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It’s Friday, Aug. 4, 2023: Exciting news for West Chester! The Borough just landed major funding to redo the Gay Street closure. Now the question becomes – what exactly are they going to do with that money? Also, residents weigh in on the new Charter School proposal, Mimi opens her tea cottage and FarmerJawn may actually come out to Westtown and open her farmstand. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Streets of Gold: West Chester Lands Funding to Improve the Gay Street Closure
In 2020, in a rather drastic move to save its flailing restaurant industry, West Chester closed Gay Street to vehicular traffic for the summer. There were t-shirts and a slogan – Main Street Strong – and a general pulling together for the greater cause. And maybe because nothing else was possible at the time, there was an enthusiastic embrace of West Chester’s future as a pedestrian haven. A place where people, not cars and exhaust, came first.
Since then West Chester has continued to close Gay Street to traffic (weekends only now) and, while the move remains generally supported by residents and restaurant owners, limited funds have hindered what could be done to address everyday issues such as safety, access, aesthetics, uneven participation, and mounting trash.
Well, after three years, the Borough may finally have a legitimate chance to fulfill that early promise.
Last month, West Chester got a letter from the County – a big letter from the County. “The Chester County Board of Commissioners is pleased to announce that the Borough of West Chester has been awarded the following funding,” it read. “Gay Street Open-Air Marketplace Infrastructure – Phase I, $677,797.”
The award is contingent on a Borough match of 25 percent, or the not insignificant amount of $169,449. This money would have to be added to the 2024 budget and doing so at this late date would likely require a significant reprioritizing of funds. A challenging but not impossible task – I am told there are ideas on how this could work.
Then there is the issue of what to do with the money. As you may or may not recall, last year Borough consultants Traffic Planning and Designs presented a less-than-inspiring design proposal that focused heavily on adding gates to Gay Street. After the proposal was shared there were significant concerns raised over what Gay Street would look like with a series of large wrought iron gates placed at key five intersections. Fortunately, I am told this is not an approved playbook.
“I think Council should set up an ad hoc committee made up of residents, businesses, police, and public works and build a collective vision for the four blocks. Currently, the Open Air market is very underutilized in its current state,” said Councilman Bernie Flynn.
And if you were not a fan of the gates, know you have at least one councilman in your corner. “I’m not a fan of gates and brick pillars, it will be too restrictive,” said Mr. Flynn. Instead, he supports the idea of bollards to safely close the street.
West Chester Restaurant Inspection Reports: July
Perhaps, it’s just me but, it seems restaurants and the Chester County Health Department have gotten wise to these monthly reports. They are now scheduling any needed follow-up inspections within the same month as the original inspection. Meaning, by the end of the month everyone is in compliance. Well, good for them – and good for us.
Thanks to these quick responses the kitchens of your favorite restaurants are now the epitome of health and safety. There is, however, one cautionary tale this month. That is the China Palace on West Chester Pike.
China Palace, 1251 W. Chester Pike, out, 1 violation – but it’s a doozy. This story begins on June 30 with the Palace’s first visit from the Health Inspector. (Since last month’s newsletter went out on June 30, this late inspection did not make it into the report – which in this case is unfortunate. There were several violations at that time but we are going to focus on the sole issue that persists today.)
June 30 – “One roach was found on the floor in a glue trap under the dishwasher. Mouse droppings were found on floor underneath the dishwasher. Thus, roach and mouse activity are present. Facility is currently receiving monthly pest control treatments. Facility must take aggressive measures to control, reduce and eliminate vectors, specifically roaches and mice,” the health inspector noted.
July 13 – “Moderate roach activity observed within “tin cat” glue boards in the kitchen. No mouse droppings or mice were found today. Facility must take aggressive measures to control, reduce and eliminate vectors, specifically roaches,” the report reads.
July 25 – “Roach activity has significantly been reduced but has not yet been eliminated,” reads the restaurant’s only violation.
It sounds like they are making progress, but you may want to give them a couple more weeks just to make sure this problem is stomped out.
Hannum Seafood Adds Seafood Boil to the Menu
What better way to celebrate summer’s end than with Hannum Seafood’s delicious new seafood boil? Each boil is packed with crab, mussels, shrimp, corn, and potatoes for a satisfying and healthy meal.
