By Richard L. Gaw
After nine years of owning one of the iconic landmarks in southern Chester County, Mary O'Connor, the owner of the Landenberg Store, has decided to put the 141-year-old business up for sale.
In an interview with the Chester County Press, O'Connor said that after nearly a decade of running the business, that she and her husband Tom were selling in order to "pursue other interests." Although there is no specific timetable for the sale, O'Connor did say that she has received inquiries from several potential buyers, all of whom have retail experience.
"I think we're just one of the many links in a chain who has kept the store going," O'Connor said. "I don't think we've added anything unique, except for trying to keep the tradition going. I've enjoyed what I've done, and I think that's been pretty obvious to the customers. We wish to sell the business to people who wish to keep the tradition of this store alive, and respect its historical value, and keep it the hub of the community."
For many who live in Landenberg, the store has served as the town's unofficial meeting place, where conversation drifts from land development and local politics to hunting and fishing in the streams and woods that border the store. "I've been in retail for 32 years, and have never seen such a loyal base of customers than I have in the last nine years at the Landenberg Store," O'Connor said.
O'Connor gave credit to her husband, Tom. "He's been my reason and my support to allow me to live this dream, and without him, I could not have done this," she said. "He's done his part, above and beyond."
Deciding to sell the store, O'Connor said, "was a decision not made lightly," and although she would not offer further comment, it has been widely speculated that the reasons for selling the store are directly tied to her landlord, Landenberg Village, LLC, for its repeated septic infractions at the site of the store and the adjacent Landenberg Hotel that violate Pennsylvania guidelines for the proper draining and removal of sewage. The septic system is located directly behind the Landenberg Store and is shared by the store and the occupants of the hotel.
O'Connor's argument, heard both by Landenberg Village, LLC, the New Garden Township and which has been documented in the Chester County Press, has been that the existing choice of sewage removal used by Landenberg Village, LLC -- a pump-and-haul system, one permitted at the site by the New Garden Township -- violates not only township ordinance laws, but general requirement 71.71 of the Pennsylvania Code, which states that "municipalities shall, therefore, address long-term and maintenance in official plans and revisions to official plans."
In its place, she contends, should be a long-term sewage system that ties the current system into a stream discharge system to a nearby sewage treatment plant located across Penn Green Road from the store and hotel.
The problems began even before O'Connor turned the key to the store for the first time. On Jan. 5, 2005, three days before she was to open the store, she received a site visit from the Chester County Board of Health. A pre-operating inspection revealed that the septic system was overflowing and had to be pumped immediately, and on Jan. 6, 2,000 gallons of raw sewage were removed.
By 2011, the sewage violations at Landenberg Village reached as high as the Chester County Health Department, threatening to close the store. On April 19, 2011, Landenberg Village, LLC received a letter from the Chester County Health Department stating that a sewage enforcement officer from the department conducted an inspection of the property, and found "what appears to be raw or partially treated sewage effluent being discharged onto the surface of the ground. "This condition represents a serious health hazard," the letter read, and was in violation of five subsections of the Health Department's rules and regulations. Landenberg Vilage, LLC received a similar letter from the Health Department on Aug. 26, 2011.
On Oct. 5, 2011, a sanitation establishment inspection form provided for the store by the Chester County Health Department observed nine sewage overflows on the Landenberg Village property. The letter cited Chapter 46 of the Pa. Food Code Subsection 46.83, which states that sewage shall be disposed through an approved facility - an individual sewage disposal system that is sized, constructed, maintained and operated according to section 7 of the Pa. Sewage Facilities Act.
"If sewage overflow is observed at your facility at any time in the future," the letter said, "the department will require that all food prep operations at the Landenberg Store cease."
In a letter from the Chester County Health Department dated Oct. 7, 2011, Landenberg Village, LLC was cited for violating Chapter 500, Subsection 502.3.1.2 of County Code, which states that "no individual sewage disposal system, community sewage system, privy, cesspool, urinal, or other receptacle for sewage shall be constructed, maintained, or used which directly or indirectly drains or discharges over or upon the surface of the ground or into the Waters of the Commonwealth."
In the letter, the Health Department called the overflow system of the Landenberg Hotel "chronic," and said that legal actions will be initiated if any further violations are observed on the property, and that limitations would be placed on the Landenberg Store.
In a Nov. 2, 2011 letter to Landenberg Village, LLC from township Zoning Hearing Board member Winifred Moran Sebastian, the business was asked to have their sewage system fully compliant "with all applicable laws, rules, regulations, ordinances and policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Chester County Health Department and New Garden Township," in addition to being given 90 days to modify its sewer/septic system, internal and external plumbing; and 90 days to install a grease interceptor in the Landenberg Store
While the township continued to award Landenberg Village, LLC several extensions to meet these conditions, O'Connor continued to voice her displeasure to the township, especially in lieu of the Board of Supervisors' decision to grant Landenberg Village, LLC the right to use a "pump and haul" sewage disposal system.
In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, O'Connor wrote that, "It is my understanding that no municipality would allow for 'pump and haul' in place of what was once an existing working septic system (with a drain field) in a flood zone, where an alternative exists. ... The 'pump and haul' situation leaves my business EXTREMELY vulnerable and GREATLY dilutes the value of the historic village."
At its March 18 meeting, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors gave approval to restate an existing ordinance to establish regulations for retaining tanks for sewage in the township. Ordinance No.199, passed by a 5-0 vote, authorizes that the township, the Chester County Health Department or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit the use of holding tanks within the township as "necessary to abate a nuisance or public health hazard," and is applied to any institutional, residential or commercial establishment, providing that the daily flow of sewage does not exceed 800 gallons.
The ordinance stated that a holding tank can be used when it is the only viable alternative sewage removal system, in those instances where an existing on-lot sewage disposal system has failed or malfunctioned, cannot be repaired or replaced due to site constraints. The ordinance also stated that a holding tank can be used as a temporary stop-gap measure, during the time a conventional or alternate sewage system is being installed. In addition, a holding tank can be used if the owner of a property demonstrates site constraints that do not permit the construction of a conventional or alternate sewage system.
Under the guidelines of the amended ordinance, Landenberg Village, LLC is permitted to continue that kind of removal indefinitely.
Despite repeated calls from the Chester County Press, Bill Skalish of Landenberg Village, LLC could not be reached for comment.