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Proposed Swarthmore Town Center West development promises college town's first inn

Unlike many other local colleges and universities, families of Swarthmore College students often have to go miles out of their way to find lodging. It's not uncommon for these families to have to stay as far away as the Airport area. However, if a proposed new Town Center continues on its path to fruition, those visiting the college or the borough won't have to skip town to find a bed. Swarthmore College has begun the re-routing of utilities to allow for Swarthmore Town Center West, which is a complex slated to include an inn, restaurant and lounge, and re-located campus bookstore. 

The idea of an inn in the borough of Swarthmore gets a lot of people excited, whether they're affiliated with the college or live in town. The college is endeavoring to build a 40-45 room inn, which would be open to anyone visiting Delaware County. "It's an idea that's been discussed and debated for a number of years," offers Marty Spiegel, Swarthmore Borough's town center coordinator. This will "draw more people into downtown (Swarthmore)," he adds. Spiegel  especially covets the increased pedestrian traffic he says this inn will generate.

While the inn has a lot of students and townsfolk talking, so too does the idea of a restaurant and lounge. Spiegel recounts that the community would like a restaurant that is a short and non-treacherous walk for residents, as well as an appropriate gathering place for people to meet and chat. The coordinator says the grades are still out as to whether the restaurant will be formal or casual, as the college is currently embarking on marketing studies to see what kind of eatery would work best.   

Currently, Swarthmore College is moving ball fields to potentially make way for the Town Center. Spiegel estimates that plans for the new complex will be ready for preliminary review and analysis in a few months. If all goes according to plan, he believes construction will commence in 2013, with a possible completion and opening date in 2014.  

If Swarthmore Town Center West does get approved, it could also result in a re-engineering of the Route 320 underpass by SEPTA's Swarthmore Station. "This brings added importance to that issue," says Spiegel, who is concerned about the dangers of existing traffic at the intersection of Swarthmore Borough and College, and the commuter traffic from the station. While the southernmost exit of the college, which stares the underpass down, would have to be removed for the Town Center, the new development would undoubtedly bring increased vehicular traffic. 

Spiegel wants to emphasize his wish that the new complex minimize the need to use a car. He explains that the development is "ideally suited" by being convenient to the center of the borough, the college and the train station. He envisions residents and students walking from the borough and the college to grab some dinner, and visitors taking the train to stay at the inn. 

Source: Marty Spiegel, Swarthmore Borough
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Map art by Alex Forbes

Center City to get a case of the shakes and stir-fries with new self-serve restaurant

For those of you who walk down 16th St. in Center City, you may have noticed a change. In fact, Philadelphia's only Pita Pit location is no longer at 16th and Sansom. Yet, the space is not expected to stay empty for long, as a self-serve stir-fry, shake, and salad eatery called Honeygrow is planning on opening its first location in early- to mid-spring.

Honeygrow promises to be a unique dining option in a neighborhood that's filled with diverse restaurants. Justin Rosenberg, who along with David Robkin is responsible for Honeygrow, gloats that his restaurant will offer unique homemade sauces for the stir-fries, including Smoked Oyster, Indonesian Barbeque, and Citrus Wasabi. Along with the sauces, stir-fries will come with a choice of wheat, soba, or gluten-free noodles. Rosenberg also promises "local produce as much as possible." The stir-fries will cost between $8-$10.

Another unique aspect to Honeygrow will be the self-serve ordering and payment. Just like Wawa has self-serve ordering kiosks, Rosenberg has a similar idea in mind. To go a step further, the kiosks will be smart enough to know repeat customers and what they've ordered in the past. Finally, payment will also be handled by machine, which will accept credit and debit cards. Rosenberg is currently unsure how many employees will be hired, although they might be limited with the self-service.

The name "Honeygrow" is another reflection of just how unique the restaurant aims to be. "(We) wanted a name never used and alludes to only one thing- our concept," clarifies Rosenberg. "'Honey' speaks to the warmth, simplicity, and sweeter side of our menu," while "grow" denotes how fulfilling the entrepreneur hopes his restaurant will be.

