'State of the Square' report highlights revitalization successes in Kennett Square
● By Steven Hoffman
Even before Historic Kennett Square's “State of the Square” presentation started last Tuesday evening, a “Then & now” slide show that was playing on a loop in the room spoke volumes about the borough's revitalization efforts and how successful they've been.
One slide showed the building that in another era was the site of the J.J. Newberry Company store. Today, that location is the home to La Verona, one of Kennett Square's many distinctive restaurants.
Another slide showed a small, nondescript building. The next slide featured the impressive building that serves as the home to Genesis HealthCare, the town's largest employer.
Other slides featured buildings that have been modernized and repurposed—one houses Holly Peters Oriental Rugs and another is home to The Garage Community and Youth Center.
Kennett Square has undergone a remarkable transformation through the years, thanks to the hard work of many people and organizations in the community. While the slide show featured the town's changes over a long period of time, Historic Kennett Square's “State of the Square” presentation itself focused exclusively on the borough's accomplishments of 2016.
After a few introductory remarks from Historic Kennett Square executive director Mary Hutchins, board president Nicole Grebloskie offered an overview of the organization's activities for the year.
Approximately $6.2 million was spent in the business district on economic development for renovations to buildings or businesses during 2016. Kennett Square welcomed a variety of new businesses, including Anchor Life & Fitness, Marche, La Madera Bistro, Shop Mamie, and Salt & Stone. Longwood Art Gallery owners Marge Kuhn and Sheila Washington sold the business, after more than 11 years in the borough, to Megan Umbs and her father, David Umbs. Additionally, George Reinas, the longtime owner of Bove Jewelers, sold the business to Bob Strehlau, who now continues the jewelry store's 87-year tradition in town. Strehlau was previously a manager at Bove Jewelers, making for a seamless transition.
One of Kennett Square's strengths is its diversity, and that is reflected in the diverse collection of businesses that the town is home to.
“Kennett Square has a blend of core businesses, unique shops, and great restaurants,” said Grebloskie.
She talked about how the redevelopment of Birch Street got underway in 2016 with the debut in early June of The Creamery—a European-styled pop-up beer garden that attracted more than 50,000 visitors. The Creamery made good use of an under-utilized industrial site, and reinvigorated that section of town.
Kennett Square business owner Tara Dugan, who happens to be a board member of Historic Kennett Square, also opened WorKS, which features a curated group of high-end purveyors of artisan, designer, handcrafted, vintage, and one-of-a-kind goods, giving Birch Street one more new attraction.
“We are all excited about the redevelopment of Birch Street,” Grebloskie explained.
Collaboration has always been a part of Historic Kennett Square's success, and 2016 saw more partnerships than ever working toward the betterment of the Kennett Square area. Historic Kennett Square worked in collaboration with the Borough of Kennett Square and Kennett Township to hold the first Holiday Village Market, which added a new event to the holiday lineup.
2016 was also the year that two historic buildings in the downtown were purchased and renovated after many years of disrepair. The old fire hall at 112 S. Broad Street was transformed into the Anchor Life + Fitness, which debuted in the latter part of 2016.
The long-vacant building at 120 E. State Street, the former site of the Kennett Cafe, was purchased last fall and is undergoing a much-needed renovation before it opens again.
Kennett Square has found success in attracting more visitors to town through a wide variety of special events, including everything from monthly art strolls to a farmers market to a new event, the Victory Block Party and Food Truck Festival. Victory Brewing has fit right into the Kennett Square community since its debut.
Tom Sausen, the vice president of the Historic Kennett Square board, talked about the importance of the collaboration between Kennett Square Borough, Kennett Township, and Historic Kennett Square. They all worked collaboratively on the Kennett Region Economic Development Study that was completed in 2016 by Todd Poole of 4Ward Planning and Mark Kenner of the RBA Group.
Sausen said that it's very important for there to be a unified vision for what kind of town Kennett Square will be in the future, and both municipalities and Historic Kennett Square continue to work collaboratively on a plan on how to prioritize and implement some of the recommendations that were included in the economic development study.
Sausen also outlined some of the goals for 2017, which are, naturally, aligned with some of those recommendations from the study. Kennett area officials are working to establish some priorities—one being the need for more affordable housing in the area.
Sausen said that during 2016, two Third Thursdays were added to the annual calendar so that they now take place between May and September. Third Thursday events feature outdoor dining, entertainment by musical acts, and plenty of children’s activities.
The popular Holiday Village Market is expected to expand to two weeks for the 2017 holiday season.
There are plans underway to build on the arts and culture in the community, with Abe Hughes and Joan Holliday serving as the co-chairs of the local arts organization that will lead this initiative. Again, the collaboration between Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township will play an important role, as residents and officials from both are being expected to lend support to the initiative to bring more art-focused spaces to the area.
Toward the conclusion of the “State of the Square” presentation, Grebloskie expressed Historic Kennett Square board's gratitude for the work of Hutchins and the staff. She noted that Clare Murray has been promoted to serve as the Main Street Manager.
Historic Kennett Square honored two outgoing board members—Daniel Gannon, who served as treasurer for the board, and David Myers, who is a past president of the board.
Hutchins also thanked Jeff Norman for his tireless efforts at promoting and organizing the annual Kennett Brewfest, which is Historic Kennett Square's largest fundraiser each year. The event is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Hutchins noted that the success of the Kennett Brewfest year after year may have helped bring the Victory Brewing Company and its brew pub to town.
More information about Historic Kennett Square, including a calendar of events and details about activities and programs in town, can be found at www.historickennettsquare.com.