With recent school shootings very much on their minds, some T/E Middle School parents are taking aim at the district’s response to an alleged threat of gun violence and bullying.
They sent e-mails. They made phone calls. They met with school officials.
Then scores of them showed up at a school board meeting Monday night.
The district was ready. Message (already) received, loud and clear.
The Superintendent announced the creation of parent focus groups to evaluate T/E’s threat-response policy and suggest changes if needed. He also said the district will explore “best practices” of other districts across the country and review relevant research.
And on Tuesday, the principal of T/E Middle School sent an extraordinarily long e-mail to parents explaining how, as a parent himself, he takes students’ safety personally.
The hubbub started in early February. It simmered, then boiled over last week after a TEMS family, the Nissenbaums, told their story to the AP.
And it ran in newspapers across the country.
Shortly after she went public, Sandy Nissenbaum provided new details to SAVVY. Her hope is that her family’s turmoil shines a light.
“We have a bullying and kindness crisis in our country that time and again results in tragedy. You cannot take a threat of gun violence too lightly. You can’t take anti-Semitic comments and repeated harassment too lightly.”
According to Nissenbaum, her daughter, Nora, 12, and a boy in her sixth-grade class each thought the other was “cute” and began “text dating. They’d never been anywhere together.”
But then Nora “became aware that the boy was bullying girls at Junior Capers [a dance cotillion program], saying mean things to them,” Nissenbaum says.
Nora immediately ended things. “You’re not nice to my friends,” she wrote to him.
“He turned on her and starting sending texts,” Nora’s mother says. Horrific stuff like a picture of Hitler and messages calling Nora “a dirty Jew” and telling her to “go back to ur concentration camp.”
“What’s better baked? 6 million Jews,” one text read. The boy “bragged about sending the texts” and word got around school, Nissenbaum says.
For weeks, Nora “was handling this herself.” Her parents noticed their daughter had been “feeling sad” but “hadn’t pinpointed why.”
The Nissenbaums stayed in the dark until a friend reached out in March to say her son was being asked why he was hanging out with Nora because “she’s a Jew.”
“This is hate speech. This is a crime,” the Nissenbaums explained to their daughter. They called the boy’s parents, who apologized and said “all the right things.” But a few hours later, the Nissenbaums say the boy was back on House Party, a popular online video chat app.
The couple reported the alleged hate speech to school officials March 10. (The family has also sought advice from the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation.)
The situation intensified just two days later, when the boy – who was reportedly facing a five-day suspension – allegedly told a girl he was going to bring a gun to school to shoot 33 classmates. A friend told the Nissenbaums, who immediately reported the alleged threat on March 13. “It was our second time in four days to call in a crime related to the boy,” Nissenbaum says.
As soon as authorities were alerted, about an hour before dismissal, Nora and her older brother were pulled out of class and held at the police station. Authorities soon located the boy and his mother, Nissenbaum says.
Charged with misdemeanors related to bullying and making terroristic threats, the boy awaits a hearing in juvenile court, according to the Nissenbaums, who’ve hired an attorney and expect to provide a victim impact statement.
But the boy is still in school.
And Nora, who began getting panic attacks and was being treated for PTSD, is not.
For two months, the Nissenbaums say they worked with school administrators – “good people bound by bad policy” – to make Nora feel safer at school.
According to Nissenbaum, the district said it couldn’t expel the boy because psychologists had determined he was not a threat. They agreed to move his locker and remove him from her classes but said they couldn’t switch his team or make any further accommodations. Which meant their daughter would see the boy in the hallways up to eight times a day.
Not good enough, they said. Because Nora was “still in trauma,” according to Nissenbaum. She was in “talk therapy but wasn’t able to speak.” Therapists told the Nissenbaums that Nora “was re-living the trauma by seeing him every day.”
On May 7, they went to Principal Phillips’ office and told him they’d had enough. They were taking Nora out for the rest of the school year. She has since begun homebound studies with a T/E tutor.
