Best of the Towns

All across the Main Line, civic improvements are making our neighborhoods even better places to live. With new restaurants, arts and culture initiatives and more, it's not hard to see why.



Big changes are afoot around the Main Line. As area business owners finally see a light at the end of this stubborn recession’s deep, dark tunnel, chances are you’ve noticed fewer empty windows and “For Lease” signs in your town. New restaurants, one-of-a-kind retail shops and other businesses are popping up everywhere these days. So why not do everyone a favor and eat, shop and play locally this spring? This should get you started.


Ardmore
Bryn Mawr
Downingtown
Haverford
Kennett Square
Malvern
Media
Narberth
Paoli
Phoenixville
Wayne
West Chester

Click here to see what's on Main Liners' civic wish lists.
 

 

Ardmore

Shopping in Ardmore. Main Line foodies are in a tizzy over St. James Place, the classy new American grill from Rob Wasserman (owner of Rittenhouse Square’s iconic Rouge) and Michael Schulson (Sampan). Debuting this spring, it’s set to be the crown jewel of Suburban Square’s recent $1.5 million makeover, which includes a renovated courtyard and a circular drive for valet parking.

Ardmore’s Lancaster Avenue corridor has had its fair share of successes of late, welcoming 15 new businesses in the past year. “The vacancy rate is less than five percent,” says Christine Vilardo, executive director of the Ardmore Initiative, downtown’s business authority.

Parking has become less of a headache in Ardmore thanks to a rechargeable card accepted at all meters in Lower Merion Township. And downtown meters now offer the first 10 minutes free.
 

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Bryn Mawr

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute.Philadelphia has the Ritz, and the Main Line has the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. In 2002, concerned citizens formed a nonprofit organization to save the town’s historic theater. The BMFI opened at the location in 2005 and now averages 3,000 visitors weekly. That translates into tons of foot traffic for neighboring shops and restaurants. This year, the facility is adding two new screening rooms. “It’s the anchor of the business district,” says Lower Merion Township commissioner Scott Zelov. “It brings people from all over the area into town.”

This month, Ludington Library will finally showcase the results of a two-year expansion and renovation project. The highest circulating library in Montgomery County will now be tricked-out with all the latest technology.

And the new ACME supermarket is set to open this summer, offering—among many other improvements—expanded parking.

The maddening congestion has eased at the intersection of Bryn Mawr Avenue and County Line Road due to updated left-turn lanes. “It’s a wonderful model of a locally funded traffic improvement,” says Zelov. “Bryn Mawr Hospital, along with Lower Merion and Radnor townships, all contributed to make this a possibility.”
 

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Downingtown

The Downingtown Area School District's S.T.E.M. Academy.The Downingtown Area School District’s long-awaited S.T.E.M. Academy is now open for business. Housed in one of the district’s oldest buildings, the magnet high school is an official International Baccalaureate World School, offering a specialized curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math. The academy is expected to enroll 850 students in the next three years, helping to ease overcrowding in the district’s other two high schools.

Plans are moving forward for an improved  Downingtown Train Station. Updates include expanded parking, a ticket office, a waiting room and handicapped accessibility.
 

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Haverford

The Haverford School's Upper School complex. The Haverford School’s impressive new Upper School complex (pictured) is the first structure in Montgomery County to be awarded the prestigious gold-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

A genuinely all-inclusive venture, the new Freedom Playground is a unique, state-of-the-art facility for adults and children alike—including those with physical, mental and sensory disabilities. It’s part of the Haverford Township Community Park at Haverford Reserve.


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Kennett Square

Shopping in Kennett Square. No fewer than 12 new businesses have set up shop in Kennett Square during the past 12 months. “It’s a record for us,” says Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square. “These newcomers have added an excitement and vitality to the downtown.”

Perhaps it’s no happy accident. Hutchins’ nonprofit organization devotes much of its budget to promoting the once-sleepy little town as a lively shopping, dining and entertainment destination, putting its marketing muscle behind free summer concerts in Anson B. Nixon Park, First Friday Art Stroll, the wildly popular Kennett Brewfest, and its signature event: the annual Mushroom Festival.

Historic Kennett Square can also be credited with bringing quality live music to town in the form of Kennett Flash, an intimate all-ages venue featuring family-friendly entertainment and national touring acts. “It’s three years young, so it’s still in the growing phase,” says Hutchins. “People love being able to see reputable artists without having to go to Philadelphia.”
 

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Malvern

The Malvern train station. Malvernites have waited patiently for several years for the groundbreaking of the East King Street Redevelopment Plan. Well, the wait is (almost) over, and construction is set to begin this month. The project’s mixed-use commercial and residential spaces will undoubtedly bring more shoppers and diners to downtown. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of Malvern,” says Pat Reeser, president of the Malvern Business and Professional Association. “And it’s only going to get better.”

Adding to the excitement in Malvern is the recently completed train station renovation, with its expanded parking and handicapped-accessible pedestrian underpass connecting the inbound and outbound platforms. “It’s now much safer for R5 riders to walk,” says Sandra Kelley, Malvern’s borough manager.

Many don’t know that what is now Malvern was the site of the Revolutionary War’s Paoli Massacre, a small but vicious 1777 battle. And while hardly new, the low-key landmark has been far more active of late, hosting lecture series, illuminated tours and other special events.
 

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Media

The Media Theatre. Note to the powers-that-be in West Chester: Media is the only Main Line-area town with both trolley and rail service. “Last year was very successful overall,” says Zubair Kahn, executive director of the Media Business Authority. “We have very few vacancies,and there’s a vibrancy to the business district that is really positive.”

