The easiest way to be in the know.
It’s Friday, Jan. 20: This week we catch up with Business Improvement District Executive Director John O’Brien and I pose all your burning downtown questions to him like, what new businesses are opening? How do we attract a diversity of businesses? And can we keep the Christmas lights? He answers them all. Plus, I get a chance to try the new bakery and fee increases coming for Borough services – if you park here they may affect you. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Correction: Last week’s newsletter included a picked-up typo from a Daily Local story that stated the alleged West Chester Borough parking theft ran from April 2002 to September 2022. That should have read April 2022 to September 2022 or the six-month period Mr. Mojica was under surveillance by West Chester police – which honestly, makes a whole lot more sense. You can read the full updated story here.
4 Reasons to be Excited You Live in West Chester Right Now
After last week, I thought we could all use some good news. So I reached out to John O’Brien Executive Director of the Business Improvement District for some insights into what he and the team have planned for Downtown and some good reasons to be excited this year. Spoiler: this is a two-part series.
1. The iconic First National Bank building on High street is leased (and other exciting New Business developments)
The promo description read: “Blank canvas with unlimited potential!” “14,000 SF space is an unmatched opportunity for the established restaurateur,” “grandiose ceiling levels,” a private vault area, and historical finishes throughout. Big things were being teased for this centrally located property. (It’s right across the street from the historic courthouse.) Now we have confirmation someone is on board to bring this exciting project to light. Who the lessees are, if he knows, John is not saying, but he did say don’t expect an opening anytime soon. “An extended build-out is planned,” his exact words. There are, however, several other places that have just recently opened or are opening soon. Quiz yourself: How many were you aware of? I got nine.
Now open: City Buns, S. High Street; Juice Pod, N. Church St.; CC Haggarty, N. High St.; Santino’s, E. Market; Inspired Nails, N. Church St.
Opening now: Eden Sweet House – 145 W. Gay St. (see “Hello”); Pomp – 141 W. Gay St. (see “Hello”); Manje Caribbean, 237 E. Gay St.
Coming soon: May Day Coffee, 123 N. High Street (formerly Jane Chalfant); Mimi Tea Cottage, 30 S. High St. (formerly Meatball U); Jawn Supply vintage clothing, 40 S. High St. (formerly West Chester Computer Doctors – they are now at 212 E. Market)
2. The Zukin Hotel is finally starting!
After more than a year of delays, the Zukin Hotel project is finally set to begin. The Borough of West Chester has issued demolition permits and, according to John, the teardown of existing buildings is expected to start in the next week or two. The six-story, 108-room Hotel Indigo will sit on the corner of Gay and Walnut streets – across from the Post Office and next to the Chestnut Street Garage. If you go by the area, you can see the equipment starting to set up.
Expect an opening date sometime in 2024 – earlier estimates set construction at around 16 months. Demolition should be fairly straightforward but follow the Borough on ReadyChesco for updates on street or sidewalk closures.
3. Downtown West Chester has a vacancy rate of 3.3%
This means there are currently only a few restaurant/retail locations available in the Business Improvement District (downtown) and a handful of offices available to rent. Clearly exciting if you are the executive director of said district.
“We don’t want a lot of vacancy in downtown,” John told me. “The worst thing in the world is to have empty properties.”
Maybe not as exciting to learn as a resident. I often hear about the lack of diversity in options downtown, both in restaurants and retail. Low vacancy rates mean there are few opportunities to change that. Where there are opportunities the BID has been focused on retail. “A lot of people do want more retail downtown and that is something we put a lot of marketing efforts into,” said John. However, it’s not an easy sell, especially with so much of the industry – shoppers included – moving online. “If you would like to see local retail, hopefully, you are not the person that is constantly ordering on Amazon,” he said.
That said if we want to take a glass-half-full look at this number it also means new businesses are coming that we are not aware of yet. According to John, the only restaurant/retail location left to rent is 104 E. Gay St, the former location of Jaramillo Salon. The BID website lists two additional properties: 112 E. Gay St. (formerly DeStarrs) and 234-236 E. Market St (formerly Spicy Pig). That means several of the storefronts that are currently empty must have something planned. (You find out what, you let me know.)
Just note, this is only downtown, I asked about 322 W. Market Street (Mitch’s Gym) and John said he had not heard anything about new tenants for the property.
4. We’re keeping the Christmas lights (for now)
Fan of the downtown twinkle lights? Well, then this news should make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. John confirmed the lights are staying – for now. Some of the lights and greens are leased each year as part of a decor program sponsored by the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce. These lights and greens have already been returned. The lights on the poles, however, will be here a while longer.
