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It’s Friday, Aug. 26. This week we say goodbye to a popular West Chester hang-out, check on the fate of a promising new cafe and say hello to two Italian restaurants – one “modern,” one “Delco.” Plus, the school district’s first-ever Equity Director resigns after 18 months on the job, and new owners for a series of modest Chestnut Street rowhomes. Progress or gentrification? We’ll have to wait and see. And as summer wraps, a new music festival seeks to send it out with a bang and a nearly all-West Chester lineup. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Rams Head closes
Just as some Ram’s are getting ready to return to the borough – another has left the building. This week we got the official news: Ram’s Head Bar & Grill on Walnut and Market Streets is closing. In its place will be Santino’s Tap & Table, an Italian restaurant in the Philly – “gravy, not sauce” style. This is the second Santino’s location for a family whose lineage also brought us DeMarcos in Drexel Hill. The first Santino’s is in Folsom.
Resident reaction to the news has been mixed with one person commenting on photos of the under-renovation bar with “Boo” and another with a couple of broken heart emojis. The early reaction was more positive. “I’ve been to the original location on MacDade Blvd in Ridley. Decent food and the service was good. Wish them luck!” one commenter wrote.
Nothing personal to Santino’s which may grow to be a West Chester staple in its own right but I think friends of Ram’s Head Drunks of West Chester on Instagram, perhaps summed it up best, “What made Ram’s Head so special was that it was uniquely West Chester. It wasn’t a chain or some wannabe fancy restaurant, it was ours. The true definition of a ‘neighborhood bar’ where you could always find a friend.”
And the best nachos in the borough.
The upstairs bar is now closed but if you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, you can do it here. Word on the street is Ram’s Head will continue in spirit in the basement bar – under probably a new name and without the menu. The Rathskeller, as they call it, is open now. If all goes well, you can check out Santino’s for yourself later next month.
Speaking of Italian restaurants, it appears La Scala’s Fire is also getting closer to moving into their 44 West home. La Scala’s Fire is a “modern” Italian restaurant with five locations in and around the Philadelphia area. The space is roomy – roughly 5000 square feet of indoor dining plus an outdoor seating area adjacent to the plaza (similar to Sedona). According to plans, it will comfortably accommodate 150 patrons. So tie on those bibs people, and get ready for some pasta.
Chestnut Street row homes – you know the ones – bought by Wayne-based rental agency
After more than a year on the market, five-rowhomes from 327 to 337 W. Chestnut Street have sold to Berger Rental Communities for $2.6 million. The nondescript rental complex currently has 16 units, seven 1-bedroom units, and nine 2-bedroom units, all rented or otherwise unavailable.
We will have to wait and see how the property manifests itself in the future but I have a feeling it will involve at minimum heavy upgrades, especially if you go by Berger’s other properties in and around the borough – and there are a few. The Wayne-based rental agents currently represent Audubon Manor Apartments, Audubon Point Apartments, Chestnut Street Lofts, the Greentree Building, and Market Street Flats. Just outside town, they are also responsible for Heather Glen Apartments, Goshen Manor Apartments, Goshen Terrace Apartments, and Audubon Pointe Apartments.
In more real estate news, the Merchant Building, once home to a Woolworth’s department store, now home to Iron Hill, was sold to West Chester native John Barry. Mr. Barry currently resides in Boston. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal which first reported the sale, Iron Hill’s lease runs through 2030. In case the Ram’s Head news is giving you anxiety.
“When I hear about how West Chester used to be. That ma and pa feel and everyone is collaborating. We are trying to recapture the spirit.”Nikki DiGiorgio, Look Around festival producer
Look Around – New festival hopes to get West Chester’s music scene seen
In late 2020 Sprout Music Collective closed its doors effectively leaving West Chester once again without a reliable live music venue. In the interim a few restaurants have stepped up, offering weekly live music to patrons but it’s not the same. The venues are not always designed for live music and some management requirements – top 40 covers only, please – can be stifling to musicians trying to get their own voices out there. Enter the Look Around Festival.
Planned for Saturday, the Look Around Music & Arts Festival was the brainchild of Onyx and Honey’s Nikki DiGiorgio. Despite the band’s success and seeming appearance everywhere, her and her band’s efforts to find reliable venues (another just closed this week – see above) illuminated a need. “The abundance of talent that lives in this town is astonishing,” she told me.
Unfortunately, much of that talent is not being heard. So she decided to give them a voice and a venue. Nikki started planning on her own but when she put the call out for help, the response was large and immediate. The event now has a list of more than 50 volunteers and a core team of 10 to 15 that have met regularly over the summer to nail down the details that will make the event stand out. They are hand-building the stage, cutting and painting decorations, signing acts, and getting the word out.
“When I hear about how West Chester used to be. That ma and pa feel and everyone is collaborating. We are trying to recapture the spirit,” says Nikki.
