There’s a new posse in town—and they aim to clean up these parts.
They are team of Lansdale business owners and residents organized and committed to one goal: making the borough a success.
This merchant militia is comprised of members of the Lansdale Business Association and the borough Economic Development Committee, and they organized the first-ever monthly town hall session at Lansdale Library Thursday evening.
They left the meeting with an action plan—start taking responsibility and ownership of their properties, and pay it forward.
The meeting had citizen and entrepreneur alike represented at the meeting, led by Mary Fuller, councilwoman and Economic Development Committee chair, and Doug DiPasquale, owner of Minuteman Press and president of the LBA.
Looking around the tables, there were familiar faces from town and faces from out of town who came together for a new cause.
There were Chuck Booz of Chantilly Floral, Borough Manager Timi Kirchner, Joe and Pat McQuillin of McQuillin Studio, Steve Jones of Milestones in Music, and Regina Mason, owner of Virago Baking Company and Cafe, and her son, Travis.
LBA Executive Committee member Linda Breithaupt of National Penn Bank was in attendance with her husband, Chuck, as was LBA Executive Committee member Lois Reuther, treasurer of Abington Bank, soon to be Susquehanna Bank, and Peg Francis of Little People Shoppe.
Other attendees included Franklynn and Georgette Koehler of Koehler’s Jewelers and Diamond Merchants, real estate agent and ECD member Rich Strahm, Rich Davis of Re-Act Consulting and resident Joyce Shaffer.
Joe Flyzik of Wilson’s Hardware and Locksmiths; residents Rich and Nancy Frei; Lansdale Historical Society member and resident Steve Moyer; Councilman Jack Hansen of Jack Hansen Painting; Re/MAX agent Carol Zellers; Councilwoman Anne Scheuring and her husband, Ed; Lansdale Business Center owner and LBA Executive member Ellen Foulke; Chris Lutz of Marjeane Caterers; and Rhonda Foy of Edible Arrangements at Ralph’s Corner in Hatfield rounded out the group.
Fuller opened the meeting by stating she and DiPasquale were discussing ideas for visions of Lansdale.
“We got to chatting and we were discussing ideas about our visions for Lansdale, and certainly as things are changing, and as the EDC changed, Doug and I got to know each other better. We discussed what we would like to happen in Lansdale,” Fuller said. “We know things can’t happen in Lansdale, in part, without business involvement; you need to have thriving business and people living here.”
She said a session outside a formal setting would be a nice venue to hear peoples’ thoughts.
“We would like to begin a series for as long as we can take it. We’re interested in hearing what everyone thinks: ideas you have, questions you have, concerns you have,” Fuller said. “We’ll do our best to answer the questions and certainly discuss things.”
The biggest topic of the night was the streetscape project. Zellers began the forum by asking Fuller what is her vision of Lansdale.
“Part of it includes fireworks and big celebrations, which leads to a thriving, safe community,” she said. “I think Lansdale has it. We seem to be a community that loves to gather, and we have great places to gather. We’re trying to help that grow and make that happen more.”
She believed a thriving Main Street can be brought back.
“I think we can trickle it away from Main and Broad Street. I think we have the assets to have a big picture, a broader base,” she said. “We need to play up our assets.”
She said the major hub railroad station is one big asset, as well as the SEPTA bus system. She said the parking study will help promote the amount of open parking in the borough.
“We have a lot of things in place. Now, it’s up to us as a community and business owners and residents to decide what direction we want to take it in,” Fuller said.
DiPasquale said he found out from the preliminary parking study that the Lansdale SEPTA stop has more than 1,000 people that come through the borough daily.
“Once you have that many people coming in that is outside of the area, there’s a possibility to have those people stay,” he said.
Hansen said the borough is committed to making sure the downtown is beautiful when the streetscape is finished.
“This is intended to bring more people to the downtown, so that all of your businesses will thrive and be very successful and bring more business into downtown,” he said. “That’s the primary goal of all this here in the LBA and one of my primary goals, to bring more businesses in and have everyone thrive.”
Flyzik said one of the things that has been affecting businesses in the downtown is close parking spaces being taken by SEPTA commuters in the morning.
