by Diane Fiske
In the second of the series asking local planning and design experts what they think, if anything, would be necessary to improve or change the business district of Chestnut Hill, Streetscape spoke to Joyce Lenhardt, an architect and vice chairman of the Land Use Zoning and Planning Committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. She is a partner in Lenhardt Rodgers, an architectural practice based in Fort Washington and lives in Chestnut Hill.
Lenhardt said she was optimistic about the neighborhood business district.
“I feel really it is getting better and better,” she said in an interview for Streetscape.” I have lived in Chestnut Hill since 1985. I think the Business Improvement District did a great job of keeping the look and feel of the Germantown Avenue business area, keeping flowers planted and lights maintained and helping the Avenue looking good. The sidewalks – not so much yet.”
Despite the positives, Lenhardt acknowledged that empty storefronts were a sign of tough times in retail, from which Chestnut Hill is not immune.
“The business community reflects the times,’ she said. “Some empty stores are due to retirement and others are due to the competition from online shopping. Brick and mortar stores, in general, are having a difficult time but in Chestnut Hill, I keep seeing stores that are empty, and then they fill up and another business moves in.”
Sometimes older store owners just retire.
“The people who owned the jewelry store retired and their business closed.” she said. “It would be nice to have someone to repair jewelry but that is not the case now.”
She noted that Chestnut Hill does have a few chain stores like the paint store and a men’s clothing store. but said chain stores don’t want to come to areas like this where they can’t have a large site and lots of parking.
Lenhardt said there has been criticism that the shopping area of Chestnut Hill is “too long.”
“We can’t alter the length of the street,” she said. “Most people shop near where they live, within about three blocks shopping on foot in a small radius.”
Lenhardt said her husband would walk to Staples from their home near the Top of the Hill, but that is unusual she feels.
“ Most shopping districts have cross streets with shopping,” she said. “We don’t have this, so we have our long shopping area.”
Lenhardt said the Parking Foundation is one of Chestnut Hill’s biggest assets and it is being copied in neighboring communities like Germantown and Mt Airy.
“The Parking ‘Foundation was founded in the 1950s, and it was a brilliant idea, taking part of the rear lots of businesses and converting them to parking areas,” she said. “It is clever way of solving a big problem of small businesses in the city providing parking. The foundation plan even provided kiosks to monitor the parking, which is now run by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. We now have reasonable parking and it helps support our business. ”
Another of the big assets in Chestnut Hill, Lenhardt said, are the specialty stores located on Germantown Avenue.
“This is an attraction for people who want to buy things you can’t order from Amazon,” she said. “These stores carry things you can’t buy online, and people will come to an area to buy these unique items.
She said the specialty stores draw people who like to see what they buy rather than shopping on line.
A very strong point about Chestnut Hill, Lenhardt said, is the fact that people live in the business area, in apartments above stores and in individual houses.
“I think it is good that people live on Germantown Avenue,” she said. “We have a vibrant 24 hours of eyes on the street. The more people live on Germantown Avenue, the better we can support our business district.”