Chestnut Hill is changing

Opinion January 2, 2013 4 Comments

by Pete Mazzaccaro

It’s hard to believe that 2012 is already over.

It’s 2013 – a whole new year, just when I was getting used to the idea that it was 2012.

Looking back over last year’s Local stories, I concluded that it wasn’t a particularly tumultuous period. There weren’t any big fights over zoning that typically mark the news in Chestnut Hill.

There have been dust-ups, from the fight over the Chestnut Hill Rita’s Water Ice that never was, to the rancor over the change in Hill parking from free lots to to Parking Authority kiosks. But even those stories were barely big enough to be more than talk of the town.

Instead, the big story seems to be more incremental. In order to see the big news, you need to put together smaller threads.

The overwhelming sense I get from looking at these stories is that Chestnut Hill is definitely in a period of substantial change. Old institutions and businesses are closing and new ones are taking their place.

There has been a steady stream of new businesses this year, from boutique shops like Green Design to the latest dessert destination, Chill on the Hill.

We’ve seen businesses that have been with us for a long time close for good, like Monkey Business, a thrift sop that had been run by volunteers to raise money For Chestnut Hill Hospital for nearly 50 years.

On the surface, it doesn’t mean much. Turnover is normal. But in the transition, you can see a certain tension — a move from the traditional and the neighborhood to a more contemporary and fashionable mode. It’s that kind of imperceptible change that prompts old time Hillers to shake their heads and say things just aren’t what they used to be. It’s also the sort of change, though, that makes others happy that the neighborhood is finally getting with the times.

Even the pressures caused by the change in parking from stickers to to kiosk demonstrates this. As good as the sticker system might have been – shop keepers used to buy sticker rolls that were used to validate parking in Chestnut Hill – it was not viable in a new Chestnut Hill where a diversified business ownership simply wouldn’t support it any longer.

(To be fair, it is true that many more Hill businesses are owned by larger concerns that aren’t always local, but local owners were just as likely to avoid buying stickers or paying parking assessments as so-called outsiders.)

For better or worse, Chestnut Hill is changing. Some of those changes feel like a real part of the neighborhood – a thing for which Chestnut Hill was identified – is lost, never to be recovered. It’s hard to avoid that feeling that it’s mostly for the worse.

We hope that most of the changes we saw in 2012 and what comes in 2013 will work out for the better. Todays new thing just might be that which we’re sad to see go in 10 years or 50. Only time will tell.

Happy New Year.

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  • Nick newbom

    get with program nothing stay the same forever thing change.

  • Michael

    I’m honestly not sure why the author felt the need to throw in “It’s hard to avoid that feeling that it’s mostly for the worse” towards the end of what was a pretty adept observation of the neighborhood changing. What gives you that feeling? Because a few old stores closed, new stores open up, older folks continue to sell their houses to younger families, and because a chain ice franchise wanted to set up shop on the Avenue? With all due respect to the long-tenured institutions and people that make our neighborhood the wonderful place it is, I think most of the change in CH has been for the better over the past few years – since my wife and I bought our first house here a few years ago having moved from NY, the neighborhood has gotten younger, better-maintained, and, most tellingly, less-vacant. On my street alone, at least 5 new young families have moved in over the past few years and have renovated the awesome old houses they bought, and some existing families have decided to stay put and raise their kids here instead of the suburbs…as much of a traditionalist as I am (and how couldn’t I be to move here?), how is that change for the worse? Entrenched interests that aren’t held in reasonable check do nothing but chase fresh blood, money, and development into the neighborhood for very small-minded reasons such as less parking, etc., and I think the fact those interests appear to have lost the upper hand is overall a very good and promising thing for the future of a neighborhood I have come to adore.

    • http://profiles.google.com/pmazz04 Pete Mazzaccaro

      Just saying that if you talk to a lot of people, which I do, you hear a lot of “it aunt what it used to be.” It’s the knee jerk response to change that seems to be the norm, not the exception.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rich.dangelo.3 Rich D’Angelo

        I agree with many of Michael’s comments and I suspect most of the younger families in the neighborhood would also concur. Chestnut Hill is changing in part because the neighborhood’s demographics are changing. It is certainly true that the knee-jerk response to change tends to be negative, but when you write that you “talk to a lot of people”, I would guess that “a lot of people” are not necessarily reflective of the emerging new demographic in this neighborhood.

        While some long-time businesses are gone – some due to owner “retirement”, others perhaps due to changing demographics – long-timers and new blood alike continue to embrace venerable businesses on and around the Avenue: great barbershops like Angelo’s and Frank’s, Killian Hardware, awesome independent audio and computer repair shops. And beautiful landscaping, cobblestone streets, historic architecture, the Wissahickon, and Morris Arboretum are not going anywhere.

        Chestnut Hill is a spectacular neighborhood and those who have lived here a long time and have made on-going contributions to the neighborhood certainly helped make it that way. Hopefully everyone will be able to embrace, enjoy, and contribute to what is in store.