“That’s parking spaces that are prime to any new business coming in,” he said. “If we want to revitalize that Main Street and bring new things in, some of that prime parking we have to leave for the people who are coming in to shop in downtown Lansdale. We have to refigure it. The long-term commuter maybe should be the ones pushed back further, not the people coming into town to do everyday shopping.”
Flyzik said providing convenience is the way to attract new businesses and get people to downtown Lansdale.
“We’ve got to make them aware that if they’re there, their customers are going to need convenient parking to get to them,” he said.
Fuller said her thought on the matter is Lansdale doesn’t have to have what other places have; Lansdale can think outside the box and attract businesses that make people stay here and shop here.
“Lots of cars are traveling our Main Street every day and stopping at the traffic light at Main and Broad or at Susquehanna. Let’s give them something to look at, let’s give them a reason to stop,” she said. “Let’s give those commuters coming off the train a reason to do something.”
Flyzik said if you can grab 10 percent of commuters who don’t stop now, it would help business in the downtown.
Moyer said there is an amazing amount of product being done in a short time, in relation to the streetscape.
“It’s my perception they are moving along and getting stuff done. I think it will look pretty good by the fall,” Moyer said.
Then, Booz said his concern is looking past the streetscape.
“What we have in front of us is an opportunity,” he said. “We are on the edge of a coin, and we could go either way. We could deal with blight, we could deal with crime, we could deal with vandalism, or we could deal with prosperity. And it has everything to do with community at-large.”
Booz accompanied borough code enforcement director John Ernst on a recent trip to Lancaster to compare what they do with what Lansdale could do. He said he looked at what has been done there from a business perspective and came back with three impressions.
“All the stores within the core of the community were independent. That was some the James Street District bred; they made that decision and worked very hard to keep the big box stores out,” he said. “Easily, many of the people I talked to would love to have a Gap or Old Navy in town, but is it really what you want? It’s not community. There’s no heart.”
Booz said the borough is building Lansdale into a passionate, historic town, and to bring a corporation in would steal that heart from the town.
The next impressive thing he saw was the cleanliness of the community, from the gutters to the windows.
“I’m used to seeing some litter somewhere in some shape or form. And what I found is the cleanliness bred,” he said. “I saw a visitor pick up trash and put it in the can because it was obvious it shouldn’t be there.”
The third impression was friendliness.
“Smiles, positive attitudes, manners and etiquette, it’s all contagious,” Booz said.
He said that message to customers will show that it’s not about a visit to a specific store, but a visit to the community.
“I thought that’s what we need to tap into and it’s part of working together,” he said.
The big idea is reinvesting in your own business, Booz said, and becoming a better manager and owner of your business. Pulling weeds and sweeping up isn’t the borough’s job, but a business owner’s job.
“It’s not the borough’s job; it’s our job,” he said. “And I’m passionate about this because I think it makes a difference.”
Booz said he initiated a Community Action Network series with Foulke where business professionals are brought in to learn how to increase their own help.
“Own your store, own the street, join the LBA if you’re a business,” he said. “Go to council meetings. The council are the people that make the decisions on the environment on which we live. Unless we show up and participate, you can’t complain. And we love to complain.”
He said business owners need to donate and pick a cause, as well.
Booz also touched on the fate of the performing arts center.
“This building can go many different ways, and I believe it is that important to the community that this thing goes on,” he said. “We have new streets, we have a new town, we have a new outfit. It is important we make the investment into ourselves to bring additional money and revenue into our town.”
Hansen agreed it would be a great goal to bring people in, but you can’t look at it to make money in this economy. Booz said everything has to make money.
“You got to match costs, and if you go into that perspective that ‘We’re not going to make money,’ you are going to lose money,” he said.
Hansen said the center has to be run as a business, and if it can be run properly, then people will want to go there and watch their families perform.
Booz said a performing arts center in Lancaster went through a similar history.
“If we get the right management—to me it’s the diamond—and we get it open and operating with a family theme, it will satisfy the masses,” he said. “It will be functioning and profitable to the culture of the community.”