Already a popular Italian eatery in Philadelphia, Spasso’s is opening a second location in State Street’s old borough hall, which has been vacant for almost two years. Other newbies include Diego’s Cantina & Tequila Bar and Il Porto. In spring and summer, foodies flock to downtown Media on Wednesday nights for Dining Under the Stars. Held the first Sunday in October, the Media Food Festival attracts up to 10,000 visitors annually.

And to help alleviate parking issues, Media recently instituted a smart card.
 

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Narberth

Narberth Community Theatre. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)Narberth is currently working on revising its zoning ordinances to maintain that “small-town, all-American” feel residents take such enormous pride in. As such, volunteer committees thrive in this borough.

The Narberth 4th of July Committee is behind the many events held in town throughout the year, including a fireworks display, Halloween parade, Easter egg hunt and free movie nights.

The nonprofit Narberth Community Theatre offers at least three productions per year. And the borough’s acclaimed summer basketball and baseball leagues attract players from throughout the area.
 

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Paoli

Paoli Blues Fest.Held in October, the annual Paoli Blues Fest has become a real boon for music fans and local businesses alike. “It’s been a tremendous success,” says the event’s organizer, Marie Thibault, a past president of the Paoli Business & Professional Association. So successful, in fact, that there may be a second festival in the spring.

Anticipation continues to percolate for the long-awaited Paoli Transportation Center, which would completely transform the town’s aging train station into a modern hub for the Main Line’s R5 line. SEPTA continues to work with consultants on a design for the new station and its parking structures. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s Whitman, Requardt & Associates has presented a much-needed bike/pedestrian plan to improve the walkability of Paoli’s downtown area.
 

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Phoenixville

Phoenixville's childrens' plazaIn 2010, Phoenixville instituted a tax assistance program as an incentive to drive more businesses to come to the area. And from the looks of bustling Bridge Street, anchored by the historic Colonial Theatre, the initiative has been a rousing success. “We have a great diversity of retail businesses and restaurants in downtown Phoenixville,” says local real-estate agent Joe McArdle, who also cites an encouraging spike in new rental housing. “The economic trend of people wanting to live in a town is coming back.”

As things have picked up in Phoenixville, its slate of wholly original community events continues to expand, from the Dogwood Festival and Sly Fox Bock Fest & Goat Race in May to the thoroughly outrageous Blob Fest in July to the Phoenixville Blues Festival in September and the Firebird Festival in December.
 

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Wayne

Georges' Restaurant in Wayne. Seeing Wayne’s downtown restaurants busy on Tuesday and Wednesday nights makes Diane Jiorle extremely happy. “It’s a sign to me that businesses are doing well,” says the president of the Wayne Business Association. “People are out spending money.”

In the past year, Jiorle has seen independent retailers pick up the slack, filling vacancies in the downtown business district. “We haven’t had to rely on national chains, which is important when you’re trying to maintain uniqueness,” she says. “We want a healthy mix of service, retail and restaurants.”

A major development was the renovation of the Wayne Hotel and the debut of its restaurant, Paramour, this past fall. “It adds a huge touch of class to Wayne,” says Jiorle.

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Wayne’s Christmas tree lighting, and the Jazz & Food and Radnor Fall festivals continue to thrive.

Though Wayne is known more for its idyllic neighborhoods, the urban-like Steepleview (above the storefronts in downtown Wayne) and 102 Louella luxury condominium projects have both met with surprising success. It could be the start of a trend, as an increasing number of empty-nesters opt to stay close to home.

Beyond downtown, Eagle Village Shops is doing quite well since its name change, attracting a number of independent, high-end boutiques, including Menagerie and Skirtin Around.
 

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West Chester

Downtown West Chester. “West Chester’s More Fun When You Sleep Over.” Such is the rallying cry for a downtown business community eagerly awaiting the summer opening of the Hotel Warner on North High Street. Taking over the site of the former Warner Theater—a 1930s-era art-deco gem—the upscale 80-room facility is the only urban-style hotel in the Brandywine Valley. “It’s projected to bring 40,000 people annually to downtown,” says Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District.

Walkscore.com, a website popular with the real-estate industry, has ranked West Chester one of the three most walkable towns in the state.

Having West Chester University in town certainly has its privileges. Residents and students alike can take advantage of the increasingly impressive names coming through WCU Live!, a venue that hosts music, theater, dance and other cultural performances throughout the year.
 

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Dare to Dream

There’s nothing wrong with change—especially if it’s for the better. We asked area business leaders to offer wish lists for their towns.

“Like so many towns on the Main Line, Ardmore could really benefit from more parking. And I’d love to see the Ardmore Transit Center [commuter rail] project happen sooner than later.” — Christine Vilardo, the Ardmore Initiative

“I’d like to see the meters in Bryn Mawr changed to three-hour time limits.” — Juliet Goodfriend, Bryn Mawr Film Institute

“I’d love to see an increase in foot traffic in downtown Kennett Square. We have a great downtown with no retail chains. Independent retailers rely on people shopping and discovering downtown, so to shop and buy local is so important.” — Mary Hutchins, Historic Kennett Square

“There are a lot of services in Bryn Mawr. I’d like to see more retail shops in town.” — Kathy Bogosian, Bryn Mawr Business Association

“I’d like to see a more walkable Paoli. And more restaurants, beyond sandwich and pizza shops, would bring people back to Paoli after work. When the rail yard is renovated, it would be good to see a garage to help the parking problems every Main Line town seems to have.” — Marie Thibault, Paoli Blues Fest

“I’d like the college students who live in central Bryn Mawr to be more respectful of the community and their neighbors. Late-night noise is disruptive to families.” — Scott Zelov, Lower Merion Township commissioner

“West Chester would benefit from a theater/performance venue in town. Since we’re the only county seat that doesn’t have train access to Philadelphia, that’s definitely on the list, too.” — Malcolm Johnstone, West Chester Business Improvement District
 

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