Rosenberg and Robkin hope to open additional locations in the next couple of years. When it comes to growth, "the sky is the limit," says an ambitious Rosenberg. He quickly adds that Honeygrow will be focusing on just the Philadelphia-area for the time-being. The entrepreneurs' love of the city is evident in that they decided to open their first location right in the middle of the city's Central Business District.

Honeygrow will feature 35 seats, and be designed by local firm DAS Architects. The interior will be bred from New York City eateries Momofuku and Chop't, with a design that Rosenberg describes as "expressive, modern rustic." At the same time, the co-owner promises that his business will have a simple design that caters to customers who are on-the-go.     

Source: Justin Rosenberg, Honeygrow
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Pop city: PHS unveils pop-up retail for the holidays at the Comcast Center

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has already proven it knows how to pop with three po-pup gardens in Center City over the summer.

Now PHS is applying the concept to holiday shopping. On Monday, PHS launched its first Holiday Pop-Up Shop at the Comcast Center. The pop-up shop will be open from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily through Friday (Dec. 16).

The shop will have a heavy island influence, promoting the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show (March 4-11) and its theme, Hawaii: Islands of Aloha. The shop will feature tickets for the show and select PHS merchandise for purchase, like The Gift of a Tree and PHS memberships.

Also available will be "Dig It" t-shirts, PHS scarves and floral arranging cards. There are also daily drawings to win other prizes from stores at The Market & Shops at Comcast Center. Follow PHS on Facebook or use the #PHSPopUp hashtag on Twitter to play along.

Source: Stephanie Edwards, PHS
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Uptown Theater restoration aims to stretch Avenue of the Arts into North Philly

Decades ago, one venue brought Ray Charles, BB King, The Supremes, and Jackson Five to North Philadelphia. This was the Uptown Theater, which was a major Philadelphia attraction. The same cannot be said today, as the vacant theater languishes in the shadows of Temple University and poverty on North Broad Street, between Susquehanna and Dauphin. However, this is about to change, as the theater is in the midst of major renovations that will once again make it a place to be.

The Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation (UEDC) is leading the charge to restore the Uptown Theater.  Linda Richardson, the president of UEDC, says crews are currently working on the rehabilitation of the educational and entertainment tower at the old theater. This is where Richardson hopes to relocate the UEDC and provide office space for other tenants. She estimates that this renovation will be completed by March of next year. 

While UEDC works on the tower, they are also in the ongoing process of renovating the landmark façade of the theater. This is complicated because of the need to preserve the history of the building. "We're structured with color testing from the 1920's," says Richardson. This will lead to the installation of new tiles, which will maintain the historic character of the Uptown. The organization has been rewarded for its attention to vintage detail through a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

While restoring the theater true to its mid-20th century roots has been a challenge, the biggest challenge has been to raise money for the rehab. The Uptown has been running a campaign called "Light up the Uptown," in which the UEDC solicits donations to turn its trademark marquee into an LED display. This has raised half of the needed $5,000 so far, as Richardson is still looking for $2,500 in pledges by the middle of December. Yet, the most expensive part of the renovations is to bring the auditorium and balcony back to glory. This will cost $7 million, an amount that UEDC is about halfway through raising.. 

A renovated Uptown Theater has the potential to be a tremendous spark to North Broad Street and North Philadelphia. "It's a continuation of the goal of the Avenue of the Arts North," emphasizes Richardson. She adds that the theater could serve as a hub for independent cultural organizations representing a wide range of races and cultures. The Uptown's facelift comes at an exciting time for North Broad, which has seen new development around the erstwhile Wilkie car dealership and anticipates new academic and dorm space at Temple University, as well as streetscape improvements. 

For the time being, the Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation is focusing on finding tenants to occupy the soon-to-be renovated educational and entertainment tower. Richardson narrows the field of possible tenants by saying that she's especially looking for young entrepreneurs in entertainment, arts, or social services. UEDC would also prefer any tenants be able to stay for two to five years. If Richardson and the UEDC get their way, tenants will soon have the distinction of working at the northern -- or uptown -- end of the Avenue of the Arts.    