The festival will take place on the grounds of the Elks (401 W. Washington) and feature nearly a dozen, mostly West Chester bands. Onyx & Honey will, of course, be there, as will New Kings of Rhythm. Fred Mascherino, former lead guitarist for Taking Back Sunday, will make an appearance with his new band The Color Fred. There will also be vendors and food trucks, face painters and body glitter artists, live art displays, and skateboarding demos.
“When people walk in and see what it’s in their backyard. They are going to be amazed,” said Nikki. “This is all West Chester.”
Look Around Festival, 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. at the Elks (401 W. Washington). It will then move inside to the Moose and continue from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. or until the music is over. Tickets are $20 in advance (purchase today) and $25 at the festival. Kids under 12 are free and welcome until 9 p.m. at which time you must be over 21 to attend.
That is not a “suggested” speed limit. West Chester borough police responded to an accident on Price Street involving a rolled vehicle. Prompting many to ask, “How do you flip a car on Price Street?”
Do not swerve to avoid hitting beer pong balls. That’s right, West Chester University move-in is upon us and West Chester police want to remind everyone to take it slow. “Please use caution if traveling the streets on or close to campus as there will be more vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area,” they wrote on their Facebook page this week. Surprisingly, no one has said anything about running through the fountain.
This is a drill. This is only a drill. This week teachers and staff at Henderson, Stetson, and Exton elementary went through some pretty intensive active shooter training involving nerf guns and air horns, according to an article in the Daily Local. The training which takes between 60 and 90 minutes is designed to help make sure staffers can respond in an “informed and strategic manner” during an active-shooter situation. The district hopes to have all staff trained by mid-year and students at a future date.
Time to check those license plate covers. Heads up: this week a Pennsylvania court ruled a license plate cover that obscures even the visitpa.com URL on the bottom of the plate is reason enough to pull you over.
Congratulations to West Chester University which welcomed its largest first-year class ever this week. According to a CBS3 report, the university is expecting 3000 first-year students to move in this week. Add this to the roughly 14,000 upperclassmen set to return this weekend and brace yourselves for the lines. New students, curious where the best dorms are? Barstool ranked them for you.
Also, high fives to West Chester native and TikTok sensation Cat Janisko. Cat has built a following 250,000 strong on the video-sharing app by creating original PA-themed content. Follow her under the handle @PennsylvaniaJunkie. And no, I am not just including this in hopes she will read and want to share her TikTok tips with me – but just in case, here’s my email.
Say hello to being proactive. Last week West Chester Borough Council took a small step to try and insulate the borough from having to enforce an abortion ban should one become state law. While Pennsylvania currently allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy or if the life of the mother is in danger, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade earlier this summer has reopened the debate at the state level.
Borough Council, in their role as representing the home of Chester County’s “only reproductive healthcare choice,” voted to send a letter to state representatives Carolyn Comitta and Dianne Herrin in “strong support” of “protecting access to reproductive healthcare in the Borough of West Chester and throughout Pennsylvania.”
It is a start but many including, Borough Councilman Brian McGinnis, were hoping to see an ordinance passed that would proactively limit the actions Borough police could take to enforce or prosecute any future law that may limit reproductive rights.
See a full draft of the letter here.
Speaking of West Chester police a “nice to meet you,” to four new members of the force.
And a special welcome back to Lt. Chris Daly. After being suspended last January and fired in March for not complying with the Borough’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Officer Daly returned to work on Monday. He was reinstated without loss of rank and with back pay for the nine months he missed.
In the end, the borough’s public safety gamble did not end, perhaps, where they wanted it to. According to Andrew McFarlane, president of West Chester’s Police Association Union, as quoted in the Daily Local, the policy succeeded in encouraging one officer to get vaccinated that had previously chosen not to at a cost of more than $150,000 in legal fees.
Don’t forget to also say hello to the Gay Street Marketplace survey. In case you missed it, last week the Borough posted the link to their survey gathering feedback on the Gay Street closure experience. The survey itself is quite short and doesn’t ask a lot of specific questions about the closure. The majority of the feedback will be gathered with two -very similar – open-ended questions at the end, but that doesn’t mean the responses aren’t important. The feedback along with that of the business community and various other borough stakeholders will be used by the Borough consultants to form a plan they feel will best meet the needs of the borough. These recommendations are expected later this fall.
Finally, did you hear? The History Channel’s Pawn Stars were at the Helicopter Museum. Not exactly sure what they were looking for but they did get away with a few pics.
Say goodbye to Dawn Mader, West Chester Area School District’s Director of Equity and Assessment. According to a recent personnel report from the district, Ms. Mader resigned from her position earlier this month. The district did not give a reason for the resignation but did reiterate its commitment to equity.
“Please know our administration is still deeply committed to our work in equity. As many parents and committee members are aware we have several goal areas that express how committed we are to closing the achievement gap, expanding access and opportunities, and ensuring that our schools and classrooms are welcoming environments for all students and families,” Assistant Superintendent Kalia Reynolds said in a prepared statement at Monday’s school board meeting.