Often saved for special occasions, seafood is worthy of regular dinner rotation. Not only is it high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been linked to everything from maintaining a healthy heart to easing joint pain, but seafood, like all fish, is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. Fish, in fact, is such a super food the American Heart Association recommends eating it at least twice a week.
Hannum Seafood’s new Seafood boil is an easy, no-hassle way to add more fish to your diet while savoring those last summer vibes. Each boil is ready to go – just add water and steam on the stove. In about 20 minutes, you’ll have a delicious and healthy meal the whole family will enjoy!
Hannum Seafood & Produce Market at 443 Hannum Avenue stop in and shop the area’s freshest fish. Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays until 7 p.m.
It’s a double whammy for West Chester home buyers. Analysis of real estate trends by data-aggregate Stacker highlights some dismaying realities for those hoping to call West Chester home. According to the latest data, West Chester, with a median home value of $584,665, is the 20 most expensive community to live in the state but that’s not the worst of it. Not only is West Chester already one of the most pricey areas to buy in, it has some of the fastest-growing home prices in the state, rising nearly 7 percent last year.
Hit that 9:00 p.m. routine hard. West Chester police are investigating two more burglaries. Both incidents took place on Walnut Street last weekend about a block apart. One break in occurred just before midnight; the other at an unknown time as the resident was away. It is not noted if the incidents are related but a person of interest in the first case was caught on video here. Have any information about the individual or either incident, contact the WCPD at 610-696-2700 – and don’t forget to lock those doors!
Railroad strike. Last Friday a group of nine teenagers were caught on video vandalizing the trains of the West Chester Railroad, the tourist train line off of E. Market St. that you’ve probably ridden to see Santa or grab a Christmas tree. Surveillance video shows the teens climbing on the trains after hours and smashing windows. A historic diesel locomotive sustained four broken windows, a dining car another. The kids even broke the windshield of one of the WCR’s trucks. In total it is suspected $16,000 worth of damage was done – that’s a lot of extra chores. If you have any information about this incident, notify the WCPD at the number above.
We have your keys and your tv. This week West Chester Police shared a list of found items around the Borough including a set of keys to a Toyota found on the 400 block of Hannum Avenue and a television set left outside a local establishment. If you are missing either, contact the West Chester PD at 610-436-1335 to collect. Just be prepared to provide details.
It might get worse before it gets better. Clients of local waste hauler A.J. Blosenski have been facing a series of service disruptions ever since the Elverson company was purchased by Waste Connections. Last week a letter was sent to East Bradford customers apologizing for the shoddy service and explaining a series of improvements were in the works that, according to the letter, “will decrease the service interruptions and restore service back to the level to which our customers are accustomed to.” Then, again, it sounds like we’ve heard this before.
High fives this week to the Greater Brandywine YMCA Gymcats which sent 35 athletes to the YMCA National Gymnastics Championship and Invitational in Cincinnati last month. The Gymcats, which practice at the Oscar Lasko YMCA on Chestnut Street, had six athletes take home gold medals in individual events and, in a first for the program, Alexis Nemchik, a Downingtown West junior, made it to the finals of the All-Around Competition. The all-around is a combination of scores from floor, bar, beam and vault. In addition to Alexis, who took home a gold in vault and bars, Ava Kraatz, Bridget Hoban, Sophia Renaldo, Lauren Hillanbrand and Lilly Campli also placed first in their respective competitions. Way to go, girls!
Also, congrats this week to Chester County Hospital which retains its position as one of the best hospitals in the state. According to the most recent U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals,” Chester County Hospital is tied with Geisinger Medical Center in Pottsville as the 13th best hospital in the state. CCH is considered to be high performing in Urology and really close to high performing in Gastroenterology and GI Surgery.
Finally, a good game to the East Side Little League 12U All-Star team. The boys made a good run of it – all the way to the finals of the state championship game but fell a little (11 runs, actually) short in the end. Still as one fan posted on Facebook, “Unbelievable experience last night. Jam-packed, electric crowd. We’re all SUPER PROUD of these boys for battling hard throughout.”
After months of waiting, Mimi’s Tea Cottage is now open on High Street. The interior of this traditional English tea room is filled with floral garlands, brocade chairs, and dainty tea cups with matching patterned pots. There’s even a pink British-inspired phone booth and a pink custom mural by Philadelphia artist Laura Rose.
It’s romantic – in that Laura Ashley way, just as you’d imagine a tea cottage to be.