“We’d been trying to hold our ground,” her mother tells SAVVY. “We thought she had a right to maintain an education in her school with her friends. She’s a straight-A student; she hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In the end, they felt the district’s “current measures” … “were working for him” (the alleged perpetrator) but they “weren’t working for her. That’s what’s so upsetting.”
(For the record, we can’t provide district or police comment on specifics. Federal law prohibits school and law enforcement officials from talking about cases involving minors or even confirming their existence.)
As word slowly circulated then exploded with the AP story, Nissenbaum says the community has been overwhelmingly supportive of Nora and upset by the district’s reaction.
Nora herself began rallying troops in late March after she was told not to talk about the incident. Her mother says “Nora pointed out how hypocritical the school’s anti-bullying policy is in telling kids to A.C.T. = Acknowledge, Care and Tell and in this situation, we spoke up and their answer was to sweep it under the rug and tell Nora to be silent.”
She and her mother designed “Bullying Stops Here, Kindness is Power” pins for Nora and others to wear on their backpacks in silent protest. A companion logo is splashed across supportive parents’ Facebook pages.
Shortly after Nora left school, a friend re-purposed a school spirit day into a “Be Kind” day. Half the school wore red t-shirts in support of Nora, her mother says. Conestoga Youth Lacrosse joined the chorus and the go-red campaign has reportedly shown up at Valley Forge Middle School and Conestoga.
Parents have been vocal, too. After sending emails and making calls, a group met with top T/E brass last Friday: Superintendent Richard Gusick, Director of Assessment and Accountability Mark Cataldi and TEMS Principal Andrew Phillips.
On Monday night, they sounded off at the school board meeting.
A big issue for many has been the district’s alleged lack of communication, transparency and safety assurances. Several parents – some who prefer not to be named – have told SAVVY they knew nothing about the alleged threat until they heard it from other parents. (The day the AP story appeared, Principal Phillips emailed parents with a copy of the district’s “Response Protocol to Reported Threat,” which doesn’t mention notifying parents.)
“As a parent, I’m appalled that the school didn’t give us the opportunity to talk to our kids about the situation, about the threats their schoolmates were hearing,” says Amy Holzapfel, who has a child in Nora’s grade.
Her husband Drew tells SAVVY that “a lot of parents felt blindsided.”
He’s also worried that the school’s “lack of response will discourage other children from coming forward.”
We’re told at least one classmate is switching schools and others are thinking about it.
“We moved to the area and we picked this house because of the school district,” Drew Holzapfel says. “It feels to me that Conestoga has been in the news for all the wrong reasons the last couple years. I’m looking for leadership from the school to show me my choice was a good one.”
Meanwhile, T/E School Board President Scott Dorsey says parents willing to serve on the focus group should e-mail the school board or Superintendent Gusick. “We’re as concerned about safety and security as we are about education,” Dorsey tells SAVVY.
He hopes the focus groups will wrap up their work by the end of June. Any policy recommendations, he says, would then go to the board’s policy committee, which in turn would send any proposed changes to the full school board, ideally by September.
Better book your reservations now for Main & Vine. The crush is coming (and we’re not talking grapes in vineyards).
Because Main & Vine, it turns out, is the perfect intersection.
Where California-cool meets warm and friendly.
Where clean and organic ingredients join polished preparation.
Where a smashing square bar faces off with a curvy pizza bar.
All executed with surprising precision, considering the place just opened last week. If the quality stays high and word gets out, well… you’ve been warned.
Main & Vine is Wine Country come to us – dishes from Monterey to Mendocino, a West Coast wine and craft-beer list, even a long, winery-style tasting table in a private alcove.
Talk about Napa know how.
On the menu: Starters ($8 – $13), Sociables for sharing ($15 – $20); From The Vine salads ($11 -$14), Mains ($20 – $30), Napa-style Sourdough Pizzas ($15 – $17) and “The Family Table” of regular nightly specials ($20 – $29).
Wines are West Coast but all over the place, price-wise: House pours are $7, Prestige Pours (including The Prisoner) are $22 – $26, but most are $9 – $13.