“We love that people love the lights. I am going to keep them up a good piece of the winter,” John said. But sorry folks, not all year long.
“If we leave the lights up all year long, it’s no longer something special for the holiday season. We have to balance those needs.”
Stay tuned for next week when we discuss – the return of West Chester Restaurant Week (mark your calendars for Feb. 26 – March 5), parking on Gay Street, dreams of a bike trail and plans to beautify downtown.
Modern Work in a Historic Environment
The Church Street Market House knows how to survive. Originally constructed in 1870 as a place for local farmers to distribute their goods, it has since spent time as a livery stable – providing horses for hire to those in need, a packaging plant, an automotive garage, and a bus station. In the 1970s it was first reimagined as an office building. In the 1990s, that vision was updated to introduce a dramatic two-story atrium. For decades the renovated building would provide an impressive home to local design firms and professional service companies – but much like the building itself, the office environment is ripe for change.
Gone are the days of cubicles and elaborate corporate headquarters. In their place are remote work environments and flexible office structures. “We get a lot of executives looking to set up satellite offices,” Church Street Market House Community Director Michael Morabito tells me. These individuals may no longer feel the pressure to make the daily commute to Philadelphia or King of Prussia but they still need a quiet environment to take a conference call or meet a client.
Today Church Street Market House provides a greenery-filled, open-concept work area and meeting room access for its 18 monthly community members, as well as day passes for business travelers in need of a place to set up (CSMH offers a discount to Hotel Warner guests) and work-from-home regulars in need of a change of pace. There are also sound-proof office spaces and rentable meeting rooms for those looking to establish more of a corporate presence.
To keep the historical feel and make sure the building continued to meet the needs of the modern office worker Market Street Partners, which purchased the building in 2019, oversaw a renovation in 2022 that included the exterior repair of moldings, soffits, and cornice details and the interior update of lighting, furniture, and artwork. The end result is a stunning and grounded place to do business.
“It’s definitely the hardest option possible but it’s worth it,” said Michael.
Also office worthy? Good coffee. Twin Valley Coffee coming to CSMH summer of 2023.
Church Street Market House won a 2022 Downtown Foundation Preservation award for exemplary preservation practices. “The adaptive reuse of West Chester’s important historic structures has been a key component of the borough’s economic success,” the nominating committee stated in their profile.
Your water may suffer from lead seepage. Fortunately, $6 million in state funding has been awarded to West Chester to replace approximately 450 lead or galvanized water service lines in the area. According to a press release from State Rep Chris Pielli’s office, the pipes which are prone to corrosion could cause lead to seep into the residential water supply. “This is a proactive initiative to ensure the safety of West Chester’s water supply,” Mr. Pielli said.
Things are not always what they seem online. One local resident was reportedly scammed out of $600 in a transaction facilitated through the West Chester Community Facebook page. A user on the site claimed to have Taylor Swift tickets for sale. However, as soon as the victim’s Venmo transaction cleared the user disappeared. The name used by the person claiming to have tickets was Cindy Ashbridge. If you have any information about the user or the account, contact the West Chester Police Department.
Keep calm and carry on. Last weekend West Chester Police received numerous calls concerning “searchlights” fanning out over the sky in West Chester. Deep breathes. There was no mysterious prowler on the loose, the lights were being used by Uptown Theater to promote their Light Up the Night fundraiser.
It’s been a big year for Rustin Football Coach Mike St. Clair. First, his team finished 11-2 – in what could easily have been a rebuilding year. Then they advanced to the District 1 5A finals for the third year in a row. Then he was named the Philadelphia Eagles High School Coach of the Year. Now the Eagles have nominated him for the prestigious Don Shula High School Coach of the Year award.
This is a national honor with a winning coach named from both the NFC and AFC conferences. Each winning coach will receive $15,000 for their high school football programs and $10,000 for themselves. You can read more about the award and Coach St. Clair’s impact on Rustin athletics here.
Also this week:
- Silver stars to the West Chester University Cheerleading squad! The Golden Rams took second at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) College National Championships in Orlando. Sacred Heart University took first – in case you were curious.
- Chest bumps to area wrestlers Carmen Cortese (Henderson), Max Parnis (East), and Stephan Beatty (Henderson). They are all currently sitting atop their respective weight classes in the Chest-Mont conference. Think that’s easy? Among them, they have a combined record of 57 wins and 7 losses.
- Shout out to Henderson freshman KM who nailed a three-pointer with less than five seconds on the clock to send the girls into overtime against Downingtown West. The Warriors used the extra time to secure the victory – 46 – 41. See the video here.