Flyzik said a big change is getting merchants to stop talking negatively about the borough of Lansdale.
“We’ve got to get them thinking positive because that’s what we’re going to relate to everybody coming into town, especially somebody looking to open a new business,” he said. “We’ve got to get people to take a little pride in their business, whether it’s their building or not.”
He said he cleans up out front of his store every day, and every day it’s dirty. If you don’t, it gets dirtier and dirtier.
“Too many don’t do that in front of their store, and it detracts from the whole thing,” Flyzik said. “With the LBA and the borough and downtown merchants, we have to relate to every other business that let’s sweep up in front of our stores and make it attractive.”
Booz said if you don’t talk about progress, you will never reach perfection.
“By making a difference, we can grow,” he said.
Fuller said community spirit can be contagious.
“The opportunity right now is right there,” Flyzik said, “and we just got to keep pushing forward or we’re going to let everything regress and we don’t want to do that.”
Booz focused on vacancies on Main Street, and encouraged those in attendance to shy from repetitious businesses.
“We will get 10 nail salons in a row because the property owner will fill that spot with the first thing that walks through the door,” Booz said. “Somebody knows somebody that may be interested in opening. It’s our responsibility to engage that and put it out there because you never know what will stir somebody and to make the investment into our community.”
Booz said he is connected to every store on Main Street.
“Their success is my success. That’s why I’m here,” Booz said.
Strahm gave a perspective as a resident and consumer in the borough, and spoke about the negative things he hears from people about Lansdale.
“It would be nice to bring the moneyspenders into town, but in today’s day and age, not a lot of them are around in the afternoon. One of the biggest complaints I hear is I would go to the businesses if they were open when I was available to shop. And that has a lot to do with it,” Strahm said. “You really have to start opening to get people to come instead of saying ‘Nobody’s coming, so I’m not going to be open.’”
Booz said that was the reason for the Community Action Network. He said a lot of the family businesses on Main Street are tired and exhausted and afraid to talk to advertising people.
“Businesses need to be self-improving. They need to change habits and adopt their stores,” Booz said. “Professionalism is what we need throughout the business community.”
Mason said her business has just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and it was good for the business to move from Broad Street to Main Street.
“I had a few people email me ahead of time saying they were excited for me to come, but the surrounding businesses, some of them, it feels like I encroached upon their area,” she said. “Even as a business owner, you’re up against another business owner. They’re not welcoming. I definitely get that.”
She said she sees people disrespecting business owners’ space.
Booz said if businesses can get on the same page with ownership, it can be better.
Foulke said there’s a feeling of compartmentalized sections of town, so that one area is divorced from people toward Valley Forge Road.
“I think a lot are speaking to fact there’s an issue about the borough versus businesses versus residents. Rather than borough council, they are earning for another avenue by which they can get news about Main Street and what’s going on on Main Street,” she said. “This is a great forum to start that communication.”
Mason said the LBA needs to be the welcome wagon to new businesses.
“You’re not the welcome wagon. You are not coming in. You are not saying, ‘Oh my Gosh, we’re so excited. What’s your business about? We welcome you to the community.’ I bet most businesses downtown have no clue what I do,” Mason said.
She said her business brings people from 45 minutes away because of what she does, from as far away as Allentown, Bethlehem and Philadelphia.
“If you knew what we did, everybody can direct somebody else to another location,” she said. “I get customers that are not my customer. But I know where I can send them.”
Moyer said the function of every business in town is to attract, retain and maintain customers.
“That’s the function, our goals for making profit. If you confuse your function with your goals, you get messed up,” he said. “Lansdale Borough is a business and their function is to attract.”
McQuillin said those who can be considered “just residents” are also customers.
“You guys are developing a culture and core that I believe will expand,” Moyer said. “You are the foundation in this.”
Zellers said her expectation is to know every business owner in town. She wants to know how to help them grow their business and vice versa.
“As business owners, shoppers, consumers, if we could all take that approach and pay it forward,” she said, “we can’t help but grow.”
The next meeting of the LBA and EDC town hall session is set for Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Lansdale Library meeting room.