A few Main & Vine faves we devoured:
The virtuous, lovely (and “sociable”) Vegetable Crudités ($15) accompanied by three Golden State-centric dips: avocado green goddess, Point Reyes blue cheese and beet hummus.
The chicken-fried oysters with bearnaise aioli ($12)
The Wild Isles (sustainable) salmon ($27) and the black grape & blue cheese sourdough pizza with hazelnuts, rosemary and local honey ($16).
Fun fact: Pizza is theater here. Twelve seats surround a pizza chef and oven, the sole remnant from former occupants Maia and Avenue Kitchen.
Note to late-night munchers: The Pizza bar stays open until 1 on weekends and midnight weekdays.
What’s sort of shocking: This is operating partner Jay Stevens’ first restaurant. A boy from the Northeast who always liked to cook, he broke into the biz as a dishwasher at age 12. Among other places, he’s managed at Parc and Morimoto in Philly, Dettera in Ambler, the Freight House in Doylestown, and most recently, Morton’s in King of Prussia.
He and wife Kylene (who’s a QVC model) have a soft spot for all thing Californian:
French Laundry, Chez Panisse, sunny winery “pizza decks,” cozy vineyard tasting rooms.
Hence, the sourdough bread and crispy pizza crust (where toppings are generously spread end to end), the Oakland-bred Rocky Road pudding, the liberal sprinkling of California figs and walnuts.
The vibe too – from New Hope’s Gacek Design Group – is an earth-meets-sky mod mix with intentional touches of Villanova blue.
Seems Stevens has carefully cultivated every last vine. He deliberately partnered with Kim Strengari (Conshy Girls restaurateur) because of her Main Line connections. He put his servers in blue, subtly signaling “Wildcats welcome here.” He even handpicked the eclectic playlist that pumps in the lounge.
At Main & Vine, you can spend a little (relatively speaking) or you can spend a lot. Your call.
“My goal is to feed a wealth of people, not just wealthy people,” says Stevens, who turned away reservations over busy graduation weekend because he didn’t want to overwhelm the staff. “I’ve waited 32 years to do this; I need to get it right.”
Main & Vine Bistro, 789 W. Lancaster Ave., Villanova (near Azie), 484-380-3688, opens at 4 pm daily. Lunch/weekend brunch coming soon. Private parties for up to 40. Reserve on Open Table.
In two weeks, folks have all but stormed the barricades to keep the Lower Merion School District from seizing Stoneleigh, a new public garden at the former Haas estate in Villanova.
In a blink, 12,000 people signed a petition.
Umpteen lawn signs popped up.
Hundreds emailed LMSD officials and wrote postcards.
And an army clad in red “Save Stoneleigh” t-shirts turned out in protest at Monday night’s school board meeting.
The meeting was so packed – 300 attended, by one estimate – that the proceedings were livestreamed into an “overflow room.”
First, LMSD Superintendent laid out the problem: exploding enrollment (21.5 % increase – tops in PA – in ten years; T/E grew by 10.7 %), the need for a new middle school, and the many properties explored. Among them: St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Ashbridge Park, 1860 Montgomery (Islamic center), and, yes, Stoneleigh.
Then reps from, among others, the Haas family, Lower Merion Conservancy, Natural Lands (the folks who own and maintain the new garden), rose to speak out against the district’s proposal to take part or all of the Stoneleigh by eminent domain for either a new school or playing fields. Their arguments? The need to preserve open space, gardens, native plants, pollinating insects and historic landscape architecture.
Monday night’s fireworks came just three days after Lower Merion School District officials followed through on their promise and inspected Stoneleigh personally.
Last Friday, “they did indeed tour the entirety of the 42-acre property,” Natural Lands Communications Director Kirsten Werner tells SAVVY.
The board made no decisions Monday night.
But if goes the Stoneleigh route, Natural Lands says it will take LMSD to court.
Based on the campaign the nonprofit pulled together in two weeks, no way.
The Superintendent’s presentation Monday night made one thing clear: there’s a little tug of war playing out here. Copeland said the district could put a school at the Islamic center but only if Lower Merion Township allows them to put playing fields at Ashbridge Park. If that were to happen, the whole Stoneleigh thing could go bye-bye. Hmmm.