Source: Linda Richardson, Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation
Writer: Andy Sharpe     

Brewerytown continues to be a hot neighborhood for new businesses

After a frenetic year-and-a half that has witnessed the emergence of twelve new businesses in Brewerytown, Girard Ave. is expected to get some more fresh additions. Businesses planning to open in Brewerytown include a taqueria, a pop-up art, jewelry, and clothing store, and a Bottom Dollar food market. 

According to David Waxman and Aaron Smith of Brewerytown developer MM Partners, plans to build a Bottom Dollar food market in front of Brewerytown Square at 31st and Girard are generating the most buzz. While the site remains an empty lot, Waxman, a co-managing partner at MM Partners, says work on the site should start soon. The project was first presented months ago, but has been slowed by the location‘s history as a brownfield. Bottom Dollar is looking to build an 18,279 sq. ft. market with 94 parking spots. 

The next shop to open will be the pop-up store Amazulu, which will be ready for business this holiday season. Smith, the director of property management at MM, sings the praise of Amazulu, which will sell a panoply of African influenced items. These crafts include clothes and jewelry for all ages and sexes, paintings, sculptures, furniture, and even masks. Amazulu currently has a location in the Reading Terminal Market. 

Another welcome addition to Brewerytown will be a taqueria. Smith says that the Mexican restaurant will be "very authentic, relatively affordable, and healthy." Smith and Waxman say this taqueria will serve as a contrast to some of the other restaurants on Girard Ave. in terms of offering a scrumptious and healthy dining option. MM Partners predicts that this taqueria will open during late winter or spring next year.

While locals are largely happy with the recent influx of new businesses, some still hope for more. Waxman and Smith say a neighborhood named Brewerytown really deserves a brewery. Specifically, MM Partners would like to see a nanobrewery make its home around Girard Ave. To back up their words, the developers say they’d be willing to help extensively with zoning and other issues.  

Sources: David Waxman and Aaron Smith, MM Partners
Writer: Andy Sharpe

More mosaic magic from Isaiah Zagar in store for South Philly warehouse

Right behind Neumann-Goretti High School in South Philadelphia sits a building that looks decidedly out-of-place in the neighborhood. This building is a warehouse whose exterior is dressed head to toe in mosaic tiles. This building could only belong to one man; the noted local mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. Yet, the 10,000-square foot warehouse is a work in progress, as Zagar hopes to create an indoor version of the Philadelphia Magic Gardens, an artistic hub draws tourists and events alike to South St.

The warehouse, located at 10th and Watkins Sts., consists of two floors that provide ample space for Zagar to showcase visual and performing arts. Zagar says he is looking to weave a “sculptural labyrinth" on the first floor, which he aspires to be “completely embellished” by mosaic. This would be distinctly similar to Zagar’s most talked about installation, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. On the second floor, Zagar hopes to create a theater space. This would engage guests in a performing arts experience in addition to the first floor visual arts experience.

The greatest hurdle for Zagar to overcome is a lack of money. One of the primary reasons why he decided to create a second space is to extend the audience served and physical space of the existing Magic Gardens, which he says has had greatly increased attendance within the past few years. Foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts supplemented the creation of the Magic Gardens, but grant funds for artists are becoming more scarce and more competitive.

Thus, it should come as little surprise that he’s having some trouble finding money to work on the warehouse. The biggest fiscal need he currently sees is the purchase of heating and air conditioning for the theater he dreams of building.

Zagar estimates that it will be three years before he completely finishes his work on the warehouse. At that time, “I hope it becomes an annex of the garden,” says the artist. Zagar also hopes his new installation lifts the Philadelphia art scene higher on its pedestal, as he tires of seeing New York City dominate the art chatter. Zagar says, “Philly was my history.”

If you have any questions about the Watkins Street warehouse, Zagar will be on hand to answer at the Magic Gardens on Dec. 4, from 1-4 p.m.