When planning your visit, remember that. This is a tea cottage, not a coffee shop. The idea here is not to grab and go but rather stop and savor a conversation over a pot. Tea options range from full service – think enough for a light lunch with soup, scones, a selection of sandwiches (tea, of course), and desserts – to a quick catch-up over a couple of scones.
Still not entirely sure what to expect? There is a Grand Opening open house planned for Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. It’s a perfect opportunity to pop in, sample some tea and treats and schedule your first proper tea experience.
Also, this week we have an update on what is happening at the Westtown School produce market – formerly, Pete’s now run by newcomer Christa Barfield of FarmerJawn. Well, it sounds like it is finally opening. According to an update posted to the FarmerJawn Philly website, you can expect the market to open on August 18 and run through the Thanksgiving season.
“Get ready for a bounty of fresh, locally-grown tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, an array of greens, local products, and so much more,” Christa writes. She also explains the reasons for the delay including a conscious decision to let this year’s foliage go through its natural lifecycle as well as some unforeseen challenges.
“We’ve bobbed and weaved through irrigation woes, faced oppressive commentary, endured unkind visits, braved torrential downpours, and even navigated through the haze of Canadian wildfire smoke,” she wrote but the team is now ready to open and excited.
“Thank you all for your continued support and patience. Your belief in our mission is what drives us to do better and be better every day. We can’t wait to see you at the FarmerJawn Produce Market in the coming weeks, where health, sustainability, and community come together.”
You can read the full letter here.
Speaking of coming together, this fall West Goshen is bringing back its popular outdoor movie series and they want your input on what to show. There are currently nine titles to choose from including recent hits Super Mario Brothers Movie, Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse, and The Little Mermaid (sorry, no Barbie). Residents can select up to five that they would like to see.
You can vote here (Note it says, West Goshen residents, but I’m not sure how they are going to know.)
Also, this week say hello to a new railroad crossing on the 500 block of E. Nields Street just before S. Adams Street. Crews have been at work all week repairing the tracks and upgrading the crossing. Work should be completed today.
And finally, in case you don’t already have enough to follow on Facebook, say hello to, Dogs of West Chester, a new Facebook group from professional dog photographer Ed Ryder.
This week West Chester University announced there would be no tuition increase for the 2023-2024 school year. Basic in-state tuition for undergraduate students at WCU (and 13 other state schools) remains at $7,716 for the 2023/2024 school year.
This is the fifth year in a row the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors has upheld a tuition freeze.
“Our students depend on PASSHE universities for a high-quality education at the lowest cost,” Board Chair Cynthia Shapira said in a statement. According to a news release put out by the University, the tuition freeze and an additional $125 million in financial aid are possible thanks to increased state funding and the universities’ commitment to cost efficiencies that have saved the state system $300 million.
Speaking of high-quality education at a low cost, the public hearings are in the books on the new proposed charter school. This week the West Chester Area School Board held its second of two public hearings reviewing the charter school application for the Valley Forge Classical Academy (VFCA). During the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, the board remained silent while West Chester Area School District representatives presented their review of the application and applicant Jenifer MacFarland, VFCA board president, gave the school’s response. They then listened as more than 30 members of the public provided comments.
The district, not surprisingly, raised a litany of issues with the application including with the curriculum, which they found to be incomplete and failing to meet state standards, the facility – there is reportedly no outdoor space or room for a playground – the budgeting, the technology plan, required teacher accreditation, substitute policy, lack of AP classes, inadequate disciplinary policy and the inability to properly address diverse student populations.
By way of rebuttal, Ms. MacFarland held that the intent of the charter school law was to provide alternative educational opportunities for students, teachers, faculty, and families. By very definition, her school should be different and in regards to some of the gaps in planning, she has time to fill those in. She is planning to soon hire additional executive staff including a new CEO. She also stated she was not concerned about enrollment noting she has “ample time” to fill the remaining spots. She expects to be at full enrollment with a waiting list by Aug. 1, 2024.
Proponents touted the school for providing a choice for families unhappy with the WCASD and unable to send their students to private schools. Opponents focused on the school’s curriculum and raised concerns about its preparedness to address marginalized groups including students of color, English as a second language students, special ed students, and LGBTQ students. Both sides brought out their supporters to Tuesday’s meeting. However, most who spoke encouraged the board to deny the application.
