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It’s Friday, Sept. 8, 2023: Split Rail has reopened. I spoke with management on what went wrong and how they plan to make it right. Plus, the West Chester Planning Commission approves preliminary development plans for Mitch’s, we look at where things stand today, and a new wine bar is coming to Church Street. Everything but more manhunt news for that you can go here, here, or apparently even, here.
Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
August Restaurant Inspection Reports and a Split Rail Update
On August 22, the Chester County Health Department shut down the Split Rail Tavern. The shocking report included 31 separate violations and a revelation of a cockroach infestation. Leading many to wonder, what happened? I sat down with SRT Owner Paul McCreavy and General Manager Lea Fredrichs to discuss the lead-up to the closure and, more importantly, what they were doing to clean up. What emerged was a cautionary tale of distraction, complacency, and the consequences of things outside of your control.
“Our attention was on Gay Street,” said Paul, who admitted his focus had been elsewhere this summer. He like other owners of non-Gay Street establishments is not a fan of the Borough’s decision to continue to close Gay Street to traffic on weekends. “This closure is killing us,” he said. “It’s like everyone’s having a party and we’re not invited.”
However, while leadership was exploring alternate revenue sources things were slipping in the kitchen and an ongoing problem with a neighbor was worsening.
They first noticed “little problems” years ago but were not sure of the cause until an employee took up residence in the neighboring apartments. The building was infested with cockroaches. The building has four upstairs apartments. According to Paul, they’ve approached the landlord on numerous occasions but he had been reluctant to do anything.
Instead, SRT upped their Green Pest visits to every Tuesday, and for a long time the situation seemed to be under control. Then three weekends ago they received a complaint. The weekend after that, several more. Unsure what to do about the worsening situation, Paul went to the Chester County Health Department seeking assistance with the landlord next door.
“I have a problem with my neighbor,” he told me he told the CCHD. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, a Chester County Health Inspector arrived at the restaurant.
“I thanked her for coming,” Lea told me thinking the health department was visiting about the neighbors. Housing violations, unfortunately, fall under the Borough of West Chester’s Housing Division. The CCHD was there for their annual review of the restaurant.
By the time the inspection was complete, a cease and desist order would be taped to the door and the path forward would become much clearer. The entire restaurant was scrubbed, caulked, and sealed. Fluorescent lighting was added behind the bar to make it easier to see what corners may have been missed. A second employee began the food safety certification process. (Paul is also certified but he was not onsite at the time of the inspection.) And the head chef was fired.
“The violations are on us,” Paul said of the many food safety basics that were neglected per the report. (Although, he does believe some of the violations are a little nit-picky or the result of poor timing – oil and water spray bottles not labeled, a pot resting on the ground for moments while things were shuffled in the cramped kitchen.)
Then, perhaps, most importantly, they approached the neighbor again.
“His attitude has completely changed,” said Paul. The owner has agreed to allow Split Rail to pay for weekly treatments of his building. The treatments will occur on Tuesdays at the same time as those already scheduled at SRT. That along with the sealing and constant vigilance should keep the bugs at bay. A shopvac sat on the counter when I arrived. Paul is now using it to make regular sweeps of the restaurant’s nooks and crannies sucking up any lingering, tiny brown egg sacks. “We got an education on roaches,” he said.
The leadership also knows in the end responsibility lies with them. “It’s still a health risk. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is,” said Lea.
SRT has reopened but the future of the bar that celebrated its 8-year anniversary in July is tenuous. Revenues were already down for the summer; now they are operating with a limited menu and reduced hours as they try to manage the expenses of the upgrades, the ongoing pest treatments, and the cost to replace all the food.
Standing with Paul in the empty, albeit, gleaming bar, there is a weight in the air. Whether the once $3 million a year bar will return to its former glory or even make it to next week is yet to be seen.
“I have to find the money to open full-time,” said Paul. “That’s what we are fighting now – the money.”
Update: SRT announced yesterday they are now open with a full menu.
Split Rail Tavern, 15 N. Walnut Street, out, 2 violations, including a bar dish machine not dispensing adequate levels of chlorine and a few remaining cockroaches spotted. Note the follow-up inspection was conducted on Aug. 31, two days before my meeting with the leadership team. I did not personally note any bugs while I was there.
