexys McClain who scored her 100th career goal for Lady Knights Lacrosse earlier this month. However, with weeks still left in the season I don’t expect any of these records to stand for long.
Making waves: Also keep an eye on the Rustin girls softball teams who kept on with their winning ways this week making short work of Great Valley and moving to 12-0 on the season. Also playing well, Henderson baseball. The Warriors currently sit at number two in the division just one game behind undefeated Hatboro-Horsham. Rustin’s boys lacrosse team, with a record of 9-4, also sits at number two in their division.
Finally, howl your appreciation, All the Dog’s Love is celebrating their fourth year in the borough. Congratulations to them!
For those of you trying the car-free life, West Chester may finally have a suitable walking path to a supermarket. Think paved sidewalks from Marshall Street to Bradford Plaza, ADA-accessible entry and departure points and pedestrian crossing signals on Downingtown Pike. Last week Borough Council agreed to move forward with the pedestrian improvement project connecting the Audubon Pointe Apartments and the north end of the borough with the Bradford Plaza shopping center.
The joint project with East Bradford Township was originally planned for last year but was postponed after bids came in above budget. Fortunately for the borough when they rebid the project this spring the estimates came in well below where they were last fall. Sometimes it just works out that way.
“It’s about time we have walkability to a grocery store,” Borough Council President Michael Stefano stated just before Council voted unanimously to move forward with the project.
Returning for the first time in three years, West Chester University’s Concert on the Quad. Scheduled for next Thursday the free event features the musical styling of the WCU Symphony Orchestra as well as other university ensembles. There will also be raffles, giveaways and free popcorn at the family friendly-event. Festivities begin at 4:30 pm, the orchestra goes on at 5:30. All you need is a blanket, a chair and some light snacks to enjoy with the music.
Speaking of outdoor events, say hello to a new summer happy hour event from Downtown West Chester. The event, creatively titled West Chester TAPS, starts the first Wednesday after Memorial Day and will continue every Wednesday after that from 5pm-7pm throughout the summer. Unfortunately it does not coincide with the open air market so there will be street traffic if you are on Gay Street, but there will also be a selection of $4 beer, $5 wine, $6 cocktails, and half-price appetizers – which pretty much makes up for it.
Finally, if you see him out and about, say hello to Tiny, the borough’s new municipal street sweeper. The compact, clean diesel upgrade was made possible by funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. (West Chester is set to receive nearly $2M in funding over 2 years)
Hey, parents of small children, get ready to say goodbye to scraped knees at least four West Chester parks. Last week, Borough Council voted to use a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funding to replace the mulch currently used with non-rubberized fall zones at Kathy McBratnie Park, Bayard Rustin Park, Horace Pippin Park, and Veteran’s Memorial Park. The estimated cost to upgrade the four parks is $32,260 for materials. Labor will be completed by the Public Works department. The remaining parks with playgrounds will be completed next year.
For you fiscal hawks out there, that’s the second item today brought to you by the ARPA. I wonder if anyone is keeping count?
Also, say au revoir to having Gemelli gelato all to yourself. The Market Street gelateria is getting ready to open its second shop in Phoenixville. An open air market and now our gelato too? I sense a rival.
Finally, West Chester University’s 150th celebration goes out with a bang, but first a heart-warming moment.
Pay it forward.
When you’re a Tree City USA, it is perhaps not surprising (because it is mandatory) that you take a minute to celebrate Arbor Day – which is today, April 29, in case it’s not on your calendar.
So if you are free this evening join the Friends of Everhart Park and a variety of West Chester dignitaries for a series of remarks and a tree dedication ceremony at the gazebo. Festivities start at 5 p.m. and end with a guided tour through the park’s labyrinth or a ride on the new zipline. I’ve been told it holds up to 250 lbs easy, if you’re up to it.
Also, mark your calendar, Human Services, Inc. is hosting a comedy fundraiser on May 20 at 225 N. High Street. Tickets are only $20 – and that includes light refreshments and two complimentary drink tickets for patrons 21 and older. If you are not familiar with Human Services, they are a private fully licensed non-profit community mental health center in Chester County dedicated to hope, healing and recovery. As they say, laughter is the best medicine.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? The Fame Fire Company is hosting their first-ever Food Truck Event from 4-8 pm tonight at the firehouse which sounds like a lot of fun. Also, for real this weekend, we are working on that garden.
If you are around, the YMCA is hosting Healthy Kid Day and Safe Harbor has its cornhole tourney both on Saturday both should be fun, depending on your audience. Also, spring/summer fashion is out in full force in the borough, like these lounge wear options from Kaly (don’t hate me but I kind of like that print.) Rize’s new pizza boats look interesting and oreo espresso gelato. Yum.
Mark your calendars:
- April 29 – Arbor Day Presentation, Everhart Park Gazebo, 5 p.m.
- April 29 – Food Truck/Vendor Expo, Fame Fire Company, 4 p.m.
- April 30 – Healthy Kids Day 2022, Oscar Lasko, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- April 30 – Cornhole & Concert for Charity: Safe Harbor fundraiser, American Helicopter Museum, Tickets $100/entrant; Concert starts at 5 p.m. Food and drink will be available for purchase.
- April 30 – NAACP Blood Drive, 1 Hagerty Boulevard, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Register here to participate.
- May 1 – Royalty Tea Party with Miss PA & Miss WCU, Oscar Lasko, 1:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Registration is required. Event is free to members: $10 for non members. Children are encouraged to attend in their prince or princess finest.
- May 5 – Concert on the Quad, West Chester University, 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. This is a free event.
- May 5 – Cinco de Mayo 5K, Wrong Crowd Brewing, 6:30 p.m. Note: Registration fee increases after April 30.
- May 6 – West Chester Gallery Walk, downtown West Chester, 4 – 8 p.m. 18 local artists will be featured at various stops around the downtown business district. Part of First Friday, street parking is free during the event.
- May 8 – Mom, This Run’s For You 5K, Rustin High School, 9 a.m.
- May 10 – Mother’s Day Express, West Chester Railroad, 12 p.m. – 2 p.m., Tickets $20, adult; $15 kids 2-15; and special mom price of $5.
- May 14 – Flaming Hot Market, Good Will Fire Company
- May 15 – Bubble Walk and Fun Day, West Goshen Community Park, 1K walk begins at 11:30. All proceeds support the Arc of Chester County.
- May 15 – Spring Clothes and Toy Swap, Pavilion at West Goshen, West Chester, 4 – 6 p.m. May 21 – Remake Learning Days Messy Science, West Chester Public Library, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. Hands on science project open to children in grade 1 to 5. Registration required.
PSA – if you know of any cool, upcoming events not on the list, send me a note and I will try to get them added.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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