The West Chester Story (Part 2 of 3):
The Man Behind the City’s Transformation
On Sept. 10, 2016, the Borough of West Chester was recognized as one of 10 semifinalists in the 2017 Great American Main Street Awards, demonstrating a successful revitalization movement that began in 2000. West Chester’s revitalization effort has been spearheaded by Malcolm Johnstone, Executive Director of the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID). This is the second of three blog posts dedicated to West Chester, its growing prosperity, and the key players involved in its revitalization.
How did you become involved in downtown development and revitalization?
In 1985, I was living in eastern Oregon, and I was standing in a shop called the Great Pacific Coffee and Wine Company. Someone was talking about a grant awarded to the city of Pendleton to create a downtown revitalization organization, and they were looking to hire a manager — and that sounded interesting. I applied for the job, and eventually worked for the McMinnville Downtown Association and then the Oregon Downtown Development Association.
I then went to Idaho for a couple of years and ended up coming to West Chester in 2001. I’m now anchored here; I see this as a legacy part of my life. West Chester has been a great experience for the last 15 years.
What has kept you in West Chester for 15 years?
When I got here, there was a challenge around every corner that kept me really interested. In the past, I always got to the point of burnout and decided it was time to move on — but I never got to that point in West Chester. Every time I start to feel like I’m just cruising, there has been some challenge or opportunity right around the corner that was irresistible and kept me charged up. This isn’t a job; it’s a life passion.
The energy of downtown is what I love so much. It’s this wonderful place — a little slice of paradise. I can recharge my batteries by walking down the street.
— for me, it’s walking down the street in West Chester.
Executive Director, West Chester Business Improvement District (BID)
What is your ultimate mission or goal for West Chester?
We have underutilized structures downtown. My ultimate goal is to have each of those structures back on the market, repurposed, and open with viable businesses. I will continue to persevere to ensure that each one becomes as beneficial to the community as they once were. There are only a handful of these buildings — but they’re important. I would like to see the buildings come back to life.
What has been your greatest achievement in West Chester?
No achievements were accomplished by just me — it’s always a team effort of downtown stakeholders. As part of a team, we were able to open a new hotel for the first time in almost 100 years: Hotel Warner. That really felt like a milestone; it’s something that changes the culture. Seeing it open up began to move the culture in a good direction and expand the economy, livability, and happiness of the community.
I do a lot of commercial writing, but a few years ago, I began to write historic features. There are 4,200 structures in West Chester that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and I began writing stories I felt needed to be told about places and events that had happened in town. From a personal standpoint, I’ve gotten a great deal of satisfaction by having the opportunity to add to the culture of West Chester by telling these stories.
For more information on Malcolm Johnstone and the West Chester story, visit the West Chester BID website and part 1 of this #PAProud blog series. Learn more about the Great American Main Street Awards which will be announced at the Main Street Now Conference in Pittsburgh in May 2017.