It was weird in a way going back now as a veritable stranger to a place I spent so much time in for so many years. So much has changed and I don’t necessarily feel it has changed for the better.
Ardmore needs more….love. And positive municipal attention.
In my prior post, I wrote about the condition of the sidewalks and streets in Ardmore, and the roads in general throughout Lower Merion Township. The roads are in deplorable condition. It’s like they are growing orange highway cones as a cash crop in places, and in other places, holes and what not are just waiting to trip people up. And when I asked a couple of people about it, they all say the same thing that they report these things to the township but nothing happens. It makes you wonder what former West Chester Borough Manager and current Lower Merion Township Manager Ernie McNeely does besides fall asleep at meetings, where they are talking about the police, right?
And when it comes to managers, I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the manager who proceeded Ernie McNeely, but somehow Lower Merion seems worse than when I moved? I remember when my friends from West Chester heard that McNeely was going to Lower Merion and they just laughed and laughed and laughed and said “good luck to them!”
I guess now I know why, because Lower Merion looks like crap in their business districts. There might be tons of new places to eat, but nobody leaves their lights on much anymore except for stores that have been there long enough to know it makes a difference, the streets are dirty and broken up. There’s a lot of trash. Especially in Ardmore.
Ardmore used to be different and you could feel an energy. And most importantly, people knew one another. You would hear people saying hello to each other going past each other on the street. last night for the first time on a Saturday night, I didn’t hear that. And I also noticed that in spite of all the dining choices it’s like people go early to eat, and they just leave. By like 9 o’clock-ish when we left the restaurant, it was a ghost town.
We met at my friend Sherry’s store, Past*Present*Future. As well as being one of my most favorite and cherished friends, her store is always one of my favorite places to visit. And more people should discover the wonderful treasures inside. (hint to my lovely Savvy lady- have you ever interviewed her and visited?)
Past*Present*Future was one of the few non-food establishments with good lighting. The other was the Junior League Thrift Shop, which had some wonderful window displays as well. There was a salon that had some lights on with one guy sitting there inside. But these places being lit made an enormous difference, especially since the township has broken sidewalks and stuff in front of some of these places and bricks all up out of where the street trees are….and as much as anything else, keeping the stores lit, reduces the chance of somebody tripping and possibly falling.
The other thing about these two stores with lights is when we first got to Ardmore, these were the stores where people were actually looking in the windows of. And that’s the thing, people used to look in the windows more. You don’t have the people that stroll. Now it was cold last night, but it wasn’t unpleasant walking.
SEPTA also has moved a train platform to behind Past*Present*Future and Merion Art and Repro since I lived there. I guess it’s part of the station makeover? You can see a little SEPTA sign in my photos. So what I wonder is why haven’t they (SEPTA) paid to light that alley and parking lot people have to cross to get to platform better when it’s dark? And the configuration they created in the back for the platform affects the limited parking that a lot of Ardmore merchants desperately need on that side of Lancaster. It’s kind of surprising that SEPTA can’t do a better job around there, right? And after all Leslie Richards head of SEPTA is very familiar with Ardmore because she spent enough time campaigning during events when she wanted to be county commissioner, didn’t she?
And the trash. Can I talk about the trash on the sidewalks again? Or the trash cans that needed to be emptied that are Township trash cans? Does no one get that people notice these things? And I think one of the things about the trash is people in general have gotten worse since COVID. It started with all the disposable masks and even disposable gloves just chucked on the ground. I think people in general are just littering more and it doesn’t help when trashcans aren’t emptied enough in business districts and shopping centers. Gateway Shopping Center has trash issues too in Tredyffrin. (but I digress.)
Which brings me to the Ardmore Initiative. It’s a marvel they were renewed. They are supposed to be all about the business district and even their own front stoop looks like crap. If their job is to make Ardmore look good and help the business district why isn’t there attention paid to the little things that help businesses? I was thinking of Borough, and even West Chester Borough when I was in Ardmore last night. All of these main street oriented municipalities are struggling through the same economic uncertainties, yet Malvern and West Chester just seem so much more alive and Malvern doesn’t even have the number of stores or restaurants that Ardmore does!
Quite literally the Ardmore which the Ardmore Initiative features on their website doesn’t look like what I saw last night and it makes me sad.
It was like the lights under the bridge tunnel entering Ardmore? The tunnel was dark last night, so what happened to those expensive lights?
So if there’s this business district authority, and it costs people to belong to it whether they want to or not because it’s kind of like a tax /assessment thing, what are they doing for the businesses and people in Ardmore? The last Executive Director who took over when the one which preceded her who got sick, literally worked her ass off and no matter what you thought of the Ardmore Initiative, it showed. Not the same now at all.
