Last week, "Good Morning America" came to Chestnut Hill. They were here to celebrate our "Main Street."
Last week, "Good Morning America" came to Chestnut Hill. They were here to celebrate our "Main Street," recognized as one of the best in America. Among the many qualities they cited were its vibrant business district and the business owners who contribute their time and generosity to make Chestnut Hill so unique.
They mentioned many shops and popular eateries and highlighted business owner Pastor James Buck Jr., who is dedicated to helping the less fortunate and richly deserves all the accolades. They also talked about our "Main Street" corridor and its attractive historic village character.
I have often thought that Chestnut Hill is one of those places that, if discovered, could easily become just like any other shopping district or community in the country. But so many individuals over the years have worked hard to maintain the qualities that make this area so unique – and that is why "Good Morning America" chose to come here. "Good Morning America" likely recognized that the hallmark of our historic village character is the friendliness of the shopkeepers, the quality of their merchandise, and the faithful residents who support the shops.
As a shopper, I have often written about the "shopping experience" and its many shapes and sizes. The mega shopping malls, with their wide aisles and fully stocked shelves, or the newly developed "town centers," purported to be the best of the urban mall combined with the small town main street, somehow fail to fully deliver on either front.
Large-scale shopping really took a hit after COVID. No one wanted to be inside a mall, and even the town center malls were too distant and too large to navigate. Suddenly, small-town main streets started to look very attractive, especially those that had worked hard to maintain a small town, historic village ambiance that provided an "experience." Survey after survey reveals that when people move here or open a business here, the primary reason is the neighborhood’s aesthetic appeal.
Chestnut Hill is truly fortunate in that respect. Its significant architecture and exceptional character-defining features provide just the right environment for success. However, although its architecture and historic elements form the foundation, there are many supporting features that, if not maintained, could seriously affect the experience that so many enjoy.
Several years ago, a set of guidelines were developed to assist in maintaining our historic buildings, which if implemented, could complement and support our historic environment.
Some of the guidelines, like the sizes of signs, the quality and value of lighting, and even paint color recommendations, may not seem that important. But when a main street is developing a brand and creating an identity built on its historic heritage, features that may seem incidental can often be critical to creating a unified whole.
The Germantown Avenue Urban Design guidelines addressed larger, more significant issues as well. These included the scale of the buildings in each block, and their historic facades, fenestrations, and proportions. Also of great importance was the maintenance of building materials, and surrounding elements like Belgian block. Even the design and material choice of an awning could detract from or enhance a building and its surroundings. And sidewalk "clutter" can make narrow walkway navigation difficult or even dangerous.
All of these features don’t make much of an impact if considered individually, but when added up, they are the features that create the whole experience.
Understandably, the pandemic resulted in a loosening of those guidelines, in hopes of keeping businesses alive. But with people beginning to shop again, those large and impersonal shopping malls are taking a back seat to the experience of historic main streets, which exhibit those familiar features that shoppers and residents find warm and familiar.
"Good Morning America" must have recognized all that Chestnut Hill has to offer and brought it to the attention of all of its viewers. Let’s keep those guidelines in mind and realize how important they are to our continued success and recognition.
Patricia Cove is the Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill. She chairs the Historic District Advisory Committee of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and was one of the crafters of the Germantown Avenue Urban Design Guidelines. She can be reached through her website: patriciacove.com."