Over and out for Paoli’s Eatnic
Open just a year and a half, Eatnic is no more. The urban farmhouse BYOB in Paoli closed right after Mother’s Day.
Which was a bit of a surprise; the place always seemed fairly busy when we stopped by.
Owner John Scardapane (creator of the Saladworks chain) gave two reasons for closing to the Inquirer’s Michael Klein: the pancreatic cancer he’s been fighting for three years that now requires more surgery, and a 50 percent drop-off in business after so many new restaurants opened, most in nearby King of Prussia.
“It was like being a mom & pop hardware store and having Lowe’s and Home Depot open at the same time a few miles down the road,” said Scardapane via email.
Time will tell if Eatnic heralds a wave of restaurant shakeouts. There are, after all, only so many places we can eat.
Heading to the shore for Memorial Day?
Look for a longer schlep over the sand and a little less room to spread out this summer if you’re headed Downbeach.
Here are pics – taken last Sunday – of the new dunes covering large swaths of Longport’s beaches.
Our first thought: a bald guy with fresh hair plugs.
We jest, but the dune installation has a serious purpose: preventing flood damage post-Sandy.
And it’s seriously disrupted little Longport.
Some have flipped beachfront homes to keep their killer ocean views. Others have sought FEMA grants to elevate their homes.
Here’s hoping they wrap up the walkways over the dunes soon. Without them, it’s darn near impossible to comply with the borough’s “no walking on the dunes” directive.
Meanwhile, folks in neighboring Margate continue to fume over the state’s infamous ‘duneboggle.’
Installed by the Army Corps of Engineers last year, the dunes have caused pools of standing, yucky water, aka Lake Margate, between the dunes and the bulkhead. (Some engineers.)
To fix the problem, five massive outfall pipes are being installed to drain water. At low tide, the pipe system is reportedly five feet high, making a nice stroll along the beach, well, a real stretch.
One way around the duneboggle? A boardwalk. A growing chorus is asking the city to build one. Margate’s last boardwalk was clobbered by a hurricane back in 1944.
The pipe installation is ongoing so it looks like another beach season will be disrupted by work crews and heavy machinery, at least in the early going.
Misery, thy name is Margate.
Sports stars to converge in Radnor
When we heard pro sports stars will soon converge on Radnor to celebrate Emlen Tunnell, we thought, “Emlen who?”
Shame on us.
Turns out Tunnell’s exploits – on football fields and battlefields – were legend.
A Radnor High Class of ’42 football star, he was the first African-American inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame (50 years ago this August).
And during his WWII service with the Coast Guard, he rescued two men: dousing a fire with his bare hands to save one, diving into frigid waters to save the other.
Tunnell died from a heart attack at age 50 but his memory, rightfully, lives on.
There’s an Emlen Tunnell Park in the Garrett Hill section of Radnor. And his newly-cast 7 ft. bronze statue will soon stand sentry at the Radnor Township building, which also houses the Sports Legends of Delco Museum.
The statue will be officially dedicated at 2 p.m. on June 2 by Tunnell’s family and special guests. Among them: former NFL pro Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, also a Delco native, who will speak; Great American Pub owner and Tunnell’s childhood buddy Chuck Emcher; former NY Giant Don Clune who was coached by Tunnell; and Ernie Beck, a Philadelphia Warriors legend.
Next time we pass the Radnor Township Building, we’re thinking a small salute may be in order.
Racist rant has local roots
A Haverford School alum was all over the news last week – and boy, was it U-G-L-Y.
In case you missed it: Aaron Schlossberg, Haverford School Class of ’94 and a Merion native, ranted about employees speaking Spanish in a NYC restaurant and threatened to call ICE to have them “kicked out of my country.” Expletives deleted.
Naturally, Schlossberg, an attorney, 42, was caught on video that went viral.
End result: It’s Schlossberg who’s been kicked out – of his Manhattan office by his landlord.