Source: Isaiah Zagar, Philadelphia Magic Gardens
Author: Andy Sharpe

Ms. Tootsie´┐Żs restaurant is hub for new development at 13th and South

Keven Parker has big plans for South Street between 13th and Broad this week, as he’s upgrading his restaurant, Ms. Tootsie’s, and adding a home store and luxury boutique hotel right next door. More than anything else, Parker is looking to emphasize the connectivity of the restaurant, lodging, and store, as there will be ample indoor access between the hotel and Ms. Tootsie’s.

Parker’s ambition in creating the new complex is quite evident. "We are a reflection of what this city offers to the discerning dweller or visitor: a place to eat, sleep and shop, the ultimate experience," says Parker. The new store and suites and the refreshed Ms. Tootsie’s will debut tomorrow (Nov. 16).

The suites, called Luxury Suites, will be something different for South Street east of Broad, which is not used to hotels. It’s clear that Parker means luxury in every sense of the word. There will be three luxury suites, each with a marble bathroom, bedroom, sitting area, oven, stove, large refrigerator, and dinette. To further regale guests, one suite will contain a jacuzzi in the middle of the bedroom.

The store is named KDP Lifestyle, which makes use of Parker’s initials. Parker plans to sell an eclectic variety of home wares at KDP, such as couches, chairs, bedding supplies, and lamps. The store will be a potpourri of trendy and antique items, and will be located directly underneath the suites.

To complement the new suites and store, the entrepreneur will also unveil a newly renovated Ms. Tootsie’s, with an enhanced menu. According to Megan R. Smith, who's handling public relations for Parker, the restaurant will now feature a "Love Lounge" for couples romantically inclined. The lounge will be painted entirely white with wood trim, and will be illuminated by faint lighting. The restaurant will also contain an R&B room with walls decorated by pictures of singers and resounding hues of red and black.

Smith adds that Parker’s expansion has met with approval from the community. She says that some of the biggest fans of the new suites and store have been local businesses and residents of the neighboring 1352 Lofts. In fact, the complex’s opening reception will include many guests from the nearby businesses and lofts.

Source: Keven Parker, KDP Lifestyle
Writer: Andy Sharpe
Photo by Andrew Terrell

First Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years set for Chestnut Hill-Mt. Airy border

Philadelphia will be getting its first new Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years. Members of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting (CHFM) have outgrown their current meetinghouse, and want to create a new one that better reflects eco-friendly Quaker values. The new meetinghouse also promises to be a place of tranquility and beauty for everyone across Northwest Philadelphia, regardless of religious affiliation.

The new meetinghouse is intended as a multi-purpose building for Quakers and non-Quakers. Signe Wilkinson, co-chair of fundraising for CHFM, says the building will fulfill all spiritual purposes, but will be suitable for so much more. "It will be a place of contemplation and reflection and peace" for everyone, imagines Wilkinson. Wilkinson also foresees humanitarian uses for the building, which include caring for Nepalese refugees and working with the Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network to care for the homeless.

The new location will be "a football field and a half" away from the current meetinghouse, according to Wilkinson. It will be constructed behind Mermaid Lane in an oft-ignored part of the Wissahickon Valley by Cresheim Valley Drive. One reason why the Friends decided to build here is because it is convenient to mass transit, vehicles, and pedestrians along Germantown Ave. Also, it is beside a proposed bicycle trail along Cresheim Valley Drive.

Members of CHFM are especially proud of the art installation that will be built within their meetinghouse. They’ve sought out James Turrell, a fellow Quaker, to create a Skyspace light installation, which will allow skylight to illuminate the meeting space. Wilkinson says her brethren was inspired by a similar Turrell Skyspace in Houston, Texas. Realizing that the Skyspace allowed Houstonians to better contemplate, CHFM got to know Turrell about seven years ago.

The Friends are also seeking to hold true to environmentally-friendly tenets of Quakerism with the new meetinghouse. Wilkinson says that they’re striving to conform to LEED Platinum standards, although they don’t actually have the resources to apply for LEED certification. To do this, members are hoping to recycle the asphalt left over from when the site was a quarry. They’re also considering installing solar panels, although that is dependent on how much money they raise.

