GMA’s live broadcast celebrates Chestnut Hill

Pastor Buck of Southern Flames BBQ gets a special nod

by Pryce Jamison
Posted 7/6/23

Ten million people nationwide watched GMA's July 4 segment on Chestnut Hill, featuring McNally's Tavern, Booked, NoName Art Gallery and Pastor James Buck Jr, owner of Southern Flames BBQ.

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GMA’s live broadcast celebrates Chestnut Hill

Pastor Buck of Southern Flames BBQ gets a special nod


Hundreds of Chestnut Hill’s families and business owners gathered on the 8100 block of Germantown Avenue on Tuesday, July 4 for their chance to stand under the national spotlight with Good Morning America’s much-anticipated live broadcast that morning.

The large crowd, some riding and pushing flag-decorated bicycles and strollers, others carrying signs that read “GMA”, began arriving about an hour before the 8 a.m. broadcast. Children who were old enough to understand what it was all about were jumping up and down with excitement, while those who were still in strollers looked confused by the glare of the tall lights that beamed over the cobblestone street, with its Independence-Day-themed storefronts.

And what a spotlight it was. 

“We got the media numbers for that time period when the Chestnut Hill segment was on… 10 million viewers across the country,” said Courtney O’Neill, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business District. “They showed footage of us, of Chestnut Hill, on the big screen in Times Square — they showed McNally’s pouring a pint of Guinness and that’s on Times Square in New York City, I think it’s amazing.

“It’s funny – some of the Good Morning America producers were like, ‘are you sure people are going to come? it’s July Fourth,’ and I said ‘I think we’re going to be fine’ and the community turned out,” O’Neill continued. “It was very celebratory, I had courage and conviction that we were going to have a nice turnout — It was nice to see how everybody was in such a good mood, it was a very nice morning.”

In the segment, GMA highlighted local businesses like McNally’s, interviewing co-owner Ann McNally about the restaurant’s long tradition in the community; Booked owner Debbie Gress Jansen about her love of reading and NoName Art Gallery owner Jonene Lee about how much the community appreciates the arts. 

But it was Pastor James Buck Jr, owner of Southern Flames BBQ, which is located in Market at the Fareway, who was the star of the show. He was singled out, and celebrated, for his work in providing formerly incarcerated people with employment opportunities.

City Councilmember Cindy Bass showed up to award him a citation, and Courtney O’Neill and the President of Visit Philly, Angela Val, had organized a package of thank-you gifts from other members of the Chestnut Hill Business District – including a two-night stay at the Chestnut Hill Hotel, a $4,000 gift certificate for web services from Everyday Web, a $250 gift certificate to Adelina’s Restaurant & Bar, and $75 gift certificates for Cake and Diamond Spa.

“He’s a really humble guy – it’s not about him, he always talks about his employees, staff, and customers. I thought that was wonderful that it got added in,” O’Neill said.

“This is about changing lives and you’ve really put your money where your mouth is, and made sure that people have a second chance, so thank you,” Bass said. 

It was Good Morning America reporter Jaclyn Lee, who was formerly a news anchor for 6ABC Philadelphia, who suggested Chestnut Hill as a possible location for the day’s coverage to the show’s producers. The producers liked what they saw, and ultimately chose Chestnut Hill along with Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Stillwater, Minnesota, McKinney, Texas, and Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

“I was always struck with the community here, there’s so many locally owned businesses and they’re really connected,” said Lee. “When GMA said they were doing their ‘Main Street, USA’ series, I thought “Oh my gosh, Chestnut Hill absolutely needs to be one of them” — There are so many mom-and-pop shops that should be celebrated.”

Founder and artistic director of the Scene N Action Productions Company, Lydia Robinson, is one of those business owners – and she appreciated the attention. 

“It’s great exposure for the community; it’s great exposure for the businesses — It’s a great way of bringing the community together,” she said.

Robinson’s company provides dance programs to children ranging from ages 3 to 16, in genres such as Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Tap, Contemporary, and Improv Theatre. She and a group of her dance students were a part of the large crowd in attendance, representing their artistic organization through SNAP Co. gear.

Shawn Gibbons, whose Homeworks business, which supports people who have home offices, is located on the block, agreed. 

“All of the things that are wonderful and historical about this community are coming along with the things that are young, new and energetic,” she said. “We were all highlighted today, so it was excellent.”

After the broadcast, the bicycle parade hosted by Chestnut Hill Bocce Club commenced, with some children dressing up as historical American figures while riding decorated bikes. 

The parade started on East Hartwell Lane and ended at the ‘For The Kids’ celebration at the Water Tower Recreation Center, providing families with many festivities.

“It is such a long, legacy and tradition here, and I loved seeing all of the kids show up with their bikes for the TV appearance and then head over there,” O’Neill said.