Other fallout: a few NYC politicos want him disbarred, a deluge of nasty Facebook/Yelp reviews, a Mariachi band fiesta outside his Upper West Side apartment, and Governor Cuomo tweeting at him in Spanish.
Seems Schlossberg’s an equal opportunity bigot. He’s also been spotted in videos from an anti-Muslim protest led by alt-right folks.
Locally, former high school classmate Michael DiDomenico told Philly.com that Schlossberg “was always a jerk.”
He apologized on Tuesday, saying the rant didn’t depict “the real me.”
St. Joe’s rugby player nominated in memoriam
We were pleased to read that Mark Dombroski, the St. Joe’s student from Media who died in a tragic fall during a rugby tournament in Bermuda, is in line for a posthumous honor. He’s a finalist for the Life of Significance Award, given annually to a collegiate rugby player in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Tournament who exemplifies integrity, commitment and respect.
Dombroski’s disappearance in March sparked an exhaustive search. His body was found at the base of cliff. Remembered by many for always wanting to help others, the 19-year-old was active with Habitat for Humanity and church mission work.
Also nominated, among others: Malvern native Riley Curtin, a St. Joe’s Prep alum who’s a sophomore at BC.
The winner will be announced at the CRC Tournament the first weekend in June.
By Rebecca Adler
What makes a good cocktail?
Ask Erich Sizelove and the answer’s simple: convenience. Drinks you can whip up at home – no bartending skills required.
Fresh, versatile flavors that pair well with spirits don’t hurt either.
Enter Bar Spoon Beverage, Sizelove’s liquid labor of love: all-natural, ready-to-pour cocktail mixes born in Devon, bottled in West Chester, and popping up in stores across the Main Line.
Laid off from a 20-year career in healthcare consulting but not missing it a bit, Sizelove started, well, sizing up what he loved. “I’ve always enjoyed cocktails – making them, reading about them, testing them.”
His first test audience: Devon Elementary School parents, who lapped up the “French 75 cocktails” the Sizeloves donated to the school’s annual fundraisers.
When Sizelove mentioned his plan to take the cocktail mix to market to Becky Caldwell, a Tredyffrin mom with a sales background, she signed on as a partner.
First bottled last September, Bar Spoon Beverage’s four mixes keep it simple: a handful of ingredients, 50 percent fruit juice. Sizelove and Caldwell cook the small batches themselves at the Artisan Exchange in West Chester, although help is on the way. They just hired two cooks.
Local stores selling BSB include: Valley Forge Flowers, Cornerstone, Sassano’s in Wayne, Trove General Store in Paoli, UpHome in Malvern and Mr. Bottle and soon-to-open Terrain in Devon. Look for mixes this summer at Avalon Supermarket and at Passion Vines in Somers Point.
“Word travels quickly here,” says Caldwell of their somewhat swift success, 2,600 bottles later. And neighborly support goes a long way. When their cocktail mix wasn’t a good fit for Malvern Buttery’s daytime crowd, the owner happily walked the bottle down the street where it found a home in UpHome. “The Main Line is a big place, but it’s really a small world.”
BSB’s Memorial Day Weekend Mix: Bar Spoon Beverage Cardamom Lime with tequila, a fresh lime wedge and a splash of club soda.
Busting a gut, Actors Lab Philly is bustin’ a move.
To the other side of Lancaster Ave.
“We were above a movie theater; now we’re below a TV station,” says acting coach/owner Bryan Fox, referring to the lab’s much larger digs near Radnor Studio 21.
A “happily retired actor” and Conestoga graduate, Fox says he’s more coach than teacher, his actors like athletes in training, rather than students taking classes.
In five years, Actors Lab has mixed up a winning formula: grooming actors for film and TV and helping them with auditions. Just last month, his actors landed principal roles in Creed II, House of Cards and Shades of Blue. Before that, there were parts in, among others, McGiver, Mr. Robot, soap operas and films with Schwarzenegger and Cranston.
Actors Lab has also gained a rep for producing high-quality “self-tapings,” aka video auditions for out-of-town roles – no plane fare required.