Rize Pizza, 124 E. Market St, out, 9 violations, including pizza sauce not cooled properly, pizza being left out to be served without documentation of when it was made, a wash sink without soap and a can-opener, and a deli-slicer in need of cleaning.
Sabatino’s Mobile, 901 Boot Road, out, 9 violations including a bunch of things stored directly on the floor that shouldn’t be, interior prep and areas around the grill in need of cleaning.
CVS Pharmacy, 1450 Pottstown Pike, out, 6 violations. I am not sure what kind of food prep they are doing in this CVS Pharmacy but I would probably avoid it. I would also avoid the restrooms. Violations included holes in the walls of the men’s restroom as well as a list of cleaning tasks for both the men’s and women’s restrooms such as the fans, vents, floors, lower walls, and toilets. There was also evidence of rodent activity.
You can find all the reports here. Search by location for more detail.
West Chester (Briefly) at the Center of the Horse(less) Carriage Movement
Philadelphia’s horse-drawn carriages seem like a relic of a different era and they are. Just not the 1776 – let’s-build-us-a-new-country-era – that you might think. While horse-drawn carriages were of course in active use during much of the 18th and 19th centuries, they fell out of fashion at the start of the 20th century with the introduction of the automobile. The horse and buggies you see on the streets today were reintroduced in 1976. A novelty of that summer’s bicentennial celebration that just stuck and a tourist attraction Janet White, founder of Carriage House Freedom, says needs to end.
“We don’t understand the need,” she said. Especially when you consider the harm done to the horses who are often forced to work long hours facing modern-day problems like hot asphalt and endless exhaust fumes. “It’s really harmful,” she said. “It’s time to stop that.”
Instead, Janet had a better idea and she set up a shop in West Chester to build it.
“This carriage is the first step in transitioning away from horse-drawn carriages. It provides all of the charm, with none of the harm,” said Janet.
Caroline saw her first action earlier this summer in Philadelphia’s Independence Day Parade. She has since charmed at various regional festivals and events (up next, Chestnut Hill’s Petapalooza on September 9), but the real goal is to get her on the road. They are in ongoing talks with PennDOT now to hopefully make this happen.
“For the 250, no more horse carriages,” said Janet. “Let’s make this the image of [Philadelphia’s 250 Celebration].”
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.
Cover those beards. Sometimes there are no words for the things that people do. Last week West Chester police arrested William Robert Bradshaw, 30, of West Chester, for setting the face of a homeless man on fire. It is believed the incident occurred last month on the 100 block of W. Gay Street. Police learned of the incident after receiving a tip about a video circulating on Facebook. Mr. Bradshaw is out on bail until his Sept. 15 hearing.
There are real “dangerous” people out there. Last month West Chester police arrested Arjun Plakkat of West Chester after finding a series of flyers posted around East Bradford’s Shaw’s Bridge Park. The flyers, which included the township logo, warned neighbors and visitors of a “dangerous” person known to frequent the park. After investigating, police learned the flyers were not posted by the township but rather by Mr. Plakkat who was angry at the man pictured in the flyers. No one in a position of authority has any record of illegal or suspicious activity conducted by the man on the flyer. Mr. Plakkat was arrested on Aug. 24 and the flyers have all been removed.
Yes, check in on your neighbors, but not without their permission. Jenay Ramsey was arrested last week after breaking into her neighbor’s apartment on the 100 block of W. Miner Street.
There are cameras (just about) everywhere. West Chester Police are seeking assistance identifying an individual wanted in connection with the theft of a vehicle from Prescott Alley earlier this week. If you know this man or have any information about the event, contact Officer Hill at 610-696-2700.
You’re not going to make that turn. A truck accident shut down Market Street last Friday.
That’s not a great way to start the week. West Chester Fire Department responded to a car fire on Tuesday – and they got video.
Congratulations to Market Street Hardware and General Store. The highly rated, and locally-owned hardware store has a new location. It is hopping streets, moving from its E. Market Street location to 622 E. Gay Street, just past Tires Etc. as you head into town.
