2022 was an interesting year. Not quite dominated by the pandemic, not entirely behind us either. Marked by high inflation and financial stresses for many, West Chester noted several significant changes in its own right and appears to be on the cusp of many others. This list is by no means comprehensive, just what I have noted as the year has gone alone.
What have I missed? Leave a comment with closures, demos, and passings big and small. Over the years, I have used these year-end recaps as a kind of record. For example, can’t remember when that Burger King on High Street closed? Don’t worry. I captured it here.
After two years of a pandemic holding pattern, we began to see some cracks in the West Chester retail and restaurant landscape. While there were some small closures, places that were good while they lasted but didn’t last long enough to make much of an impact on the landscape – goodbye MeatballU, goodbye Luxey Little Ones, goodbye Spicy Pig Cafe for the second time – there were several more whose impact will linger a little longer and there were a few that, I believe, will come to mark the end of an era.
After eight years of hiding out on N. Darlington St. BonBon Sushi closed its doors at the end of May. While never a major player in the downtown dining scene, BonBon brought the borough something uniquely West Chester adding to our lexicon “Bonzilla” and “Sushi Burrito.” The loss here may not be the “Bonzilla” although that one hurts, the creativity BonBon Sushi brought to the dining landscape.
West Chester University’s go-to for late-night eats and all kinds of on-campus events, closed in July for “some R&R” and never reopened. The pizza shop catering to a college crowd opened over a decade again and brought us the “Hot Pepper Challenge,” a 1.5 million Scovill unit eating challenge, but for me, the name will evoke two things – their sassy logo and the rats in the kitchen. Sorry, Saucy’s to leave it that way.
Late August we got the news – Rams Head Bar & Grill on Walnut and Market Streets was closing. Later this year Santino’s Tap & Table, an Italian family restaurant in the Philly – “gravy, not sauce” style would open in the same location. Residents were thrilled with the news. One person commented on photos of the former Rams Head bar under-renovation with “Boo” and another with a couple of broken heart emojis.
Downtown regulars Drunks of West Chester, perhaps said it best, “What made Rams 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.
In March after more than a quarter-century defining “coffee house” for the Borough, Fenn’s, and Fennario before it, closed its doors. Known for its locally-sourced coffee and anti-Starbucks vibe, Fenn’s was also a place just to hang. For a long time, it was also a thriving concert venue and art house. Although by the end, its relevance seemed to be waning.
“This USED to be one of the best places in West Chester,” one local reviewer posted a year ago. “It really felt like a super friendly place. Then ownership AND coffee changed and everything went downhill.”
Still, it felt like a loss, at least for a few weeks. Then Turks Head moved in (same coffee and all) and quickly started to recapture that original vibe.
Westtown Meat Market
Also closing in March, after 34 the Westtown Meat Market. According to a message to customers shared on their Facebook page, they have received a favorable offer on the property and have decided it’s time to move to Florida. “It’s time for us to slow down and enjoy life instead of working it,” owners Jerry and Penni Bogda wrote.
It was a quiet end to a community fixture, but one that will be missed especially around this time of year, with all those holiday traditions to complete.
Alice’s Antique Shop
In March, we learned Alice Thomas and Jean Newsom’s Antique Shop had closed its doors after 28 years on North Church Street. According to a profile in the Daily Local, the duo decided to retire from the antique business after the lease for their store was not renewed.
According to BID Executive Director John O’Brien, there are 18 minority-owned businesses in West Chester’s Business Improvement District. When compared to the more than 400 businesses that operate in the district, that’s a minority ownership rate of 4%. For comparison, blacks or African Americans 7.9% make up the general borough population.
The closing of Alice’s, which was minority-owned, marks another loss for diversity in the Borough. In its place? The expected expansion of Greystone Oyster Bar.
Star of India
After 30 years in the Borough, the Star of India closed its doors at the end of April. Known for its vegetarian options as well as its heat, West Chester’s sole Indian option rarely disappointed.