The funds for construction of the new building have mostly been raised, although supporters estimate that they still need to come up with the remaining 10 percent of the cost. Wilkinson says that members of the meetinghouse have donated during meetings, and neighbors and fans of Turrell have also given munificently. In addition, CHFM was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the new space. The first shovel is expected to hit dirt in March 2012, while the completion date is forecast for July 2013.

Source: Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Welcome to the Porch at 30th St. Station, Philadelphia's newest public space

University City District and other groups unveiled a new public space outside of one of Philadelphia's busiest hubs, called the Porch at 30th St. Station, last week. It was quite a festive unveiling, featuring jugglers, humongous puppets from the Spiral Q Puppet Theater, acrobats, cake, and plenty of speakers representing community groups, city government, and business. The Porch is a 40-foot swath of sidewalk between the station and Market St. with tables, chairs, new vegetation, and the potential for so much more.

Prema Gupta, the Director of Planning and Development at the University City District (UCD), is excited about the possibilities that the Porch provides. She emphasizes that the area is currently in a testing phase, which is why it can look a tad barren. However, Gupta envisions farmers markets, performances, and even yoga on the Porch. While the winter might be a slow time for the new public space, there are a series of spring performances scheduled.

For anyone who has spent even a little bit of time around 30th St. Station, it is a supremely frenetic environment. UCD’s Executive Director, Matt Bergheiser, says that 1,800 pedestrians on average stroll along the sidewalk every hour on weekdays. In addition, the streets surrounding the station see seemingly ceaseless congestion from cars, trucks, and buses. Gupta sums up UCD’s goal in the face of all this activity, which is to "bring a sense of human scale to this space."

The District also hopes to narrow the gap between University and Center City. In a similar vein to the recently opened Penn Park, Bergheiser confirms that the Porch is "part of the connective tissue of the city." This means that Amtrak riders who cross the Schuylkill River between University and Center Cities now have a place to take a break, munch on lunch, be wowed by a performance, or maybe even partake in some outdoor yoga. As well, Center City residents, Penn and Drexel students, or anyone else walking between downtown and Left of Center can take advantage of the new public space.

The name of the public space was the result of a contest that saw over 500 entries. In addition to having their name grace the second busiest train station in the nation, the winner of the contest also won a $500 Amtrak gift certificate. The University City District also hopes to crowdsource future decisions about the park, including the type of performances. While the next few months might be relatively quiet for the city’s newest Porch, expect some new fun ways to relax come spring.

Sources: Matt Bergheiser and Prema Gupta, University City District
Writer: Andy Sharpe

First Barnes and Noble to serve three schools opens in Camden

Since 2004, the Camden Technology Center has been a community center of sorts, situated on the campus of Camden County College and flanked by Rutgers University and Rowan University's Camden campuses.

That anchor was solidified last Thursday with the opening of the new Barnes and Noble University District Bookstore and Starbucks Cafe, the first bookstore of its kind in the nation to serve three institutions of higher education.

"There are many people and organizations that love Camden and continue to invest their time and money into projects that will turn the city around," says Camden County College President Raymond Yannuzzi via email.

The project was an investment of $570,000, including $350,000 from Barnes and Noble. It came to be when the contract with Camden County College's prior bookstore service provider expired in February. The school requested proposals from national bookstore operators and Barnes and Noble won out, renovating the existing 13,500-square-foot space that now features a 51-seat Starbucks Cafe. The current contract with Barnes and Noble runs through 2015.

Barnes and Noble has a track record of this sort of thing in the Northeast. In 2006 it opened its first joint bookstore in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pa., serving King's College and Wilkes University.

Yannuzzi says the first few days have been a success sales wise, "doing well above expectations with customer counts increasing daily." The bookstore fronts busy Cooper Street and is in a building that has a seven-floor public parking garage.

"The foot traffic not only includes students of the three institutions, but also local business people, community neighbors and government officials who now have a casual, comfortable place to meet and conduct business," says Yannuzzi.