“We have been in business since 2017 and pride ourselves with customer service,” said owner Frank Eckley. “We specialize in locks, keys, blade and knife sharpening, repairing lamps, and screen repair and have an amazing staff who are knowledgeable of hardware needs. We also offer handyman services.”
You had me at screen repair. Check them out. They are now open on Gay Street.
Also, chest bumps to Rustin Football, which has taken the early lead in securing West Chester area bragging rights with a 49-35 win over crosstown rival Henderson on Friday. Originally scheduled for Thursday evening at Henderson the game was moved to Friday out of an “abundance of caution.” This is, of course, thanks to a convicted murderer being on the loose. Apparently, everyone was feeling better about the situation by Friday, and the game went on as rescheduled.
Speaking of big wins, high fives to East’s Football team which secured its first win of the season in dramatic fashion on Friday. After heading into the fourth quarter down by a touchdown to Great Valley, the Vikings evened things up with a 10-yard TD pass from quarterback Nate DeRosa to senior Tyler Wileczek. The late-game score sent the game into overtime where Nate ended things with a rushing touchdown.
For those keeping track, the Vikings are now 1-1, Henderson is 1-1 and Rustin remains undefeated at 1-0. That will all change tonight when East takes on Rustin at home. Henderson plays Kennett away.
Also, those with high school connections, encourage your teams and athletic departments to post scores and highlights – that way I can share. Local sports coverage is getting increasingly hard to find!
D’Ascenzo’s Gelato was recently featured on “Kelly Drives,” a weekly series hosted by Fox 29 reporter Bob Kelly that explores popular Delaware Valley locations. During the episode which aired last month, Mr. Kelly speaks with shop owners Glenn and Kristin D’Ascenzo and samples a lot of gelato. (There are a couple of kids I know who wrangled several free samples themselves.)
D’Ascenzo’s is getting a lot of love this year. Earlier this summer the Philadelphia Inquirer selected them as one of the best places in the area to get gelato.
Also, getting love? West Chester’s Sherrerd Steele, her unique floral business was recently featured on 6ABC.
Last Monday, Twin Valley Coffee opened at 120 N. Church Street on the ground floor of the Church Street Market House. This marks the third location for the coffee shop that has seemingly built a reputation with millennials and Gen Xers. (There is also an Eagleview location and the original Shady Maple Farm Market cafe in Downingtown.)
“My daughter drives from Lancaster for this coffee,” my coffee companion told me. A story that would be repeated, details changed, before my cold brew was complete. Perhaps a testament to their tagline, you’ll be “ruined for the ordinary?”
According to the barista, their most popular item is the caramel, sweet cream cold brew – much too sweet for me but I opted for a variation. Cold brew, light on the sweet cream and I have to say, it was delicious. Rich, creamy, and sweet, but not in a cloying way. My friend had the pumpkin spice latte, which she also said was very good and not too sweet.
Tip: If the light is still too sweet, try it with a “splash” of sweet cream for just a hint of flavor.
While the coffee is good, you’ll want to be aware, especially in a town known for its coffee houses, this is not a destination. The shop is mostly unadorned. There is a wall of logo-wear items to one side, a corner of gift items that felt a little like an afterthought, and very limited seating. None inside the coffeehouse, just a couple of cafe tables on which to rest your beverages, and two outside on the sidewalk. There are gorgeous nooks and crannies to settle in – inside Church Street Market House, but that space is locked to non-members, and you’ll need a code to get in.
This is a place to grab a cup and be on your way. This a place, with one focus, coffee. And for that, I’ll definitely be back.
Also, this week a couple more food and drink hellos:
- Steaks West Chester, a new enterprise from Speer Madanat, owner of Pizza West Chester is coming to 698 E. Market Street, former home of Peter Clark Kitchen. Not much is known about the new location yet but there is an Instagram account.
- Turks Head Wines is opening a new tasting room and wine lounge on N. Church Street, again in the Church Street Market House. According to their website, they see themselves as an “upscale, yet approachable, sanctuary for those looking for an upgraded night out.” They specialize in wines from the north coast of California.