“Casting directors have been asking where the tapings were done so there’s a lot of word of mouth,” Fox tells SAVVY.
A career-change experiment for Fox, Actors Lab Philly has a “solid heartbeat of a business to build on,” he says, with actors from Harrisburg, Delaware and Jersey all finding their way to Wayne – and joining a supportive community when they arrive. “Acting’s a team sport,” Fox says.
Contemplating a career change yourself? According to Fox, there’s a strong demand for “fresh faces” – non-union film/TV featured actors who “aren’t 18 anymore.”
Never say never, right?
Actors Lab Philly offers classes and private sessions for adults, teens and youth. Pro services include self-taped auditions, interview prep and public speaking coaching. ALP’s new home at 110 W. Lancaster Ave. Wayne is set to open June 1.
Critics wild about Wild Blues
Devon’s First Woman of Letters, Beth Kephart, is launching her new book in her own backyard. OK, a mile or so away.
Come shake her hand at Wayne’s Main Point Books at 7 p.m. on June 5 and pick up a copy of Wild Blues (Simon & Shuster). Count on the usual luminous prose and thought-provoking plotlines.
Set in the Adirondacks, this one’s extra special for the award-winning author of 22 books and counting. Her husband, artist Bill Sulit, provided the color illustrations (below) based on drawings he made when the two were dating. Kephart also weaves his Salvadoran story into the narrative.
Wild Blues is listed for ages 10 to 14 but Kephart says grownups are going for it, too. And the reviews have been splendid.
From Luckiest Girl to Favorite Sister
Villa Maria/Shipley grad Jessica Knoll just penned another beach read: The Favorite Sister.
Real Housewives fans: this one’s for you. It’s about a dead cast member on a reality TV show.
The Favorite Sister comes three years after Knoll’s hit debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, caused a sensation after Knoll admitted that the gang rape depicted in the book actually happened to her in high school. (Here’s our interview with Knoll.)
Before it became a bestseller, Reese Witherspoon optioned Luckiest Girl Alive for a movie, to be produced by Lionsgate with the script written by Knoll. According to IMDB, the movie’s status is “unknown” although we do know Knoll’s script was approved.
Eye-opening show headed our way
We need all the empathy and understanding we can get these days. Cue “In the Heart of the Other,” coming to the Baptist Church in the Great Valley in Devon in a couple weeks.
Taking the stage in a Christian church: a Muslim storyteller (Arif Choudhury) and a Jewish storyteller (Noa Baum).
We hear these two are world-class performers and that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn a little something, too.
The show is Saturday, June 9, 2 – 4 pm. Tickets are $15.
This and That
After 27 years as head basketball coach, Academy of Notre Dame’ Mary Beth McNichol has called it a career. She announced her retirement last week. Among her accomplishments: A 507-258 record and coaching 36 players who’ve moved onto Division I, II and III college programs. She’s in Vaillanova U’s Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame in 2016. McNichol’s daughters have carried on the family tradition. Kacy McNichol coaches at Harriton, Kylynn at Springfield.
A SAVVY shoutout to NBA star and Haverford dad Jameer Nelson who picked up his St. Joe’s diploma last Saturday. He told Philly.com he was scared to go back to school but had promised his mom, wife Imani, and late grandmom that he would get it done. Jameer Nelson Jr. is a junior at the Haverford School and their daughters are 12, 10 and 5. Nelson says “there’s a 100 percent chance they’re going to college.” A member of the senior class of 2004 at Hawk Hill, he graduated in the Class of 2018 with a degree in sociology.
With last weekend’s Radnor Hunt Races in our muddy rearview mirrors, there’s still time to tip your hat to the man behind them. “The Way Back: The Paintings of Frolic Weymouth” runs until June 3 at the Brandywine River Museum. Freymouth passed in 2016.
