This week, we begin a two-part look at the most notable events of the last year. This week takes us from January through June of 2014. It was a year that began with a lot of snow…
– Pete Mazzaccaro
Bruno’s to celebrate 25 years of ‘purveying happiness’
by Kevin Dicciani
Bruno’s Restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Thursday, Jan. 16. Owner Tim Bruno said that after all these years he still wakes up at 5:07 in the morning and anticipates the rush of working on the grill – although, he noted, he doesn’t like to call himself a cook.
“I’m a P.O.H.,” he said. “A Purveyor of Happiness.”
Born and raised in Chestnut Hill, Bruno, 57, “a young 57,” has a wife and five children. When he first opened the restaurant in 1989, it was his family who motivated him to make the restaurant the success it is today.
“When you have a family,” he added, “that’s what makes you work hard.”
As well as being a motivating force, all of his children worked at Bruno’s at one point in time when they were growing up.
Hill merchants see sales decline after snowstorm
by Emily Vanneman
With the snowfall in Philadelphia reaching levels of 34 inches, Hill residents are beginning to wonder if this frigid maelstrom will ever let up. A record-breaking snowstorm, combined with below freezing temperatures, has everyone reaching for their wool coats and snowsuits in an attempt to fight the cold.
But the temperature is not the only drastic drop that has occurred on the Hill. Local Chestnut Hill businesses have seen a dip in sales since the beginning of the storm. While retail shops such as Mango and El Quetzal were prepared for the January slump, others were not.
“It’s sucked – we’re usually not too slow in January,” said Grey Heck, of Cake restaurant, the three-time Best-of-Philly winner from Philadelphia Magazine. “It’s been awful.”
Because of her clientele, Heck imagines that the dip is most likely a result of the difficult driving conditions over the past week.
Even retail businesses that typically expect a seasonal sales dip in January were surprised by the sharp decline in customers.
“Business has been basically non-existent – bad with all capitals,” said Tara Alexander, co-owner of Mango boutique. “It’s always quiet in Chestnut Hill in January and February.
“The cold changes everyone’s psyche. They just want to go home and get warm.”
She added that she was considering not attending a music show that she had planned for the night because of the snappy temperatures.
Brian Reisman, owner of Hide Away Music, had similar comments regarding his own business.
“I do think it’s had a significant effect,” Reisman said. “Why would anyone want to walk outside?”
Electrical workers’ union protests outside the Trolley Car Diner and Cafe
by Sue Ann Rybak
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) placed signs outside the Trolley Car Diner and handed out fliers charging Ken Weinstein, the president of Philly Office Retail, of “helping to destroy wages and benefits” on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The labor union objects to Philly Office Retail hiring McCoubrey/Overholser, a Mt. Airy based general contractor, to convert the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street into a private school.
Weinstein said his organization did get quotes from the IBEW but their bids were 30 – 40 percent higher than non-union contractors.
Weinstein said the development project will transform “a long vacant and deteriorated property in Germantown into a vibrant and active Waldorf School.”
The Gothic stone church, chapel, rectory and parish house sit on roughly two acres of land and were designed and built by Frank Furness and George Hewitt. The buildings were listed by the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance as one of the most endangered historic properties in the Philadelphia region.
Weinstein said his organization is investing almost $6 million into the Germantown development, which is one of the largest in Germantown in many years. He said the project will create about 100 temporary and permanent jobs.
Weinstein added that the development uses no government funding, other than historic tax credits that were awarded to help preserve the property.
“I do not appreciate this personal attack and I will not stay quiet while they spread lies and misinformation about our projects designed to revitalize our neighborhood,” Weinstein said. “I will put my record of revitalizing our region’s urban communities, anytime, against the efforts of IBEW to shut down projects that positively impact our community.”
M. Night Shyamalan filming on the Hill
M. Night Shyamalan, director of such films as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs,” was seen filming what may or may not be his new film – “Labor of Love” – at the Highland train station in Chestnut Hill.
The film, which IMDB currently says is in pre-production, follows a widower as he “embarks on a cross-country trip on foot to prove his love for his late wife.” Set to star is Bruce Willis, who appeared in Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.” It would mark the third collaboration between the director and actor.
Shyamalan grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley and attended Waldron Mercy Academy and later Episcopal Academy. A majority of his films were filmed in or around the Philadelphia area, and his production company, Blinding Edge Pictures, is located in Berwyn, PA. He and his family reside in Willistown, PA.
BID points to success as it prepares to expand – Woodward Co. not happy to see its stake increase
by Pete Mazzaccaro
About 12 years ago, business leaders in Chestnut Hill, faced with stiffer competition from suburban shopping centers and the early boom of online retail, decided to organize and develop a new strategy to make things better on Germantown Avenue.
