by Barbara Sherf
If you haven’t driven through downtown Flourtown lately, you may want to head out to the bustling 1500 block of Bethlehem Pike, just beyond Starbucks and before the Flourtown Fire Company.
While Chestnut Hiller Mark Petteruti opened his flower and gift shop, Botanical Expressions, five years ago, it was joined last summer by Scarlet Begonia’s, an eclectic boutique filled with vintage clothing, gift items and unique decorative touches for the home interior.
Karen Phelps named her shop in honor of her favorite song by the Grateful Dead. The building, which dates to the 1800s, was formerly known as the Designer’s Nest. Phelps, who trekked daily from her Gwynedd Valley home to Phoenixville, got tired of the commute.
“Once I saw the bones of this store I knew it could be so much more,” she said, noting that the fresh look and paint has turned many motorists’ heads. “They want to stop in, but parking is limited on the street. My regular customers know that there is parking behind the store. I’m trying to get the word out about that.”
At the corner of College Avenue and Bethlehem Pike is Barbara B’s Jewels, a shop that was in a smaller space on the other side of the block since May 2006. The shop moved into a larger space that previously housed Getz Printing this past March. With huge windows facing both Bethlehem Pike and Starbucks, owner Barbara Barsky said business is booming.
“Look at this,” said Barsky, a certified gemologist, laughing in between a rush of customers. “I can’t keep up with the demand. It’s fabulous.”
The newest addition is GiGi’s Consignments, owned by Patricia Geppert Haber who was looking for a space locally, and Barsky suggested a former realty office in the block.
“It’s perfect,” Haber said between ringing up a steady stream of customers. “I grew up around here and attended the Mount (Mount St. Joseph’s Academy) so everybody who comes in knows me.”
Items on consignment include high-end women and junior’s clothing, handbags, shoes and accessories.
Sandwiched in between the jewelry store and the consignment shop is Bob Cusamano, longtime owner of Bob’s of Antiques and Used Furniture, who has been in the present location for 19 years. He admits he has benefited from the additional foot traffic, but sill expressed concern about the continued construction projects along the block.
“I wish we could get rid of those darned barrels,” he said, referring to the large orange and white barrels outside of the stores.
According to Springfield Township Commissioner Doug Heller, whose district encompasses the block, PennDOT started to install curb cuts for handicapped access at the corners along Bethlehem Pike last fall.
“The weather turned quite fast and so they were unable to finish the project, but they have restarted and should be gone in a few weeks,” Heller said. “The other project is the installation of new street lamps. It made sense to have the electrical contractor rewire the whole job, even though we only had money for the first part of the project. But the new lamps should be installed by the end of July and the cones will be gone.”
The entire block has people talking and shopping in the variety of old and new businesses.
Ambler resident Eileen McMahon had just left Barbara B’s Jewelry with several purchases.
“I’ve been a longtime customer, but I just love the new space,” McMahon said, noting that she shops for her four nieces there. “It’s so bright and open.”
Haber, who named GiGi’s Consignment Shop after her late grandmother, said she was pleased with business.
“These shopkeepers support one another and we talk each other up,” she said. “We are tentatively calling ourselves ‘The Shops of Flourtown.”
Indeed, an announcement of GiGi’s Grand Opening event in April was posted on Barbara B’s web site.
Elkins Park resident Sara Beltz was in GiGi’s after visiting both Botanical Expressions and Barbara B’s Jewels.
“I was looking for someone to do my flowers for our September wedding but they (Botanical Expressions) were booked. Then we checked out Barbara B’s. I’m pretty sure she can help us with our rings,” Beltz said, while her mother, Rosemarie, was eyeing a Vera Wang handbag in GiGi’s.
Center City resident John Schultz, fiancé to Sara Beltz, sat in a comfortable chair at GiGi’s and talked about his Flourtown shopping experience.
“All of the merchants are friendly and helpful,” Schultz said. “It was really unexpected. It’s nice to see these small businesses succeed and send a message to the big chain stores.”
While there is parking behind several of the shops, there is none directly behind Botanical Expressions.
“I’ve been hanging in here for five years, and while I’m happy with the increased visibility due to the new shops, we really need some permanent on-street parking,” said Mark Petteruti, owner of Botanical Expressions.
Commissioner Heller noted that once a proposed “Village Overlay” plan is approved in conjunction with a proposed PennDOT road reconfiguration, there will be more parking on Bethlehem Pike, and it will be available 24/7, rather than just during off-hours, where it confuses the traffic flow.
“We would then have traffic in one lane in each direction on the Pike, and a center turning lane, plus one permanent parking lane,” Heller said. “Our studies indicate that you could get from one end of the pike to the other in less time and more safely, without stopping for turning cars and having to switch lanes.”
One building whose fate is up in the air is the old Tortuga Travel now Eyeline Pictures building, owned by filmmaker Don Mitchell, who is active in the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike and the preservation of the Black Horse Inn. His 480-square-foot property serves as his workspace and is on the market for $150,000.
“It’s zoned commercial, but it’s not the greatest use in terms of retail because of the limited parking,” Mitchell noted. “If I get my price I’ll sell, but if not I’ll continue to use it to work on my film projects.”
Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-233-8022 or Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.