All comments and testimony were recorded and will be shared as a written report with school board members. A final decision will be made on or before Aug. 28. A specific date for the announcement was not given although it will be made in a public format, likely at an upcoming Board Meeting. A date, when determined, will be posted to the WCASD website.
Finally, in sad news, West Goshen Township said goodbye to its long-serving Public Works Director, John David Woodward, Jr. Mr. Woodward, who was born in West Chester and graduated from East High School, passed away unexpectedly last Friday. He served the West Goshen township for 23 years including the last seven as director. Mr. Woodward lived in Kennett Square with his wife and daughter. He was 53 years old.
Out of respect for Mr. Woodward’s family and friends, West Goshen canceled this week’s Board of Supervisors and Sewer Authority meetings. Both meetings will resume as scheduled in September.
Pay it forward.
Last week Chester County released its annual Point-In-Time count. The Point-in-Time count is the measure of homelessness at a single point in time in our case, the night of January 25. While we can debate whether the end of January is the best time to conduct such a count, keeping the timing consistent allows researchers to better document changes over time.
The counts show us that for several years prior to the start of the pandemic, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county was on the decline. From 682 people in 2016 to 517 in 2019, but after years of decreasing numbers, the count ticked up again in 2020. Researchers were forced to skip the count in 2021 due to the pandemic but returned to a pleasant surprise: more than 100 fewer people on the streets. The drop unfortunately was short-lived.
While numbers are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, there was a rebound in this year’s count. In 2023, 436 people were found to be experiencing homelessness, an increase of 8 percent. We can further break down the numbers by looking at those living on the street or more accurately, “sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation.” This number also increased, from 23 individuals in 2022 to 29 in 2023. An increase in unsheltered homeless was found in many areas across the County including in West Chester which saw an increase from 3 to 5 individuals. Remember these individuals are sleeping outside in January (in the wealthiest county in the state.)
According to Rob Henry, Administrator of the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness, rising rental costs are at least in part to blame. “Recent increases in rental costs have put rentals out of reach for many people in Chester County. As a result, our Point-In-Time count increased for the first time in several years,” he said in a statement.
Perhaps, then it’s not surprising West Chester saw its homeless numbers increase. According to Rent.com the average monthly rent for a 1-BR rose 10 percent last year, to $1,947.
Now in more positive transition-housing news, a shout out to all of you who stepped up to support the Friends Association Back-to-School initiative which provides back-to-school supplies for the children of families living in their emergency shelter. On Monday, I received this note:
“I wanted to reach out and thank you again for including Friends Association in last week’s newsletter. After it went out we had several people who had not given to Friends in the past sign up to be Back to School Shoppers or donate financially towards our initiative. We even had a local business reach out looking to support our Back-to-School efforts through a fundraiser with them.”
Makes you smile, doesn’t it? This community is the best.
(P.S. There’s still time if you want to help out.)
And finally, the Borough is still looking for some help with its Civil Service Commission, a volunteer board that advises the Mayor and members of Council on the hiring of police officers. This is a six-year position – and it’s as an alternate. What does that mean? Do you step up if one of the full-time members is unable to perform his or her duties? Anyway, if you are interested, direct questions to Dana DiDomenico and send her a copy of your resume by Aug. 11.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are helping someone ring in his last year in the single digits with a lemon meringue pie and a Steph Curry jersey. Shhh. Don’t tell him.
If you are around this weekend, the Goshen Country Fair is on for two more nights. We went earlier this week and got sucked into a cow competition. Sponge Bob, the Musical is on stage at Uptown and yoga is returning to Gay Street. Also, Root’s Cafe has added a seasonal peaches and cream French toast to the menu. I am seeing a plan come together here.
Then next Wednesday is Book Lovers Day and Monkey Fish Toys is celebrating with 15 percent off all books. No need to wait – the offer is good from now through Wednesday. And speaking of Wednesdays, kids eat for ½ price at Mae’s throughout the month of August. Maybe pick up a couple of books then make a night of it?
Finally, special thanks to this week’s Community Sponsor Hazley Builders. Hazley Builders is a Design + Build firm with over sixty years of combined experience in the West Chester area! Check out their website to learn more about what they do.
Hazley Builders is a multi-generational West Chester family business servicing Chester County and beyond. A 20+ year leader in innovation and quality of custom homes, renovations, and additions, they have earned a trusted reputation based on a steadfast pursuit and unwavering commitment to exceed their client’s expectations, create rewarding career opportunities for their employees, and support the community. Follow Hazley Builders on Instagram for all the latest updates and big reveals!
