The West Chester Story: Coming Full Circle (Part 3 of 3)
On May 1, 2017 the Borough of West Chester was recognized as a 2017 Great American Main Street Award winner, as a result of its successful revitalization movement that began in 2000. This is the final post of a three-part series dedicated to West Chester, its growing prosperity, and the key players involved in its revitalization.
In early May, West Chester could be named one of three Great American Main Streets — which would make it the first Pennsylvania community in nearly 20 years to earn the distinction.
The Main Street Now Conference, this year held May 1-3 in Pittsburgh, will showcase the revitalization efforts of Main Streets nationwide and highlight their progress and potential. While West Chester’s story has been 16 years in the making — spearheaded by Malcolm Johnstone and the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) — it’s just beginning.
“Being nominated for the Great American Main Street Award is an honor that not only reflects the effort of 16 years of hard work, but is also a testament to the leadership of those volunteers that generously gave back to their downtown community,” said Johnstone. “If West Chester receives the award in May, it will become a point of pride for the entire community.”
“West Chester is a city in a town’s body.”
– Sandra Riper, Owner
– Sunset Hill Jewelers
West Chester’s own business owners and community leaders told us firsthand what the BID’s efforts have meant for them and the town as a whole.
Dara Zuckernick of Zukin Realty, Inc., has witnessed and been a part of many restored properties over the years.
“Back in the early 2000s before BID started, we had less than 300 businesses in town. As a commercial property owner, we had to almost beg tenants to come to West Chester and take our available spaces,” said Zuckernick. “Today, we have over 500 diverse businesses in town, and we have a waiting list for our commercial spaces. BID was a huge contributing factor to helping identify the right types of businesses in town, and finding the right type of space for them.”.
Sunset Hill Jewelers is one business that has maintained its home on North High Street for several decades, under the leadership of Sandra Riper. Dating back to the pre-BID days, Riper has witnessed all stages of West Chester’s development.
“My favorite quote is, ‘West Chester is a city in a town’s body.’ West Chester seems to have everything for everyone — and it makes me very proud to be part of this evolution now and for the past 34 years,” said Riper. “My business continues to grow, and the change keeps me excited and involved in our downtown.”
And it’s not only the number of small businesses and their growth that are making West Chester’s own proud — it’s the quality of life that inherently comes with these restoration efforts.
“Just walk around town on a nice Saturday morning, and you can see how people, young and old, flock to the downtown as the place to be.”
– Dara Zuckernick, Zukin Realty, Inc.
“As a developer that tries to retain the historical significance and character of old buildings, we appreciate how the BID has fostered a vibrant downtown scene but kept the town looking uniquely ‘West Chester,’” said Zuckernick. “All of these great small, locally owned businesses attract a wide array of residents and shoppers. Just walk around town on a nice Saturday morning, and you can see how people, young and old, flock to the downtown as the place to be.”
For more information on Malcolm Johnstone and the West Chester story, visit the West Chester BID website and part 1 and part 2 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.
Malcolm Johnstone has been a downtown development specialist since 1985 and joined the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) as executive director in June 2001. He previously served as manager with the Pendleton Downtown Association and the McMinnville Downtown Association — both in Oregon — and the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association in Idaho.
Johnstone is certified in Professional Downtown Management by the National Main Street Center and is a regular presenter at National Main Streets Conference. He also provides training and presentations for several statewide programs around the country.