Anyone else spot Scoops ‘N Smiles’ new ice cream truck tooling around town? Love how the Main Line has embraced this little-engine-that-could in downtown Malvern. Lines aren’t quite as long as the ones at Handel’s, but just you wait…
A SAVVY shoutout to the cast and crew of Nice Work if You Can Get it. The Conestoga High School musical won four Cappies last Sunday, including best musical. Meanwhile on Monday night, Episcopal Academy’s production of Grease took home three Philadelphia Independence Awards for High School Musical Theater. Bravo.
Oh yeah, um, you know, before we, uh, forget…
Can’t remember names? Lose things? Feeling sluggish upstairs? Learn how to keep the fuzzies away – and have some fun – at our second SAVVY GATHERING: “Brain Fog: Clearing up the confusion for a sharper, saner you,” heading your way Tuesday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Saturday Club in Wayne.
First, we’ll chitchat over wine and tasty bites and salads (courtesy of ANEU and Simply Good Jars).
After that, we sit down for a casual powwow with some real dynamos(below): supersmart but approachable neurologist Frances Jensen (Neurology Chair at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine) and Wayne-based functional medicine/anti-aging MD Seema Bonney. Also adding her two cents: brain food pro and holistic nutritionist Meridith Coyle.
Tickets on sale starting next week on the SAVVY website.
Afraid “Brain Fog” will slip your mind? SAVVY e-mail subscribers get first dibs (and gentle reminders) so sign up pronto:-)
Check in at Great Valley Pet Hotel and Fido’s treated like family. Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.
Cheers, but minus the hooch.
Like perennial bartender Sam Malone, the dog-tenders stay put at this intimate, immaculate watering hole/inn.
Deedee Francis has been a hands-on owner since 2003. General Manager Andrew Feimster’s been working there 13 years, since his days at Great Valley High. “Precious Paws” groomer Christine Dolinger has been clipping for 15 years. Manager Brooke Hartzell just started her fourth year on staff.
We could go on.
Also hotel regulars: Canine guests who come for day camp, boarding or both.
Guests like Shana, a Papillon mix who’s been a day camper for more than seven years.
“It’s a trek from where I live but I like the place; I like the family here,” says Shana’s owner, Gary Lashner. “It’s Shana’s home away from home.”
Lashner says he drives 30 miles out of his way each weekday so Shana can hang out at the GV Pet Hotel while he works. Which for this little lady means running with the pack and lounging on her pink throne. (Ok, bed, but she’s called “Princess Shana” in these parts.)
Another plus for Lashner: GVPH’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 6:30 a.m. start time. Other doggie day cares don’t open until 7, he says.
Francis gutted “The Kennel” when she bought the two-acre compound, once a private home, 15 years ago. She divided the outdoor space into eight separate play yards of varying sizes: four grass and four gravel.
For guests willing to pay a bit more for privacy. she installed seven luxury suites with TV’s tuned to Animal Planet. Upstairs includes a nap room (for pooches too tuckered out to be social), a room for cats, and an indoor dog run for rainy days.
When it opened in 2003, Great Valley Pet Hotel had five dogs. “If we get up to eight, we’ll think business is booming,” Francis remembers thinking.
Within a year, the Pet Hotel was caring for 120 dogs at a time. (They also had chickens and a miniature goat, but we digress.)
“We were bursting,” Francis says. “We couldn’t grow at this property.” So the Francises built a second, much larger boarding and grooming facility, Wagsworth Manor, on six acres just three miles away.
If Wagsworth is the Four Seasons, Great Valley Pet Hotel is a nicely maintained Hampton Inn, with great care, fewer frills, and lower rates.
Francis says GVPH was one of the first kennels in the area to offer day care. “It was a bit of a risk to have dogs play together.”
But it worked. Dogs are closely supervised, divided by size and get lots of outdoor play time. And if a pooch prefers to play alone, there are private yards for that, too.
A pet hotel is a hospitality business, after all. Personal service is paramount. “We really get to know the little things about our dogs,” Francis says. “We’re homey.”
Great Valley Pet Hotel, 25 Davis Ave., Malvern, 610-296-8330, offers day care Mon. – Sat. ($27/day; $18/half day). Daily boarding from $36.
#10 IT’S WORLD CLASS. And getting classier every year.