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to get your business out in front of this wonderful community? I don’t blame you. I have a few ad spaces available for August and I love highlighting all these amazing local companies. Send me an email and I will send you details!
Readership has been skyrocketing – and I can’t be happier but more people means higher monthly costs. I hate to ask but to keep things going, I will need support but don’t worry, I figure if regular readers contribute just $10 a year – we can keep the updates coming and the ads limited. Help keep readers first with a small donation below.
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Mark your calendars:
- Aug. 3 – 5 – The SpongeBob Musical, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. (There is also a 1 p.m. show on Friday afternoon.) When the citizens of Bikini Bottom discover that a volcano will soon erupt and destroy their humble home, SpongeBob and his friends must come together to save the fate of their undersea world in this stunning all-singing, all-dancing stage show.
- Aug. 4 – Tot Rock Music Class Demo, West Chester Public Library, 10:30 – 11 a.m. Rock out with your little ones in this fun class featuring music, songs, movement, and stories! Appropriate for kids 0-5. Registration opens July 28.
- Aug. 4 – Concert in the Park, John O. Green Park, 6:30 p.m. “Jive, Jump, & Wail” will be performing live. This is a free Borough event.
- Aug. 4 – Trivia Night, West Chester Public Library, 7-8 p.m. Registration is required.
- Aug. 5 – The WC Underground Railroad Walking Tour, tour begins at the Chester County History Center, 6 – 7:30 p.m. The Underground Railroad was a network of people offering shelter and aid to enslaved men, women and children on their journeys to freedom. This small-group walking tour will visit eight locations around downtown West Chester. Tickets: $15; discount for members
- Aug. 5 – Yoga in the Street, Gay Street (near the Post Office), 9 – 10 a.m. No registration required. Just bring a mat and $5 entrance fee (cash only!)
- Aug. 5 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- Aug. 6 – West Goshen Summer Concert Series, Hagerty Amphitheater, West Goshen Park, 6:30 p.m. In event of rain, concerts will be moved to Fugett Middle School Auditorium. A donation for the West Chester Food Cupboard is encouraged. Music: Wilson Lambert’s Blue Philly Magic (Motown hits)
- Aug. 7 – July 31 – $5 Movie Night: A League of Their Own, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Free popcorn included with the price of admission!
- Aug. 8 – Jump, Clap and Leap with Summer Dancing Feet, West Chester Public Library, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. West Chester Dance Works/Diane Matthews School of Dance Arts is inviting 3-6 year olds to a free dance class to discover the joy of creative movement. Registration opens Aug. 1
- Aug. 8 – Ray Didinger: Looking Back and Looking Ahead, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Legendary sports broadcaster and author Ray Didinger talks about his newly released paperback “One Last Read,” an anthology of his writings over the years, and also talk about the 2023 football season and the Eagles bid to repeat as NFC champions.
- Aug. 9 – Singer Songwriter Mainstage Finale, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Cheer on the six finalists who have made it to the mainstage and vote for your favorite. One Grand Prize Winner will be selected by the end of the evening! Tickets: $25
- Aug. 10 – Zia Yoga Storytime, West Chester Public Library, 10:30 – 11 a.m. Yoga Story Time is a unique class infused with yoga poses and life lessons for kiddos (and their adults) on and off the mat. Designed for families with children 2-6 years old. Registration opens 8/3.
- Aug. 10 – East Bradford Summer Concert Series, East Bradford Park, 7 p.m. Music: Flying Komorowski Brothers
- Aug. 10 – Theater in the Park: “Hansel and Gretel,” Marshall Square Park, 6 p.m. Join the Borough of West Chester for a captivating performance of the classic fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” by the Arts and Athletics Club. This is a free event.
- Aug. 11 – Movie in the Park: Shrek, Bayard Rustin Park, dusk. This is a free Borough event.
- Aug. 11 – 13 – Godspell, E.O. Bull Center at West Chester University, Fri. and Sat. at 7:30 p.m., Sun. matinee at 2 p.m. Godspell 2012 is a contemporary updated arrangement of powerhouse musical numbers and exuberant storytelling from a group of friends, invited by Jesus, who have come together to “sing about love.” Performance staged by the New Light Theatre. Tickets – $25/general admission; $15/students
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week!
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