This week we have several stories that I hope are signs that we can become optimistic regarding the retail corridor of Germantown Avenue. There are new shops opening, and they’re coming at a pace that’s almost good enough to forget the past two to three years of decline.
Just above Willow Grove Avenue, Chestnut Hill native Carl Dean is the new pharmacist of an independent pharmacy – the kind of thing that conventional wisdom suggests is impossible in the age of Walgreens and Walmart. But it’s true – not even a year after Reece’s Pharmacy shuttered its doors, Chestnut Hill has a new independently owned drug store.
Up the Avenue, right next to the offices of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, renowned fabric artist Kevin O’Brien is opening a temporary new shop. O’Brien, a highly sought after textile man around the country, Obrien’s studio is a pretty heady addition to the Avenue, even if it’s only for the holidays.
In addition to these new stores, interior decorator Angela Heithecker’s design business Hob Nob, is opening a new store front location at 7916 Germantown Ave. Empirical Point, a purveyor of acupuncture and oriental medicine, has moved from Mt. Airy to 40 W. Evergreen Ave. and will hold an open house on Thursday, Nov. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m.
While these openings may not be the kind of turnaround that will quickly undo the losses of Borders and the Express clothing store, it’s a sign that perhaps Chestnut Hill is closer to turning the corner and that we may once again see the kind of retail activity to which the neighborhood is accustomed.
Eileen Reilly, the Chestnut Hill Business Association retail recru- iter who was hired earlier this year to help fill vacant storefronts told me she was cautiously optimistic for the next two years. She said there are a lot of exciting leases in negotiation, but that some retailers may leave in the next year for a net -zero gain in actual occupancy.
She told me she has been busy showing the avenue to retailers [I’ve seen her in process many times on my runs from here to the Cheese Shop for coffee, so I know she’s telling the truth] and is excited about how cooperative even big landlords like Acadia (Borders, Express owners) have been. The greatest asset, she told me, is the enthusiasm of established Hill retailers.
What’s better, she tells me, is that she expects Chestnut Hill will have an “unbelievable windfall” of new business in the fall of next year as the economy improves.
“I do see the temperature changing for the better, and that gives me optimism,” she said.
Reilly is optimistic enough to be planning a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new shops on First Friday, Dec. 3. Maybe we can muster a little optimism ourselves and attend. Who couldn’t use a little light this winter?