I just looked up the Ardmore Initiative website today and they have MORE people working and what do they do? Ardmore has enough in the dining arena that it should have more vibrancy at night and it does not. And there also aren’t as many stores where you can look in the windows, which is pretty basic for a main street business district to make people want to stay and poke around.
But then again, people always said Ardmore’s biggest problem was that Lower Merion Township was headquartered in it. Also what ails Ardmore will not be solved by more infill development. You can’t artificially manufacture energy. Elbow grease and a certain mindset goes into that. Ardmore still deserves better.
Now where we went and where we ate, which was terrific, and why I think Ardmore deserves better once again. We started out at Matatawny Still Works Ardmore tasting room. We buy their whiskeys sometimes now, but I had never been to one of their tasting rooms. It is a really cool space and a fun vibe and they had great music on so a couple of people did a whiskey tasting and I had this amazing spiked apple cider, which was just the thing to warm you up on a chilly night. And the fun thing about this place is you can bring takeout dinners into there and eat while you do a whiskey tasting.
From there, since we already had a parking spot, we headed to Cricket Avenue for dinner. We passed Buena Vista which we go to in Lincoln Court Shopping Center which was packed in Ardmore and Maido the Japanese grocery store which is so cool.
Crossing Lancaster Ave there at Anderson Avenue in Ardmore has not improved since people still don’t pay attention to pedestrians crossing correctly at the lights. Oh, and people still blow that light headed east on Lancaster which begs the question of the police station is right there, so you would think traffic would be better, right? Especially if Lower Merion wants to persist in their pedestrian walkability fantasy?
So on Cricket Avenue I still miss MilkBoy Coffee on the corner. Sorry but pucciManuli doesn’t do it for me and I had a friend tell me recently that they wanted to go in there for a gift and had to be buzzed in, the door wasn’t just open during business hours. I tried to patronize them a bunch of years ago, even before they were at that location and I just found them overpriced. And I love handmade and better quality things, but their prices? Meh.
I will admit that I still think that 1 Ardmore Place is super ugly. For those of you who grew up around Ardmore, these apartments are on the parking lot that used to exist for the old movie theater, which also does not exist anymore . I still hate the design aesthetic of this building, and it totally doesn’t fit in with the area.
We had dinner at Nam Phuong Bistro on Cricket Avenue. They have really wonderful Vietnamese cuisine. It was a terrific meal and I would go back again. I will caution people they don’t have much staff so you have to be prepared to be patient but the people who work there couldn’t be nicer. Their spring rolls were awesome and they also do softshell crabs which is one of my favorite things and they were fabulous. The prices were good and it’s one of those places that I had such a good meal. I forgot to take pictures of the food!
That was the end of my Ardmore re-entry adventure and we headed our way back home to Chester County. Walking back up Cricket. I was glad to see McCloskey’s had a good crowd, and looked as cheerful as ever. One thing that bummed me out, though is there is no more Marjorie Schneider Antiquary. I loved that store and used to love looking in the windows from the time I was young. She had wonderful antiques!
Before we went home, we drove around Ardmore a little bit, and I hadn’t been down some of the streets I used to walk on regularly for years. I came to the conclusion, however, that as much as I miss a lot of my friends down there, I do not miss Lower Merion at all. I think it is probably because the area I grew up in still exists because a lot of the buildings and people are still there, but it has lost so much of what made it very special. It has lost a feeling.
And seeing Ardmore with finally new restaurant destinations but no foot traffic and vibrancy on a Saturday night made me just shake my head. As I said earlier, Ardmore was one of those places where people would say hello to each other on the street as they passed by. Now there is this more transient nature, and a lot of that I think has to do with the infill development. The rental price points, like many other places, are off the charts, so people come, but they don’t stay.
I know this is kind of a mixed review of a visit to a place that I just loved so much once upon a time, but it just really disappoints me that Lower Merion Township just doesn’t really seem to give a crap about the Ardmore Historic Business District, even worse than before. What did we save Ardmore from when we stopped eminent domain for private gain years ago?
Small businesses need a lot of local love. If you are from outside Lower Merion, show Ardmore some love.
If we don’t support small businesses, they cease to exist and we are stuck with homogeneous box stores and chains. And if you live in Lower Merion Township still, I encourage people to stand up and not only demand a better police department but better township management and elected officials. What I saw last night wasn’t “first class” it was “We don’t care, just shut up and pay your taxes.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts with baby steps and standing up and caring. Use social media to show why Lower Merion needs to do better on so many fronts. It’s also time to question why the Ardmore Initiative exists. They obviously aren’t living up to their mission statement which of course also begs the question of do they deserve their non-profit status?
Discover something new in Main Street towns like Ardmore, and even West Chester and Malvern Borough. Discover what makes them tick. And if you don’t like something a municipality would be responsible for, hold local government accountable, don’t take it out on the small businesses.
Have a good week.