- High fives to West Chester University soccer stars Faith Matter, Kaitlynn Haughey, Kiley Kergides, and Hayley McGee who all received All-American honors at the United Soccer Convention in Philadelphia last week. As a reminder, these young women led the Golden Rams to a second-place finish in the NCAA Division II soccer championship.
And in accolades of a non-athletic variety:
You can’t go wrong with a classic. Congratulations to the Master Baker which secured its second win in the second annual downtown West Chester Professional Gingerbread House competition. Their cookie and icing recreation of the Griswalds’ iconic holiday home – dangling Clark and all – was the clear fan favorite.
Finally, a round of applause to Chester County Hospital which was once again (impressively) named among the top 50 hospitals in the country according to Healthgrades, a healthcare information aggregator. This marks the third year in a row Chester County has been named a top hospital for overall care. They also received high marks for cardiac care (top 100) and critical care (top 100).
Have you ended that New Year’s resolution yet? No? Well, then this may be your week. Eden Sweet House on W. Gay Street has launched with a soft opening and a case full of homemade Asian-influenced goodies. I sampled one of the egg tarts which was sweet creamy excellence and surprisingly filling. Also on display a Japanese Soy Milk Cream cake with strawberries, French puffs in original, chocolate or matcha, and a variety of thinly layered Mille crepe cakes. All items are made on-site by owner Steven Tso and his wife. This is their first bakery. Stop by and welcome them to the Borough and grab one of those egg tarts and a coffee while you are there. Yum.
Also, open neighbor Pomp at 141 W. Gay Street. It looks like a home decor retailer and according to their newly made Instagram account, they are stocking handmade, small batch – “ethically sourced goods, that look, feel and smell great in and around your home.” However, if you were hoping for some design inspiration, make plans to head over now – they are currently only open on Fridays and Saturdays.
West Chester University seems to be on a financial winning streak this year. Earlier this month they learned that they would not have to pay the Borough’s Stream Protection fee and now they are saying hello to some generous outside funding help. Let’s see how it broke down:
- $716,000 in federal funding to support the Moon Shot program, a STEM-focused education initiative to help close the equity gaps in student success.
- $96,000 in state grant funding to be used toward preparing student teachers for their future students.
- $54,000 in state funding to help address student hunger on campus.
Finally, it’s cookie time! The 2023 Girl Scout Cookie Season officially began yesterday. So get ready to be accosted by cute kids with their pigtails and boxes of premade goodness every time you head to Giant, ACME or your favorite bar (yes, these mini entrepreneurs are getting smart).
If you would like to skip the lines and get your inevitable purchase out of the way, we have a little Daisy who would love to help you with your order. New this year, Raspberry Rallys. Cookies are $5 a box; $6 for gluten-free.
Goodbye spare change, hello new Borough fees. Each year the Borough puts forth dozens of opportunities for you to hand over your dollars and cents and, well, keep the government running. Things like park rentals ($75 for a Saturday birthday party if you are a resident; $125 if you are not); trash receptacles ($15 for a replacement recycling bin, $3 for disposal bags, $45/week of a dumpster permit) or vending licenses ($100 for a year).
Each year the Borough reviews and adjusts its fee schedule to better align it with demand (I’m guessing there was an uptick in Right to Know requests), inflation, and opportunity – here are the things getting just a bit pricer to do in 2023 – yes, they mostly have to do with parking:
Parking fee changes:
- Meter bag rental for a funeral – increasing from $8/day to $10.50/day, or half the cost of a standard meter bag
- Lot #3 annual parking space rental increasing from $750 to $900/year
- Lot #5, 7, 10 – monthly parking space rental increasing from $60 to $75/month (or an increase of $180/year)
- Lot #6 County monthly parking space rental increasing from $60 to $75/month
Non-parking fee changes:
- Specialized document request – reimbursement of a thumb drive – actual cost (or roughly $20)
- Charge of $.75 an hour for EV charging (The Borough began charging for EV use a while ago, but it was not previously listed on the 2022 fee schedule.)
Hey Starbucks lovers, a mental note for your morning routine: the Five Points Road location could be closing sometime in the next year. Maybe. In its place a new drive-thru location half a mile down West Chester Pike at the site of the West Chester Diner – which no, is not closing.
According to the Daily Local, the diner would remain in business (an earlier report by the paper incorrectly stated otherwise) but shrink its footprint from 260 seats to 150 seats leasing the remaining space to Starbucks and using that income toward the mortgage. “It’s too much for me anymore,” West Chester Diner owner Steve Elhednwy told the paper regarding managing the diner after his partner passed away three years ago.
