by Siobhan Gleason
As a child growing up in Chestnut Hill, I loved to visit O’Doodles, play at the Water Tower playground and shop at Children’s Place with my mom. Different children’s stores have come and gone, but Chestnut Hill is still a neighborhood for families like mine.
Chestnut Hill was labeled a top five Philadelphia family-friendly neighborhood by Philadelphia Magazine in a June 11, 2013 article. It has been described as a “suburb in the city” by Chestnut Hill College professor David Contasta, combining the small-town community feel with easy access to Center City on both train lines.
Matthew McMullin and his family recently moved to Chestnut Hill and live on Benezet Street. He considers Chestnut Hill a good place to raise children.
“We love the walkability of the town,” he said. “My oldest (daughter) does activities at the Water Tower. We also love being so close to Forbidden Drive.”
Chestnut Hill has always been kid friendly, but the recent arrival of businesses serving children and families – Villavillekula, Oxford Circus Toys, Greene Street Kids and Children for America – has some thinking the Hill may be even more family friendly than ever.
Beth Milley, owner of Villavillekula, opened her children’s clothing store in Chestnut Hill three months ago. Before Villavillekula, she owned another business for 18 years. She said Chestnut Hill has a welcoming environment that drew her in. She said Morris Arboretum, the Farmer’s Market, the schools and businesses all make Chestnut Hill great.
Before Villavillekua and Greene Street Kids, there was a shortage of children’s clothing stores on the avenue. Milley said she feels like she’s “pioneering” by being one of the first. She said her relationship with Oxford Circus Toys owner Marsha Konialian has helped. Milley and Konialian “cross-market” to get customers interested in both of their stores.
So far Milley says the response from the community has been positive.
“People wanted a children’s boutique,” she said. “They’re drawn to the colors, the quality of the fabric. There was something missing before.”
Kathleen Hogan, Consultant/buyer for Greene Street Kids, shares the same view. She said Chestnut Hill’s family community made opening Greene Street Kids a no-brainer.
“Chestnut Hill is a vibrant and dynamic community that offers a warm and inviting environment for families wanting proximity to the city with the advantages of a community, a thriving commercial section, nature and a beautiful historic setting,” she said. “For these reasons, establishing Greene Street Kids was a logical and easy decision.”
Oxford Circus Toys has been open for four years. Owner Marsha Konialian said the most desirable parts of Chestnut Hill include the parks, the annual events on the avenue and the walking community.
“The businesses are right next to the residential areas,” Konialian said. “Chestnut Hill is a community that is loyal to its businesses.” She thinks this makes Chestnut Hill attractive to families.
O’Doodles has been on the avenue since 1994. Fran O’Donnell, the owner of O’Doodles thinks there has been an increase in families on the avenue.
“There are a lot more strollers on the Hill,” he said.
According to the Census, O’Donnell is correct. From the 2000 to the 2010 Census the child population in 19118 has grown by 5 percent.
In the time O’Doodles has been in Chestnut Hill, O’Donnell said the neighborhood has changed in a way that has added to the growth of families here. He believes Chestnut Hill is younger, with more families relocating from New York City. He said people are looking for a community feel in a walkable neighborhood, which Chestnut Hill provides.
Chestnut Hill is doing a good job of being more open and friendly. There isn’t as much “preserving” of the community, he said. Parents shopping in his store often talk to other parents. Chestnut Hill is slower, things are more relaxed.
For Chestnut Hill to be even more child friendly, O’Donnell said he thinks there should be more interaction with schools and the community. He would like to see Chestnut Hill become more of a college town, similar to Georgetown or Princeton. He imagines public seminars held at Chestnut Hill College for the community to enjoy. O’Donnell would also like to see students involved more in events on the Avenue, participating in parades, and the annual events on the Hill.
“There could be more celebration about our students’ accomplishments,” O’Donnell said.
Marsha Konialian, owner of Oxford Circus Toys, said she would like to see a children’s shoe store open up some time in the future.
She believes there is a need for children’s toy stores on the avenue, and enough room for Oxford Circus Toys and O’Doodles. She said she thinks having both stores helps to cover all possible customer bases.
Both O’Donnell and Konialian see the toys they sell as a way for parents to share memories from their childhoods with their children.
Hogan said it would be great if a bookstore opened up in Chestnut Hill.
McMullin said he wished there was a nice area for his kids to ride their bikes.
“The streets are a bit busy,” he said.
With more families moving in and new children’s businesses, I think Chestnut Hill will continue to change and grow. It has always been a neighborhood for families and it has a bright future as one. Chestnut Hill is big enough to explore but small enough to have a community feel.
McMullin said he is looking forward to when his kids are older and can be independent and meet up with friends on the avenue. I think that is what is special about Chestnut Hill. You can grow up in it, and there will always be something to enjoy.