In the interim, the district is tapping retired teacher, Dr. Una Martin, to fill the position. Dr. Martin previously served as an English teacher at Stetson and was a longtime member of the district’s equity and leadership team.
And we are waiting – to see whether we will be saying goodbye to the White Cow Cafe. The new cafe owners were planning to set up shop at 16 E. Gay Street (former home of the Classic Diner) with a “farm to table” tapas menu which they compare to that of Terrain in Glen Mills. The concept, however, which includes 35 bar seats, had been predicated on the owners obtaining a liquor license, and right now the borough is at its liquor license capacity.
To get around that earlier this year the cafe applied for an economic development exception. However, last week Borough Council denied this request. Voting unanimously that the location “will not promote economic development within the borough.” They came to the decision they stated based on a “lack of any evidence” to the contrary. I reached out to the restaurant for comment on their future plans in light of the decision but I have yet to receive a reply.
Lastly, west enders get ready to say goodbye to your waistline. West Chester Pizza Cafe has added hand-dipped Richman’s Ice Cream to its offerings.
Sports and activities.
This week the Daily Local News put out its fall football preview. Here’s your preview of what the preview had to say about West Chester schools.
West Chester East: If 2021 was a rebuilding year, now it’s time to see how the structure stands. East returns at least eight starters on both sides of the ball.
West Chester Henderson: New year, new head coach. Consistency everywhere else. You’ll even see Coach Lunardi back on the sidelines – only now as the safeties coach.
West Chester Rustin: Going on the defensive. While the Golden Knights may have graduated most of last year’s division-winning offensive line, its brutal defensive line remains intact.
And in other football news, West Chester University’s nationally-ranked women’s soccer team is off to a fast start.
Pay it forward.
After 200 years of providing housing solutions for Chester County families, the Friends Association is hoping to leave a new mark on the borough. This one in paint. Work is underway on the new equity mural planned for the side of the Friends Association building on W. Chestnut Street. The mural which features a pixelated portrait of an African American individual surrounded by clasping hands is the vision of West Chester University sophomore Noah Burns. The design is meant to capture the essence of the Friends’ Association philosophy: “housing is a human right and everyone in this community is deserving of a safe, secure home.”
Also, the BID and the YMCA need volunteers to make Outfest happen. Planned for October 1 the afternoon-long event hopes to be a fun-filled day of music, dance, and theatre performances. If you are interested in donating some time, send an email to John O’Brien at the BID and let him know you’re available.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are saying goodbye to our time at the Y (as a preschool, tear) and savoring the last weekend before school starts with a lazy Sunday brunch and some extra pool time. I am also hoping to take the kids over to check out the Look Around Festival on Saturday.
If you are heading downtown this weekend, there are several end-of-the-season sales to take advantage of – I made a list of those I saw on my walk today. Feel free to comment with any I may have missed.
- Blink – $40 rack
- H. Rose – 50% off rack
- La Chic Boutique – $29 rack
- Green Eyed Lady – 20% off summer dresses
- Fairman’s – 40% off all floor shoes
And mark your calendars for a First Friday end-of-summer send-off planned for next Friday. Onyx & Honey will be playing at the courthouse and BirlGirl will be painting faces on Gay Street. (I think I know where I will be.)
Note: Next weekend Gay Street will be closed through Monday for the holiday.
Mark your calendars:
- Aug. 27 – Look Around Music & Arts Festival, 401 W. Washington St, 12 – 9 p.m., all ages, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m., 21+, bands, vendors, raffles, food trucks, and more. Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the event. Kids 12 and under, free.
- Aug. 27 – West Chester Native Plant Sale, 1-3 p.m. Chester County History Center
- Aug. 27 – Best Friend’s Girl – the Cars Experience, Uptown Theater, 8 p.m.; Tickets $35 in advance; $40 at the door.
- Aug. 28 – Mechanical Bull Fundraiser, Kildare’s Irish Pub, 3 – 6 p.m., Make a donation to the Chester County Food Bank and get a ticket to ride a mechanical bull in the street. May be worth a donation just to watch. Open to riders of all ages.
- Aug. 29 – $5 Movie: La Bamba, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, including free popcorn. P.S. Did anyone else watch this movie on repeat as a kid? No, just me?
- Aug. 29 – First Day of School, West Chester Area School District
- Aug. 29 – First Day of Fall Semester, West Chester University
- Aug. 31 – Night of Light – Overdose Awareness Day, Chester County Courthouse, 6:30 – 8 p.m.
- Sept. 7 – SOLD OUT! Ray Didinger “Finished Business: My 50 years of headlines, heroes and heartaches.” Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Tickets $35 in advance; $40 at the door. There is also a VIP option available.
- Sept. 10-11: Battle of the Brandywine reenactment festival, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Chadds Ford Historical Society, 1736 N. Creek Road
- That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I am taking Labor Day weekend off so I will see you back here in September. Can’t wait to see what happens between now and then!
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