by Pete Mazzaccaro
What defines Chestnut Hill? It all depends on who you ask.
For many it is the Belgian blocks of Germantown Avenue. For others, it’s the old, grand homes tucked into the fingers of the Wissahickon park. For some it’s the Water Tower, a Civil War-era structure that still looms over Ardleigh Street. For yet others, who went to school there, it’s likely Springside and Chestnut Hill Academy (now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy).
And then for others, there’s Kilians.
Kilians isn’t the only venerable business in Chestnut Hill. There are many others, from The Cheese Shop and Carman’s Shoe Repair to Robertson’s and Angelo’s Barber Shop.
What all these shops have in common is that they are honest-to-God throwback businesses. They are links to another era. In the case of Kilian’s, that era is 1913. It was founded a full four years before the U.S. joined the Allies to fight in World War I.
But more than that, Kilians not only recalls the past. It recalls a working, blue-collar history of the Hill that isn’t always so front and center in the narrative of the neighborhood.
Sure, it has changed with the times. It has a wind turbine on the roof. It has a well-shopped website. It’s part of a national hardware store collective that helps it compete with big chains.
But it is still so much the same.
Step into Kilians now and, although it looks much different than it did in 1913, it still has a vitality about it that feels so much like a neighborhood store. It’s not a Lowes store, a 30-foot tall warehouse of everything from lumber to reel lawn mowers, but in many ways it is better.
Kilians is where you can buy two nails, if that’s all you want. Or grab one washer. Try doing that elsewhere. I bought a pair of Adirondack chairs at Kilians once because they were on sale for a great price. They’re still on my front porch.
But Kilians is more than just the place to find the hard-to-find.
The first time I realized the value of Kilians was when a three-foot square screen on a door of my 1923 house needed to be replaced. It was not possible to buy that size of screen at Home Depot or Lowes, so I went to Kilians and asked about it. They asked me the measurements and cut me a new screen while I waited. The price was less than $5. That sealed the deal for me.
Kilians, I discovered, wasn’t just an old hardware store that would do in a pinch. It was a valuable resource – a place where you could find items and services that did not exist in the big-box stores.
It wasn’t just the place with all those cool old telephones in the window.
But even beyond that, there is something that really makes Kilians a remarkable part of Chestnut Hill. No matter who you are, what you do for a living, you’ll buy things at Kilians. From house painters restocking a brush or a specialty paint to an investment banker looking for just the right replacement doorknob for his historic home, everyone shops at Kilians. It might just be the most common denominator in all of Chestnut Hill.
Kilians has been filling that role in the neighborhood for 100 years. Here’s to another 100.
Be sure to check next week for a story on Kilians’ 100 years in Chestnut Hill.