Note: this is not a done deal yet. The idea still needs township approval to move forward and questions remain around traffic patterns. The proposal will be revisited at the March West Goshen planning commission meeting. Mark your calendars if you have opinions.
Pay it forward.
Looking for a drive of a different kind? Why not consider partnering with the Community Warehouse Project of Chester County on a home goods drive? CWP is the only non-profit furniture bank serving Chester County and, bonus, it’s conveniently located in West Chester.
“When folks need food, they visit the food bank. When they can’t afford to buy a bed, sheets, towels, pots and pans, or a sofa, they turn to us,” said Program Administrator Kristen Sweeney.
CWP serves between eight and ten low-income families per week. “Most of our clients are transitioning from homelessness or temporary living situations,” said Kristen. “If each person buys one or two items, the group can make such a huge difference!”
While they accept a variety of goods including furniture, they are specifically encouraging group donations of:
- Bed sheets & Comforters in sizes: Twin, Full, Queen
- New bed pillows
- Bath Towels
- Kitchen items – silverware, utensils (spatulas, etc), kitchen towels
If you are interested in hosting a drive contact Kristen at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. If you have some extra furniture you are hoping to find a new home for, here’s a list of items they accept.
More a doer than a giver? The Borough of West Chester would also like your help. The Borough is seeking volunteer members for its Human Relations and Planning Commissions. Commissions meet once monthly and help advise the Borough on various things. In these cases, human relations complaints and planning and zoning matters, respectively. Both sound like they have been quite active lately. If you are interested send a letter and your resume to Dana DiDomenico by Feb. 8.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We will be preparing for the Eagles game and cleaning out our closets in support of a few donation drives going on. My plan is to get over to Manje to try that butternut squash soup before it is gone. If you are looking for wings for the game – these were reviewed this week.
If you are hanging in town, there are plenty of options to watch the game. Need gear? Last I heard May23 still had options in stock. Hosting? These pretty glasses will give your watch party absurd elegance. West Chester Grower’s Market is hosting guest vendor Milk Jawn, they were Philadelphia Magazine’s best ice cream award winner for 2021 – and it’s Ramen Fest at the Artisan Exchange.
And this week a very special thank you to PetCare Group for joining Hello, West Chester as our latest Community Sponsor. For the last 20 years, PetCare Group has given local pet owners peace of mind knowing their pets are lovingly cared for even when they are away from home. PetCare Group now has a great team of pet sitters and dog walkers ready to help whenever you need a hand – 24/7365. Check out their website to learn more about what they do.
PetCare Group has an experienced team of care providers for in-home pet sitting, dog walking, and dog training every day of the year – including weekends, holidays, and overnights. Insured, bonded, and in business for twenty years, PetCare Group cares for cats, dogs, reptiles, small animals, donkeys, goats, and chickens. Need a hand? Give them a call today!
Mark your calendars:
- Jan. 20 – Expungement Clinic, Melton Center, 12-3 p.m. Legal Aid of Southeastern PA will be onsite to answer questions and help you get started on your second chance.
- Jan. 20 – Better Than Bacon, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Chester County’s wonderful improv group. Tickets $25 in advance; $30 at the door.
- Jan. 21 – Drone Workshop, American Helicopter Museum, 1 – 4 p.m. In this 3-hour workshop, you will learn about the different parts of a drone. You will learn the science behind drone flight, and even get to fly a drone on several missions. Tickets: $80, includes a micro drone.
- Jan. 23 – First Day of WCU spring semester
- Jan. 23 – $5 Movie Night: ET, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Includes free popcorn!
- Jan. 26 – Philly Dilly Pickle Pilsner release party, Levante Tap House, 6-9 p.m. Music by John Valerio. Pickle/Pilsner pairing available for tasting. Also, bring a 3-item donation for the West Chester Food Cupboard and get a free raffle entry.
- Jan. 28 – Annelies presented by the Brandywine singers, Kesher Isreal Congregation, 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, and are available on The Brandywine Singers website (thebrandywinesingers.org), or at the door.
- Jan. 29 – Feb. 19 – Teen Pottery class, Chester County Art Association, Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Cost: $180, first bag of clay is provided.
- Jan. 29 – WCU Faculty recital: Quintsylvania winds, Philips Autograph Library, 3 – 4:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
- Jan. 30 – WCU Faculty recital: Jonathan Fowler, Tuba, Philips Autograph Library,8 – 9:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
- Feb. 10 – Souperbowl, Goodwill Fire Company, 7 p.m. Support the Westtown-Goshen Rotary Club
- Feb. 11 – 1st Annual West Chester Puppy Bowl, Salty Paws West Chester
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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