The decision reached and ratified in 2004 was the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District – an institution created by city legislation that allowed the district to collect a property assessment from all properties in the district in order to raise funds for everything from bicycles for Chestnut Hill’s bike patrol officers to hanging lights on trees for the holiday season.
That initial BID encompassed 190 properties, mostly on Germantown Avenue, and generated an annual budget of $240,000.
The decision was one that has paid off in many ways. In addition to strengthening longstanding Chestnut Hill events like the Garden and Fall for the Arts festivals, the BID points to strengthened partnerships with Chestnut Hill College, Chestnut Hill Hospital, Woodmere Art Museum among others. It points to a successful four years of marketing and retail recruitment. Vacancies, according to BID executive director Martha Sharkey, have been reduced from 20 percent to 11 percent. The BID has also worked to make the successful Harry Potter weekend a growing event.
Its mission has been to be sure that a steady stream of funds is available to advance the Avenue, and on many points it has succeeded.
This year, however, the BID is up for renewal, and to grow its revenue stream from $240,000 to $320,000 it is looking to expand its boundaries, particularly up and down many unit blocks on either side of the Avenue, along Bethlehem Pike and Winston Road. If approved, the BID will grow from 190 properties to 281.
Properties that fall in the district will be assessed based on a formula that calculates the property’s assessed value against the proposed BID budget. That budget will have limits placed on it so that it can’t change drastically from year to year.
Many of the unit blocks in the southeastern portion of the BID expansion, from Woodale Road and Willow Grove Avenue to Benezet Street and Springfield Avenue, are dotted with homes owned and rented by the George Woodward Co. The company, founded by its namesake in 1921, owns and rents 150 homes in Chestnut Hill.
But in an interview with company president Stanley Woodward and board member, Florian Schleiff, the BID’s expansion is an expensive hardship it’s not willing to endure.
“We currently pay $4,500 for five properties on the Avenue,” Schleiff said. “Under the proposed expansion we will pay $22,000, an increase of $17,500.”
In a prepared statement, the company said:
“We are willing to continue to pay our assessed fee for our five commercial properties on Germantown Avenue, as before, but are absolutely opposed and refuse to pay additional assessment fees for any residential units, which we continue to maintain to the high quality standards and the happy environment of our tenants who form an important minority of Chestnut Hill.”
Chestnut Hill College student found dead in dorm
by Sue Ann Rybak
A 22-year old Chestnut Hill College student was found dead in his dorm room this morning, according to Lisa Mixon, a spokeswoman at Chestnut Hill College.
“The Chestnut Hill community mourns the loss of senior business major Bradley David Amerman on Wednesday, April 16,” Mixon said. “The College is refraining from offering details of the incident because it is under investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department, which is normal under these circumstances.
“Under any circumstances, the events of today have left our campus community shocked and filled with sadness for Bradley David Amerman and his family,” Mixon said. “We ask that you join us in continuing to keep the Amerman family in your prayers at this time of great sorrow.”
FOW to celebrate 90th anniversary
by Emily Vanneman
Friends of the Wissahickon will mark 90 years of preserving the beauty and natural history of the Wissahickon Valley by hosting a series of events in Wissahickon Valley Park, starting this month.
“We are incredibly proud to celebrate 90 years of caring for one of Philadelphia’s most special places,” said Maura McCarthy, FOW’s executive director. “The Wissahickon has always been a popular place for people to escape the pressures of the city. With over one million visits each year, the Wissahickon is one of the most utilized outdoor areas in the Philadelphia area. We’re proud to be the steward of this Philadelphia gem.”
Friends of the Wissahickon was founded in 1924 and has since gathered 1,600 members. As a nonprofit organization, FOW works with the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department to keep the grounds in shape for visitors. Together, the organizations work to restore historical park structures, eliminate invasive plant species, monitor watershed management issues, and restore trails throughout the park.
Bootery to close after six decades
by Sue Ann Rybak
For almost 60 years, the Chestnut Hill Bootery at 8511 Germantown Ave. has been a fixture on the Avenue, but Bruce Freedman, who has owned the women’s shoe store for almost 25 years, said the Internet and decreased foot traffic are just two of the reasons the store is closing.
“People don’t know what a shoe is anymore,” said Freedman, 62, of Cherry Hill, N.J. “Today’s generation prefers to buy shoes on Amazon or at one-stop stores like Target.”
He said many of his loyal customers are retiring, moving away or just aren’t as mobile as they used to be.
“I don’t want to close, but my accountant says I have to make a profit,” Freedman said. “I want to thank all my customers who have been very loyal through the years. I appreciate everyone of them.”
Haywood beats Washington in State Senate primary
by Pete Mazzaccaro
Cheltenham commissioner Art Haywood defeated embattled incumbent state senator LeAnna Washington last night to represent the Democratic party in the election for the 4th district’s State Senate seat. Washington has held the seat for nine years.