And finally, it sounds like the Borough’s appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s decision to declare its Stream Protection Fee a tax has picked up a few friends on the way to the Pennslyvania Supreme Court. If the decision stands as is, tax-exempt institutions such as West Chester University will not have to pay to help clean up local waterways. It’s a decision that has caught the attention of many other municipalities in the state and around the country – many of which are warning it will be of “major consequence” if the decision stands as is.
Late last month, during their scheduled voting session, West Chester’s Planning Commission approved, by a vote of six to one, the preliminary development plans for the consolidated W. Market Street lot that includes Mitch’s Gym. According to the application summary, the new complex will reach a height of 60 feet and include 185 units with 215 parking spaces.
Since the news first broke three months ago, questions have been raised about the building’s size, its exterior, the traffic it will generate, and whether or not the builders have complied with all necessary zoning requirements.
Here’s a look at the concerns and the builder’s response:
Size and appearance. It’s been suggested the building is too big and doesn’t match the surrounding downtown aesthetic. According to the Borough Zoning Code, a building or structure can be built up to 60 feet within the height overlay district. The builder argues the plot falls within that district and is therefore eligible for the increased height. Some on the Planning Commission believe the height increase comes with conditions.
“They clearly are not following the HARB guidelines to get the extra 15 feet of height that they are supposed to,” said Planning Commission (and HARB) member Thomas Dougherty. He is hopeful Borough Council will address the issue.
Regarding appearance, which has been questioned for appearing too large and using too many materials, the builders responded by saying the building is not within the HARB district but does comply, in their opinion, with the recommendations set forth by the Historic and Architecture Review Board.
While architect Bernardon has made some modifications to simplify the exterior of the building, the changes do not go as far as many had hoped. Developers have, however, agreed to convert the sidewalks to brick to match the rest of downtown.
First floor retail. It was suggested the builders consider adding first-floor retail instead of just providing residential amenities as planned. The Borough has presented this is a requirement of the height extension to 60 feet. The builders have responded by noting that the building does not fall within the retail overlay district therefore, it is their understanding retail is not required.
Traffic and parking. Concerns have been raised over increased traffic in the area especially along adjacent alleyways which were not designed to accommodate excess vehicles or large moving trucks. However, a completed traffic study suggests there will be no issues. Each unit will have its own parking space and residents will not be allowed to participate in the Borough’s Residential Parking Permit or guest program.
Historic preservation. Some have suggested that both Mitch’s and the small gas station on the corner of Wayne and Market hold historic value and should be preserved. The builder however rejected this idea. “We have determined that the existing building cannot be renovated to achieve the program requirements of a market-rate residential project. Therefore, we are seeking permission from the Borough Council for the demolition of the existing structures.” They did, however, offer to put up a plaque.
Green space. The building as designed lacks adequate outdoor recreational space. Instead of correcting, the developer has indicated they will pay a fee to the Borough.
The plans will now go to Borough Council for review at their next work session on Sept 19 at 6:30 p.m. (This is what should happen but agendas aren’t live yet so you may just want to confirm before you go.)
Also, goodbye, Professor Schmucker. West Chester University has decided to rename the “Samuel Christian Schmucker Science Center after it turned out Mr. Schmucker was kind of a schmuck.
Pay it forward.
Last week the Friends Association cut the ribbon on its newly renovated Chestnut Street Family Center. The Family Center is located in an 1860s brick home with a wide front porch. There are six separate family units each with its own entryway, kitchen, and living spaces. In the backyard, children have a home of their own in the way of a playhouse complete with flower-stuffed window boxes.
This is the only shelter in Chester County that is designed to serve families.
The ribbon cutting also marked the end of a journey for CEO Jennifer Lopez.
“As many of you know, this week is my last at Friends Association and it is fitting that I end my journey where it began in 2019…sitting on this very porch,” she said.
You can read more about the ribbon-cutting in the Daily Local.
Also, mark your calendars for the always fun (I have heard much about the signature martinis), Downtown Foundation Up on the Roof event. Held each year on the top of the Chestnut Street Garage the event goes to support the work of West Chester’s Downtown Foundation.
This year the event will be held on Sept. 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. – but hurry, tickets are going fast. Last I heard only about 30 remained!