Some of the BEST riders in the world are coming, including three out of four on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Team: McClain Ward (9-time Devon Grand Prix champ), Beezie Madden and Kent Farrington, now ranked #1 in the world. Or catch a rising star like Devin Ryan. (A happy naming coincidence? We think not.)
The stakes, btw, are higher than ever. Winner of the Sapphire Grand Prix pockets $250,000 – double the purse from just three years ago.
In total, $87,500 in prize money has been added in 2018 – lots of moolah to go around.
#9 IT’S HEART POUNDING.
Thrills, chills, spills and hard knocks – Devon’s got ’em every day. Show jumpers and arena eventers play beat-the-clock, each just a slip-and-fall away from dashed dreams and rough landings. It’s also crunch time for those engaging in less (dare)devilish pursuits like the prancing Saddlebred classes. Watch their faces as they exit the Dixon Oval and the (newly christened) Wheeler Ring. You’ll know if they’re in the money or will have to hope for a better ride next year.
#8 IT’S ARTSY.
Now in its 15th year, the Art Gallery at the Devon Horse Show has also upped its game. Snagging a spot in this juried show and sale is more competitive than ever. Plus, the Gallery features eleven new artists this year. We’re hearing supersize equine sculptor Andy Scott could be joining the party this year. Pick up a print of the 2018 poster by Shawn Faust or an original piece for that lonely wall.
#7 IT’S PATRIOTIC.
There’s a rousing Tribute to Heroes on Memorial Day night at 6:30 p.m. Cue the equestrian color guard at Valley Forge Military and and honor guard of local first responders. All active and retired military, police, fire and EMTs and their families get free admission May 28, courtesy of, who else, Patriot Chevrolet Buick GMC. A new Devon sponsor, Patriot is also donating a two-year lease on a 2018 Buick Encore SUV to the Devon Derby raffle. Winner picks the color. Oh say can you see yourself behind the wheel of this beauty?
#6 IT’S WAY MORE FUN THAN THE MALL
Lots of fresh new shops join local faves like Polka Dots and Eastcote Lane this year. So get your shop on – for Father’s Day, graduation, wedding gifts and maybe take home a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for yo’self.
Want some swag but can’t swing a visit? Devon’s all-new online souvenir shop is always open.
#5 IT’S FOR THE DOGS
Pooches on parade in costumes? Two paws up.
The Dog Show at the Horse Show on no-charge “Community Night” May 24 already has more than 100 entries. Can’t make it? Leashed furry friends are always welcome on the show grounds.
#4 IT’S A KIDDIE CARNIVAL
Who needs the Boardwalk (and the shore traffic) when we’ve got a Ferris wheel and amusement rides, duck pond, games of chance and fried Oreos in our own backyard.
Discounts on the Midway, food and souvenirs on Family Days, May 24 and May 29. Free guided back barn tours 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. on May 29.
#3 IT’S A VISUAL FEAST (AND WE’RE NOT JUST TALKING HORSES).
Ladies Day morning offers the best people-watching in the burbs and, frankly, it’s not even close. Gawk as the hordes gather for the can-you-top-this hat contest and attendant festivities. Click here to Rosé All Day on Wednesday, May 30. (BTW, if you see us on the judging stand, please come by and say hi.)
Not competing? Not a problem. Wear a hat and you get in free.
#2 IT’S LOCAL.
Local riders during Junior (Memorial Day) Weekend, local shopkeepers and 2,000 local volunteers. All harnessed together, pulling for a local cause: Bryn Mawr Hospital.
#1 IT’S DEVON. IT’S WHAT MAKES THE MAIN LINE THE MAIN LINE. PERIOD.
With two hoofs planted in tradition, two hoofs trotting jauntily toward the future, our 11-day, historic horsefest rides for the 122nd time May 24 – June 3. The showgrounds just get spiffier and the amenities nicer. And with exciting additions like Musical Kur, Arena Eventing and an influx of truly elite riders, the show, well, it just keeps getting better.
Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, 23 Dorset Ave. runs May 24 – June 3. See you there!