Source: Raymond Yannuzzi, Camden County College
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Friends of 40th St. weigh pocket parks, increasing population density and SEPTA station upgrades

Many Philadelphians would say that University City is one of the hottest sections of the city for development. In fact, it seems like both the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have grand plans to further development in their pockets of the city. With this in mind, Penn Praxis, the University City District, and Sustainable Communities Initiative- West have teamed up with other community, university, and business interests to form the Friends of 40th St. The Friends held their final public meeting last week to brainstorm ways to enhance the 40th St. corridor between Baltimore and Lancaster Aves.

Harris Steinberg, the executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Praxis did much of the talking at the public input meeting. Steinberg makes it clear that transportation is one of the biggest slices of the Friends goals. This includes “thinking of our transit portals as important markers,” says Steinberg. 40th St. is an important transit stretch, as it includes the Southwest Philadelphia trolley portal at Baltimore Ave., the 40th St. Market-Frankford Line Station at Market St, and connections with heavily-traveled cross-town bus routes.

One transit issue that stuck a nerve with the crowd was making the station at 40th and Market Sts. handicapped accessible. Even though neighboring El stations have elevators, 40th St. Station does not, despite being feet away from senior housing. Steinberg confirmed that “universal accessibility for all users” is a big area of study for the Friends.

Yet, some members of the audience didn’t feel like the Friends were pushing hard enough for elevators, as question after question emerged about the accessibility of the station. Finally, a representative of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s office spoke up and promised the councilwoman would convene a meeting between SEPTA and neighbors about constructing elevators at 40th St Station.

It’s important to note that transportation isn’t the only aspect the Friends of 40th St. are concentrating on. Steinberg showed a picture of the pocket park around 17th and Chestnut Sts. as an example of how parks could make the street a more appealing corridor. Two other elements that are being examined are preservation/development and density. Specifically, the Friends are researching whether 40th St. can support greater density to create a more vibrant urban environment.

The idea of greater density made some in the audience uncomfortable. Long-time residents griped about a lack of parking and other quality-of-life issues caused by an increase in student population. They also raised their hands to complain about what they saw as local institutions having too much control over development. Steinberg, poised as ever, responds “as new development happens, quality of the built environment would improve the quality of your life.” That sums up what the Friends of 40th St. are trying to do, which is improve the quality of life of everyone who lives, works, shops, or attends classes along the 40th St. corridor.           

Source: Harris Steinberg, PennPraxis
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Something new for Bucks County kids to do with opening of new museum in New Hope

The Bucks County Children’s Museum opens a new world of whimsy for kids in New Hope this week. The museum was created to give children ages 8 and under an interactive space to explore the culture and history of Bucks County. It is the first youth-themed museum in Bucks County, and one of few in the Philadelphia-area. The opening marks a re-birth for the space that used to house the New Hope branch of the James A. Michener Art Museum.

The museum has a motley assortment of interactive exhibits, all intended to teach young children about Bucks County. One such exhibit is a “replica of a vintage Bucks County train,” where young kids can pretend to “serve (food) in the gallery kitchen,” exclaims Mandee Kuenzle, communications director at the museum. Sticking with transportation, the museum also allows visitors to walk through a 12-foot long replica of a Bucks County covered bridge. Kids can also take advantage of a locally themed archeological dig space, a tree house with science lessons, and a spot to build and race K’nex cars.

Kuenzle vows that local teachers had a sizable role in the creation of each exhibit. Earlier this year, a group of 20 Bucks County teachers took their own field trip to the museum to create curriculum germane to young children. These educators represented some of the biggest school districts in the county, including Central Bucks, Council Rock, New Hope-Solebury, and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. Kuenzle is quick to add that the assistant superintendent for elementary education at the populous Central Bucks School District serves on the museum’s Board of Directors.

Children should now have more of a place to call home in artsy New Hope, thanks to the museum. Kuenzle cited New Hope’s vibrant arts and culture scene as one reason why the museum decided to hold class in the borough. Kuenzle also expressed a desire to tap into New Hope’s tourist culture, making it clear that her exhibits aren’t merely open for local youth. Other children’s themed activities in and near New Hope, such as the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad and Peddler’s Village should also jive well. New Hope is an interesting location, as it is not centrally located in the county, and is actually closer to parts of New Jersey than some corners of Bucks. 