“It’s a small sketchy looking place but I have never been let down by their food. Seriously such a hidden gem,” one reviewer wrote on Yelp.
Adding to that feeling you just happened onto something special, they had little online presence, just a Facebook page unchanged since it was created 12 years ago and a picture of a paper menu uploaded to ZMenu.com. So perhaps it is not surprising their goodbye was also low-tech, just a sign in the window that read:
“30 years strong. It’s been great! Thank you all for a great journey!! Farewell, Mom, Dad, Simi, B.J. Snena.”
More than six months later and you’ll still need to run to Downingtown, Exton, or Malvern if you would like some Tandoori Chicken, Masala, or decent naan, but hey, we have two new Italian options heading our way.
During the Fall of 1933, namesake Jane Chalfant, along with her partner Winifred Sharp, opened a dress shop across the street from the Warner Theater. In 1955, Richard and Eileene Comerford acquired the shop from the founders with a handshake deal. Since then it’s been a family-run enterprise with Patrick and Kiki Comerford helming it at the closing. Jane Chalfant strived to provide personalized service by informed salespeople in a friendly atmosphere. Still offering throwback services like in-house tailoring.
”We are all here because we love beautiful clothing and truly enjoy helping our customers make their selections,” the store website read.
The Comerfords tried to sell the store to another clothier but much of the retail business has moved online and prospective owners balked at the size of the store. In the end, they did find a buyer but not in the world of fashion. May Day coffee shop should be opening any day now.
Davis Oil Property
The previous entries in this year-end list closed this year. In this next chunk, it is not the occupants but their concrete, brick, and steel frame legacies that are being removed to make way for new futures.
Up first, the contaminated remnants of the Davis Oil distribution center on E. Barnard Street. In 1950 the site began a fifty-year run as a popular oil distribution center. That business wrapped up at the end of the last century and the buildings have sat vacant since. Recently colorfully described by its neighbor as a “rancid cheese diaper swamp” of decomposing buildings and feral animals. The 1.3 acres property was sold earlier this year and the remaining out-buildings were finally removed this fall under the watchful eye of the PA Department of Environmental Protection.
“I don’t think anyone in our neighborhood minds what goes in next,” wrote former neighbor Meghann Harden on Nextdoor, “as long as it is a functioning piece of property,”.
Rumor is it’s a long-term storage facility. Not terribly exciting but fortunately, the bar is set pretty low here.
Built-in 1924 by the West Chester Area School district and housing the district’s administrative offices until 2017, the Spellman building was demolished this year. In its place, will soon be an Aldi’s market, a Popeye’s restaurant, and a third – yet to be disclosed – business.
Named after Elwood M. Spellman, a West Chester dentist and first West Chester Area School District Board president, the building was sold to developers in 2017 after the district determined necessary upgrades would be too costly. While the loss of the squat non-descript building is not particularly noteworthy, what it ushers in could be. This new development combined with future plans for the West Goshen Shopping Center may see the east entrance to the Borough shift from a funnel to downtown to a destination of its own over the next couple of years.
Fun fact: West Chester School Board president Susan Tiernan is the daughter of Dr. Spellman.
250 E. Market Street Shopping Area
Also, demoed this year the strip mall on E. Market Street. The complex which was once home to Rubenstein’s Office Supply & Furniture and the Salvation Army began its demise in March. Now razed to foundation level, in its place will soon be a 219-unit s-shaped apartment building.
Will the new complex be as impactful to the area as what is planned in West Goshen? It doesn’t feel like it now, but if plans to return rail continue, this could be one piece in the Borough’s southeast quadrant revival.
This year also marked the official end of Crebilly Farms and a new era of preserved open space and a grand new Westtown park. This November, Westtown voters overwhelmingly approved raising their taxes to conserve the land as a passive recreation park. Under the now-approved provision, residents will fund a quarter of the purchase price for the 208-acre lot with grants expected to cover the rest. The remaining 114 acres will be subdivided and sold as four single-home lots.
