A mixed message for Avenue businesses

Opinion November 6, 2013 0 Comments

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by Pete Mazzaccaro

How’s business on the Avenue doing? One particular sign of things moving in the right direction on Germantown Avenue is the ongoing development in and around the Chestnut Hill Hotel, including the transformation of the Chestnut Hill Farmer’s Market into Market on the Fareway.

Ron Pete, who owns both the hotel and the buildings that house the market, the Chestnut Hill Post Office substation and Kings Garden Restaurant, has put a ton of money and effort into what has been more than a simple remodeling job: It is a remake in both the look and branding of the entire complex.

As Ron Pete has said, his hope is to make Chestnut Hill Hotel a destination, boutique hotel, and by the looks of things, he is succeeding. From the outdoor fireplace to the modern layout and décor of the remade market to the recently opened Green Soul eatery, the entire complex is pretty close to becoming the jewel of Chestnut Hill.

Pete’s investments in the hotel and market are a nice investment in the entire neighborhood – an easy thing for Hillers to get behind. From nice-looking restaurants and fooderies to a much-improved place to book a room, Pete may end up bringing more visitors to Chestnut Hill than anyone else.

But not all is good news on the Hill.

Last week, without much warning, Chestnut 7, which two years ago was celebrated as part of what was a mini restaurant renaissance on the Avenue, shut its doors for good. The move, left unexplained by owners so far – we tried unsuccessfully to reach them last week – is probably not terribly hard to explain. In the end, the restaurant clearly was not serving enough diners to stay in business, whether that was due to tough competition from Iron Hill Brewery or that the restaurant underperformed and didn’t attract return visits. Either way, the again empty property leaves a sizable gap in the business corridor.

Second, the west side of the 8500 block is currently half empty. The former sites of Citibank, Melon bank and The Children’s Place have been vacant for an awful long time and are viewed rather dimly by merchants in shops right across the street who regularly joke about “Beirut across the street.” Though of course it’s not a joke that’s terribly funny. Those vacancies, some for more than year, are not doing the business corridor any favors. Not only are they not bringing shoppers – or bankers – to the neighborhood, they look pretty bad.

It isn’t all bad, though. Like the Avenue in total, the block is a mixed bag. There have been good developments on the block, including the recent opening of the Pennsylvania General Store in the former Omaha Steaks location. From Caleb Meyer to Greene Street Consignment, O’Doodles and Kitchen Kapers, the rest of the block looks good.

On balance, I don’t think there’s a reason to be pessimistic, but it would be nice to see headway on filling long-term vacancies. Perhaps the newly formed Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation can work to make that happen.

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