It is remarkable that the children’s museum is able to open such a comprehensive set of displays in the middle of a recession. Both private citizens and corporate sponsors played a big role in financing. The automotive giant Subaru and Teva Pharmaceuticals both sponsored, while the Bucks/Montgomery Counties chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry donated a whole exhibit. Finally, K’nex gave a large donation towards their exhibit.  

Source: Mandee Kuenzle
Writer: Andy Sharpe

From housedresses to seafood to lamps, Chestnut Hill sees a rash of new business development

After seeing a good deal of businesses close, and an influx of banks open, it looks like the Chestnut Hill section of the city is back on the road to retail and dining diversity. In fact, a number of new businesses have opened along Germantown Ave. so far this year, with many more planned. It even looks like the crown jewel at the top of the Hill, the former Borders Books, might soon open a new chapter.

Eileen Reilly, the Chestnut Hill Business Association's retail recruiter, is pumped to talk about the new businesses opening along the avenue. Earth, an eclectic store that sells garden-infused jewelry, candles, and even garden supplies tilled the soil when it opened in March. The owner of Earth, Doug Reinke, proceeded to open Linen, a bedding, bath and baby supply store in May. Not satisfied, Reinke opened a rug and lighting store called "Room Service" earlier this month, a few blocks away from the other two stores.

Reilly also boasts about a couple of "pop-up" stores that will set up shop at the old Magarity Ford dealership in time for the holiday season. One such store is Fete Noel, which is a one-of-a-kind store that vends everything from antique furniture, to toys, to prestigious jewelry, to photography. This "pop-up" store will be open for six days, beginning on Nov. 10th. Another "pop-up" store is Bali to Bala, which returns after an ultra successful debut in Chestnut Hill last year. Bali to Bala features Indonesian arts and crafts, and aims to spread awareness about Indonesian culture.

Yet, according to Reilly the list of stores and restaurants slated to open in Chestnut Hill in the next few months is even more comprehensive. The Iron Hill Brewery is currently being built where clothing stores used to be, with Reilly saying it will open right before New Year's Eve. With this in mind, the big story in Chestnut Hill will continue to be the local independent stores that are opening. A woman's apparel store called Indigo Schuy is expected to open within the next few months, while a locally themed fine dining establishment called Heirloom will begin serving up duck, seafood, and other items.

What many are anxiously looking at is the old Border's Books site at the intersection of Germantown Ave. and Bethlehem Pike. Reilly reveals that a deal is close to being reached between the seller and a client of this parcel, and that it will have an institutional use. Greg Welsh, the owner of the Chestnut Grill and a loud voice on the Business Association, went a step further and said the building will soon become a childcare center for Children of America.

For residents, shoppers, and diners in Chestnut Hill, this new flurry of business openings is surely welcome news. This is remarkable because of the lower sales tax in the surrounding suburbs. "Even though the climate is tough, the energy has changed," says Eileen Reilly. "We're on entrepreneurs brainwaves." While main streets across the region are still mired in a recession, Chestnut Hill's main street seems to have emerged from it.

Source: Eileen Reilly, Chestnut Hill Business Association
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Common Threads mural re-sewn after years of fading at Broad and Spring Garden

In the shadows of the Community College of Philadelphia and the state office building at Spring Garden St., community youth watch over Broad St. 24 hours a day. At least they do in Meg Saligman’s “Common Threads” mural, which features depictions of local adolescents overlooking the busy Broad St and equally busy Spring Garden subway stop. The mural was re-dedicated this past week, as it underwent about a year of re-glazing and re-painting.

“Common Threads” was originally completed in 1997, and was one of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s largest and most expensive murals at the time. The mural is a melange of portraits of Ben Franklin and Creative and Performing Arts High School students and figurines owned by artist Meg Saligman’s grandmother. Another notable aspect to the artwork was it was the first time Photoshop was used on a Philadelphia mural.