A massive thank you to our neighbors to our south. Way to take one for the team.
After months and months of promise, history will likely record 2022 as the year we finally turned the corner on the pandemic and welcomed a return to regular, old normal. With it came most of the events we have been missing for the last two years, most notably the Christmas parade, but not all events survived the pandemic. I can’t say they won’t come back eventually but as of right now, the Magic 8 ball says, “Outlook not so good.”
Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic
After 15 years and plans to move into position as the series’ final race, the National Criterium Series made it official this year. The 2019 race would be the series’ last lap through the Borough.
“I can confirm that the Criterion will not be returning,” said Greater West Chester Chamber President Katie Walker. Since the end of the pandemic, USA CRITS, the professional racing organization that schedules the events, has been pushing host cities to commit to weekend-long events something West Chester is not prepared to do at this time.
“In addition to the challenge of the logistics of closing down the entire downtown for a full weekend, a full weekend would require a significant increase in sponsor funds to cover increased costs to run an expanded event,” said Katie.
Jingle Elf Run
After more than a decade (the last race run in 2019 was the 11th) of festive runners decked out in Santa hats and holiday gear, the West Chester pre-parade holiday tradition is no more.
“This is all part of our effort in working with the Borough police to manage the size and scale of the event as we bring back a local, hometown parade after the two-year hiatus,” Chamber President Katie Walker said in an email of the run’s cancellation.
West Chester Summer Soiree
West Chester’s dinner en blanc, or night in white, may have been short-lived but it was impactful. The popular event held at various undisclosed locations in and around West Chester required attendees to dress in all white.
“The West Chester Summer Soiree planning team has come to the difficult decision to postpone the 2022 event. A variety of insurmountable challenges would not allow us to raise the funds and host the celebration that the community deserves,” the group shared on social earlier this year.
While, not a firm goodbye, the West Chester take on the world’s largest dinner party, has not held an event since 2019.
This section remains a somewhat awkward combination of retirements, resignations, and death notices but whether they are gone for good or just stepping away from a high-profile position, they will be missed.
Paul Stankewicz, Coach Henderson Boys Lacrosse Team
After 53 years, the Henderson Athletic Department announced in January, Paul Stankewicz, Coach Stank, as he is known, was retiring. On the sidelines since 1969, Coach Stank took over as head coach of the Boys’ Lacrosse program in 1983 winning 440 games, 12 Suburban/Ches-Mont League championships (the Suburban league merged into the current Ches-Mont), and two state runner-up finishes.
“You can never replace a person like Coach Stankewicz, but I will always do my best to lead the great lacrosse program that he built,” said Sean Evans who took over the program in February.
Sue Cornelius, West Chester East Athletic Director
Sue Cornelius. West Chester East’s Athletic Director hung up her sneakers this September after 36 years of teaching, coaching, cheering, organizing, and mentoring. Sue started her career with the West Chester Area School District as a health and P.E. teacher at Stetson Middle School. Eighteen years later, she accepted the position at East – and in doing so became the first female athletic director in the WCASD and the Chest-Mont League.
“What I love about Sue is her genuine joy for supporting kids. We’ll truly miss her in her role, but I know that we’ll see her on the field sooner than later,” share Assistant Superintendent Kalia Reynolds via Twitter.
Dawn Mader, West Chester Area School District’s first Director of Equity and Assessment
After her high-profile hiring as the District’s fire Director of Equity in 2021, Dawn Mader went on to notably host Bernice King, daughter of famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, at a virtual symposium on race in February, only to tender her resignation six months later. According to a recent personnel report from the district, Ms. Mader resigned from her position in August after just 18 months on the job. No specific reason was given for the resignation but the district did reiterate its commitment to diversity.
“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 regarding the resignation.
Today Ms. Mader is working as a diversity consultant for the Delaware Department of Education.
West Chester University’s Baker Bob
Bob, no last name needed, was a full-time baker for the West Chester University dining program, Bob retired in October after twenty-five years of delivering oatmeal cookies and smiles to students. Congratulations, Bob on a much-deserved break. (He’s been working since he was eight!)