Washington, 68, was on cruise control to win the nomination until she was charged with corruption in March for allegedly using her legislative staff to raise funds for her campaign — a practice that is illegal in Pennsylvania. She faces up to 12 years in prison.
Haywood, 57, is an attorney by profession who moved to Cheltenham Township in 1997 He was elected to the Cheltenham Township board of commissioners in 2010 and became the board’s chairman in 2012. He ran on a platform of raising the state minimum wage to $11, tighter gun control regulations and increased funding for public schools.
With 98 percent of the votes counted in the district, Hayward had received 15,874 votes to Washington’s 13,440. Cheltenham challenger Brian Gralnick was third with 10,590.
Bugay’s Jewelers closed
by Kevin Dicciani
Bugay’s Jewelers, at 8638 Germantown Ave., has closed its doors after doing business in Chestnut Hill for 85 years.
Bugay’s was opened in 1928 by Samuel Bugay, who ran it with his wife, Rose, until he died in 1946. For the next 12 years, Rose ran the store herself.
In 1958, Rose handed over the store to her son, Milton. Milton and his wife, Margaret, managed the store for 45 years until 2003 when their children – a daughter, Rosalind Bugay Schiller, and their two sons, Samuel and Arthur – took over the store’s operations for the remainder of the time it was in business.
Margaret died in 2008, followed by Milton in 2012. Rosalind said her brothers Samuel and Arthur no longer wanted to keep the store open after the death of their father. It officially closed May 7.
“We had such a great standing with the community, and the people were always so nice,” Rosalind said. “It’s sad to see it go.”
Historical society and developer at odds over the fate of a 104-year-old home
by Pete Mazzaccaro
The 400 block of West Moreland Avenue is as quiet and leafy a street as you’ll find in Chestnut Hill. A block away from the campus of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, the wide, tree-lined street fronts half a dozen or so stately homes.
Tucked behind a row of old trees at one corner of the block at 415 W. Moreland Ave., is an older work of Colonial revivalism, its yard a scatter of fallen limbs and weeds that have grown unchecked for several springs, a stark contrast with the meticulously manicured lawns of its neighbors.
You might not guess by its present appearance, but the large, white Colonial is recognized as a significant historical structure – the highest ranking a historical home can receive – in the National Historic District designation of Chestnut Hill. It was built in 1910 by the noted residential architect Charles Barton Keen for Charles Bromley, then president of the Quaker Hosiery Company.
But the house is no longer in the grand shape it once was for its original industrialist owner. In fact it is is in such a state of disrepair that its owner, local developer Sam Blake, decided the best thing for it is to be torn down and replaced with new homes.
“I’ve looked long and hard to figure out how to make it work, but the house is too far gone,” Blake told the Local.
Blake is not a typical developer. He specializes in historic restorations and new construction that looks like it’s a century old. He has won nearly a dozen architectural awards for his work. He has rehabbed numerous houses in Chestnut Hill, Wyndmoor and Mt Airy. Several of his rehab projects are within a few blocks of the Chareles Bromley House.
The Chestnut Hill Historical Society, however, doesn’t agree with Blake’s decision to tear down the Bromely house. It sent an email to its members last week urging them to call Blake and ask him to spare the home and have asked members to come to the board meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association to voice concerns about Blake’s plan.
“The property is not just important as an example of design in its own right, but also for its contribution to the fabric and character of Chestnut Hill as a whole,” the email reads. “The high quality of design of Chestnut Hill’s built environment and cultural landscape form the essence of what makes this a livable, vital community – a great place to live. The possibility of losses such as this threatens the community as a whole.”
Weavers Way discovers thousands of dollars in theft following CFO resignation
by Kevin Dicciani
Weavers Way Co-Op revealed this week that its chief financial officer, Michael McGeary, resigned in mid-April over allegations that he used the business’ corporate credit card for personal expenses.
According to Weavers Way General Manager Glenn Bergman, the matter began when Weavers Way’s Finance Manager Susan Beetle noticed a suspicious charge during a routine credit card review. Initially, it looked as if $2,000 was missing.
McGeary confessed to using the card improperly and resigned on April 18. Bergman said that auditors then reviewed statements dating back two-and a half years and found the charges were much more extensive than originally thought, with some estimates ranging from $25,000 to $30,000.
In a letter appearing in the June 2014 issue of The Shuttle, Weavers Way’s monthly publication, Bergman explained the situation and went into further detail about the theft charges. He wrote that when he first accepted McGeary’s resignation, he was “replaying the tape from 11 years ago” in his head, referencing an incident at Weavers Way when a bookkeeper made significant mistakes, covering up more than $500,000 in debts and losses that threatened Weavers Way’s future at the time.