One subject in the mural is a boy who went on to become a noted tap dancer. He was on-hand at the dedication to thrill and set off car alarms with his resounding taps of the foot. A girl in the mural became a presidential scholar under the Clinton administration for outstanding achievement in high school. Ironically, Saligman gets calls from other people who swear they’re in the mural, but actually aren’t. She takes these e-mails as a sign of how famous her mural has become.   

Saligman laments that the mural began to fade over time, as it was painted on the western-facing side of the building, which gets considerable sunlight. “It was so sad that ‘Common Threads’ had lost its pop and was fading so fast,” mourns Saligman. Thus, she knew something had to be done to freshen up her mural, as it was continuing to decay. In 2009, the Mural Arts Program and the Saligman Charitable Foundation received money to rehabilitate it. Work began in autumn, 2010 on the top half of the mural, while the bottom half got attention starting in Spring of the next year.

The re-painting and re-glazing of “Common Threads” was a labor of love. It consisted of Saligman, a couple of people from Saligman’s firm MLS Studios, and some interns. All in all, the re-painting cost $20,000, along with donated lifts from United Rentals and hours upon hours of volunteerism. It took a while for the muralist to become truly satisfied with the work. “The mural was missing zing until the very end of renovations,” says Saligman.

With all this in mind, there’s no guarantee the mural will last, and it has nothing to do with sunlight. There have been a number of proposals to alter the building that the mural graces, some of which do not include the mural. As the re-dedication made clear, the mural likely won’t be removed without a quarrel. At least for now, local students will continue to stand guard on North Broad St, as their now grown up models reflect on the power of art, and dance.

Source: Meg Saligman
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Get your donuts and fried chicken in Pennsport, while you can

Federal Donuts opened last week to a frenzied following in the Pennsport neighborhood of South Philadelphia. It's an eclectic restaurant that specializes in donuts, fried chicken, and coffee. That is, if you can get in early enough to get your hands on their food and drink.

The opening week was an important lesson in just how hungry Pennsport denizens, Philadelphians, and even suburbanites are for fried chicken and donuts. Astonishingly, Federal Donuts ran out of chicken by 12:55 p.m. every day during their first week, even though they originally planned to be open until 8 p.m. each day. The donuts also proved ultra popular, as both the hot sugared and filled donuts sold out before noon most days last week.

The new restaurant generally sells the hot sugared donuts between 7 and 10 a.m. Monday through Sunday, if they don't run out. Flavors include Indian cinnamon and vanilla-lavender. They sell the filled, or "fancy," donuts all day, until they run out. These flavors are comprised of key lime, nutella-pomegranate, and chocolate-raspberry, to name a few. They start selling fried chicken around noon, which includes Korean-style glazed chicken and crispy chicken. The chicken is prepared by renowned chef Michael Solomonov.

According to Bob Logue, one of the owners of Federal Donuts and Bodhi Coffee, the restaurant fills a void in Pennsport and the city. "The neighborhood was dying for something great," explains Logue. He adds that an establishment combining donuts, fried chicken, and coffee in the city was "elusive" before his shop opened. Logue justifies the crazed popularity of Federal during its first week by saying that it appeals to long-time Pennsport residents, yuppies, and people all across the city and even suburbs.

So far, it seems like things have calmed down to some degree this week. On Monday, fried chicken was still being offered until 1 p.m., which gave famished customers a little more time. Also, donuts lasted a little longer on Monday. "We're still selling out, but at a nicer pace," says a less frenetic Logue. Absent were the long lines of the previous week, although a steady stream of new and returning customers enlivened the shop.

Given the enormous success of Federal Donuts so far, Logue has dreams of expanding. "Federal Donuts is dedicated to the growth of a new industry in Philadelphia," he asserts. Logue says he would like to expand, although it will take some time. He's especially hopeful to add some fryers, since that's currently the biggest limitation to making more donuts and chicken. The fact that talk of expansion has come up so quickly is a great sign for the shop. In just a week, Federal Donuts has become a hit in Pennsport and Philadelphia.        

Source: Bob Logue
Writer: Andy Sharpe

PHOTOS: MICHAEL PERSCIO
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