Dianne Herrin, PA State Representative
With the closing of the year, former West Chester mayor and current PA State Representative Dianne Herrin will say goodbye to public life. In an interview with the Daily Local, she shared her frustrations with legislating at the state level.
“There are essentially two people — the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader, both with the majority party — who completely control the movement of all proposed legislation. So, even if a bill has solid bipartisan support, it is not likely to go anywhere,” she told the paper.
Her seat as the Representative of District 156 is now held by Chris Pielli.
Catherin Seisson, owner of La Baguette Magique
This year also marked the passing of Catherine Seisson, the ex-pat who brought a little bit of her France to West Chester when she opened La Baguette Magique seven years ago. She had already been away from the cafe for several years when her death from cancer was confirmed, but her impact had not faded as testament by the numerous comments left by residents on the notification of her death, to which I would like to add:
When the boys were young, we would often stop by La Baguette Magique on our way home from the library. I liked to believe the brioche rolls were a healthier option than a donut. (Please no one correct me if I am wrong.) Catherine was there full-time then and I swear not a visit passed without her sneaking out from the back and dropping some freshly baked treat on the boys’ plates or chatting with them like little patrons. I don’t remember the last time we saw Catherine but every time I go in a little part of me hopes she will pop out from the back.
Salvatore Inzone Sr. Owner of Benny’s Pizza
Last March was a big one for loss – places and people. In March 2022, West Chester said goodbye to a dear friend. Salvatore Inzone Sr., the owner of Benny’s Pizza, passed away suddenly. Tributes to the Church Street fixture poured in from the West Chester Police Department, St. Agnes School, the Daily Local, the staff, and his many, many regulars.
“The West Chester Community lost a great man,” The West Chester Police Department shared on social media. “Sal” was family to us here at WCPD and supported us, along with every emergency service agency in this area.”
From Benny’s staff: “A little about Sal: He would always call his customers his family. At family dinners, he would always say ‘My family (customers) always come visit me. I love them all.’”
Then there were the things. While it would be impossible to capture all the things. Those noted below seem in some way to be a changing of a guard (goodbye, basketball ticket office) or a bell weather of things to come (goodbye trees, hello stricter Borough Tree ordinance).
The Burger King Trees
In December we all mourned the loss of some lovely old trees – including a Sycamore likely planted in the 1800s – removed from the property at 410 S. High Street (once home to Burger King). The trees, on the property and not in the right of way, were removed pre-emptively and highlighted for many the inability of the Borough’s tree ordinance to prevent it. The Borough tree ordinance applies only to street trees, the trees between the street and sidewalk.
While there are risks in trying to legislate on private property, West Chester Public Works Director Don Edwards believes there is a way to incentivize property owners to protect the trees without issuing mandates.
“I do think it’s workable and it’s something the Borough can and should do,” he told Council Members.
High School Ticket Office
This year marked the end of the high school ticket office – at least as it applies to sporting events. At the start of the winter sports season, all three area high schools said goodbye to paper tickets and cash sales. From now on all tickets will need to be purchased online.
The Derelict Gay Street Post Office
2022 will also mark the year the Gay Street Post Office finally got some much-needed help. After years of badgering the Federal government, arrangements were finally made to repair and repaint the moldings, fix the window, and overall upgrade the exterior.
Fun fact: The post office was built in 1905 to deal with an influx of mail to the borough.
Masks in Schools
Hard as it is to believe at times, it was March when West Chester Area School District, West Chester Catholic schools, and West Chester University all went to mask optional. While they continue to reserve the right to bring them back should caseloads increase, none of them have done so yet.
“It is important to note that we are intentionally declaring our University as mask optional, as current conditions allow us to empower each individual to make their own decisions regarding mask usage,” West Chester University wrote in a statement.
Goodbye 2022, I hope 2023 returns us to a year of full strength (rather than a pending recession). Until then, have a happy New Year!
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