Finally, for those looking for a civic challenge, the Borough of West Chester is still looking for two people to join its Civil Service Commission. The Civil Service Commission advises Borough Council and the mayor on police hires. This position is for a six-year term. If you are interested send your resume to Dana DiDomenico by Sept. 14.
“The Weekend Marquee” by Uptown
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend?
We are embracing fall sports times three and getting ready for one last summer hurrah! We are excited but I won’t post too many details here just in case someone in desperate need of short-term housing keeps up on local news. Just know there will not be a newsletter next Friday – the will, however, be the new fall events guide so you can literally start planning for cooler days.
If you are around this weekend, Yoga in the Street is back in front of the courthouse on Saturday. Remember your $5 and a mat. Federal Donuts will be at the Artisan Exchange, and late summer favorites sweet corn, watermelon, and peaches are hanging on at the Grower’s Market. On Sunday, the Eagles see their first real action of the season. Wrong Crowd will be serving $4 pints of its Borough Pils and West Chester Lager and Kildare’s is prepared to hand out free green tea shots for every Eagle’s TD.
And on Tuesday, America’s Pie will be hosting a fundraiser for a young employee who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm this week. It will be a dine-and-donate event with all profits going to Sierra and her family.
Finally, a very special thank you to this week’s Community Sponsor SLA Financial. SLA Financial is a family-run, financial planning firm dedicated to fostering a supportive environment where clients feel empowered to make informed financial decisions. Their mission is to provide comprehensive financial planning that not only bolsters their client’s financial future but also enhances their financial confidence. Visit their website to learn more.
At SLA Financial our team specializes in empowering women and couples along their financial journey. Our comprehensive services cover investment strategies, retirement planning, divorce planning and wealth management, all designed to align with your unique goals and aspirations. SLA Financial’s holistic approach helps to guide our clients towards their financial independence. Visit our website to get started!
Securities Offered Through The Investment Center, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC
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. Fall ad spaces are now open! It’s a great – and cost effective way – to get your name in front of a highly engaged West Chester audience. Send me an email if you are interested – but hurry, spaces are filling up fast!
Readers, like knowing what’s happening in and around town? Same! But this thing is a beast. Plus, more readers, more expenses, but that’s ok. I did the math. I figure if all 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.
Mark your calendars:
- Sept. 9 – 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!
- Sept. 9 – 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!)
- Sept. 11 – $5 Movie Night: Notorious, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Free popcorn included with the price of admission!
- Sept. 13 – Westtown Summer Concert, Oakbourne Park, 6 – 7 p.m. Wrap up the summer with a rousing concert by the West Chester Community Band. Rain date September 14.
- Sept. 15 – Food Truck Night at the Fame Fire Company, 200 E. Rosedale Ave, 4 -8 p.m. Mechanical bull riding, SPCA puppies, local vendors and, of course, food trucks.
- Sept. 15 – Wicked Scoundrel, WCU Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 8 p.m. Enjoy Philly’s local rock band with a special appearance by a KISS Gene Simmons impersonator. This rock show will have plenty of great classic rock tunes and much more! General admission tickets: $10; $5 with WCU student ID
- Sept. 16- 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!
- Sept. 16 – 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!)
- Sept. 18 – $5 Movie Night: Victoria & Abdul, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Free popcorn included with the price of admission!
- Sept. 23- 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!
- Sept. 23 – 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!)
- Sept. 23 – Oktoberfest, Downtown West Chester, 11 a.m. Participating locations will have $6 fall beer all day.
- Sept. 23 – 11th Annual Unite for HER Run/Walk, Downtown West Chester, Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. race begins 9 a.m.; kids dash is at 8:45 a.m. 100% of proceeds benefit Unite for HER and those affected by breast and ovarian cancers nationwide. This year more than 5,300 patients will receive integrative therapies, services, and education at no personal cost. $30 to run. Register: uniteforher.org/5k.
- Sept. 23 – A Forest Festival, Gordon Natural Area, 1 – 4 p.m. The Gordon Natural Area turns 50 this year. Celebrate with an outdoor festival featuring food, live music, tours, demostrations and more.
Psst. Like to plan ahead? Stay tuned for the new Fall Event Guide full of photos and videos from West Chester’s favorite fall events or visit the Calendar page for events through October!
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you in two!