Near Philadelphia is Changing
Growing up, the movie theatre had Saturday matinees for twenty-five cents; these included not just the feature film but usually a cartoon and newsreel. There was a dime store in the block next to the elementary school and also in that general vicinity two drug stores that featured soda fountains (chocolate coke for ten cents, oh my!). The flower shop is a landmark, having been there at least as long as anyone now living can remember. The grocery store is a place where more than once I was "trusted" for a day if I ran short a dollar or two. It's a wonderful place. A classic small town, as I said.
My parents sold their row home in Philadelphia in 1950 and moved here. I lived in the house they bought until I married in 1967 and moved far away. My husband (from another town) always had "return to Near Philadelphia" as a goal, and after thirteen years in the south and midwest, we achieved that goal, living in our first house for twenty-nine years and our present one for seventeen.
Near Philadelphia's July Fourth celebration is legendary, featuring morning activities, parade (count those fire engines!) and outstanding fireworks. Our kids all had their first jobs with local merchants. They walked to and from elementary school. Small, locally owned shops in the village area came and went from time to time, but there was seldom a vacancy. We walked to the bank, to the grocer, to the pharmacy. If we needed to buy more than a bag of groceries or the weather was bad, we'd drive over and park in the big, free lot behind the theatre.
And now change has come to Near Philadelphia. It's a first-ring suburb and on the other side is a large, attractive mall, luring people from the city. For a while, people were worried that the town would change, would be subject to whatever the opposite of gentrification might be. But that didn't happen and now our problem is quite the opposite.
It seems a couple of newcomers got the idea to make our town a "destination." An upscale shop opened (I went in one time and was put off by decadent, expensive dog beds and Christmas tree ornaments priced at forty dollars apiece). A supper club with live entertainment is scheduled to open soon. An investor purchased the huge block of shops and began rehabbing the apartments above to make them luxurious. The parking lot was resurfaced and a cash-or-credit kiosk installed.
And that's the problem.
Because that lot has been free to all comers since time began. When there's a show at the theatre it fills up and cars need to park in the neighborhood. And during the day, it's where one would park if she needed a half-yard of Kona Ash, a week's grocery order, a mani-pedi, or any one of countless other errands.
People don't think they should have to pay to use the lot when patronizing the local merchants, many of whom are the tenants of this new owner. They don't think they should have to come up with a couple more quarters when they want to get a birthday card. Or pick up an order of dumplings for tonight's dinner. Or a cupcake for a special occasion. We don't think we should use our debit card for fifty cents if we are stopping at the new soda fountain for a treat.
One of the shop owners told me personally that since the charge for the parking lot began business has fallen off. There are some meters on the street and many people -- myself included -- would rather the township get my quarter than this new lot owner. The more stubborn of us are willing to park a couple of blocks away and walk to the nail salon or the windows-and-doors place. There are a handful of free spaces for users of the bank and another half dozen or so for quick trips into the grocery store. But other than that, everyone has to pay to use the lot, no matter what time or for how long. Sheesh, even the meters don't cost anything at certain times.
Last week the word went out on the quilters' grapevine that the fabric store is closing this month. Someone said that the greeting card shop has also sounded the death knell. I wonder who will be next.
Nothing stays the same. I know that. But I'm blaming that investor and his glorious parking lot for the loss of a couple of fine shops that have been around much longer than he has.