One way to survive the cold COVID winter ahead: drool over DiBruno Bros.’ spring arrival in Wayne.
The gourmet food purveyor just shared its plans with SAVVY.
Slowly taking shape in Strafford Shopping Center, DiBruno’s Wayne will be an “eat-shop-learn experience,” according to company president Bill Mignucci.
“This is a DiBruno’s people haven’t seen before. We’re calling it ‘Micro Eataly,’” Mignucci says, referencing Mario Batalli’s sprawling Italian food paradise in NYC. “We want customers to come in and spend two hours, not 20 minutes.”
And what could we possibly do for two hours?
Based on these blueprints, plenty.
Watch a celebrated Philly chef filet a fish or butcher a steer.
Meet a pal for tapas and wine.
Take a cooking class.
People watch from a perch at the bar.
Linger over cappuccino and cannoli.
And of course, pick up fixings for a homespun Italian feast or a swanky dinner party.
“We’ve learned how to deliver a food experience but still have the vibe of a market. It creates a great energy,” says Mignucci, whose grandfather Danny DiBruno opened the first “House of Cheese” in South Philly’s Italian Market in 1939.
“The categories are going to be a bit more elevated in Wayne,” Mignucci says. On tap: a “caviar experience,” a selection of foie gras and “really high-end” smoked fish.
A Wayne location has been on DiBruno Bros.’ radar for years – even before the company opened in Ardmore Farmer’s Market ten years ago, Mignucci says. “We love the neighborhood and we think it’s underserved for specialty foods.”
DiBruno’s likes to open in established food destinations so when Kitchen Kapers left Strafford Shopping Center, Mignucci pounced. The Lancaster County Farmer’s Market, a mecca for families and foodies that Mignucci calls “iconic,” was right across the parking lot.
A small-scale project at first, the market doubled to 8,000 square feet when an adjacent hair salon, Rita’s Water Ice and laundromat moved out. COVID delayed construction for six months or more, but Mignucci assures us the market will open between March and May of 2021.
As for the question everyone’s asking: Will DiBruno’s success come at the expense of its humbler neighbor, the farmer’s market? Absolutely not, Mignucci insists. He says the two markets will feed off each other – in a good way.
“I know there’s some anxiousness on the part of merchants at the Wayne market. My message to the ones I’ve met so far is that high tides rise all ships.” He plans to invite market vendors to sell in his store and hopes to collaborate with them on outdoor events in the parking lot.
“This will be a real destination for food enthusiasts, where you can go old-school or upscale,” he says. “We’re not here to compete or supplant the farmer’s market. We’re here to complement them.”
Idyllic family farm in Berwyn inspires new book: ‘Hungry for Home’
Penned in by the pandemic, we’re all homebodies these days.
Might as well make the best of it.
For local inspiration, may we suggest Hungry For Home, a handsome new book about a supercool Berwyn property and the remarkably tight-knit bunch that lives there.
Part Martha Stewart Living, part This Old House, the book begins with the ravishing restoration of Hillside Farm, a bedraggled 18th-century dairy farm once owned by renowned architect Brognard Okie.
Then it settles into its real purpose: a celebration of “intentional homemaking” through favorite family recipes, treasured traditions and tips for “rustic elegant” entertaining and gardening – the Hillside Farm way.
The property’s owner and chronicler is Ruth McKeaney, a former assistant attorney general who quit the practice of law to stay home with her five kids.
When Ruth and her husband, Bob, first toured Hillside’s 12 acres, the place was in shambles. Walls were falling, floorboards were rotting, plumbing was archaic, sunlight shined through holes in the roof, outbuildings were crumbling and trees, brush and weeds had taken over.
But where others saw a money pit, the McKeaneys saw potential.
After all, they’d been living in and flipping homes for the last 18 years. Each of their five children was born in a different house. (Their first local flip was a dilapidated home in Radnor’s Banjo Town near Ardrossan.)
Hillside wouldn’t be a flip, however. The kids were getting older; it was time to put down roots.
It took the McKeaneys a full year to make Hillside Farm’s main house inhabitable. And several more to clear and refurbish the grounds and renovate outbuildings. Ruth’s father and sister have since moved into a restored home on the property.
Today, the farm is a showplace that’s anything but showy. Just minutes from the bustle of Paoli and Newtown Square, it’s both an oasis of old-fashioned calm and a beehive for newfangled play. There are go-carts, a zipline, trampoline, sport courts and a new party barn for family game nights, holiday gatherings and special shindigs.
But there’s also a cozy courtyard carved out among ruins.
There’s a restored turn-of-the-19th-century children’s playhouse. And a cutting garden. And an herb garden.
Twenty chickens supply family and friends with endless eggs. In the farmhouse kitchen, Ruth whips up homespun goodies like her famous barely-baked chocolate chip cookies and Mama Morken’s stroganoff.
She frames her kids’ art and hangs it around the house. She’s never hired a decorator. A mix of old and new – “I don’t follow trends,” Ruth says – her design choices are comfy, timeless and above all, personal to her family.
Because, corny as it sounds, family really is what makes a house a home, she insists.
The McKeaneys have a family mission statement and a motto. Inspirational signs dot their property: “Bless,” “Together” “Never Give Up” “Others.”
Twice a year, they write out personal goals and put them in a special jar.
Several nights a week, they read favorite books aloud together.
Instead of big parties, the kids celebrate their birthdays at home with the family and one or two friends. On birthday mornings, they wake up to 100 balloons in their bedrooms and doors wrapped in loving letters from their parents and siblings.
Each Christmas Eve, the McKeaneys deliver 400 homemade sweet rolls to neighbors and friends, eat Chinese takeout on china, and have a family sleepover by the living-room fire.
It all sounds almost too idyllic to be true. But Ruth assures us it is. “We truly like to be together. None of that is fabricated. It’s what we’ve always done.”
Nestled among the recipes, family lore and stunning photos, are Ruth’s tips for a “restful home” for guests and family alike.
Her top tip for Main Line hostesses? Let go of perfection.
“When you go to someone’s house and they don’t let you in the kitchen, they don’t let you near the mess, you feel like a guest,” Ruth says. “The friends’ homes I like to go to, they entertain in the mess. You feel so comfortable.”
While her home and traditions were carefully planned, sharing them in a book was not. When Ruth casually mentioned that everyone was “hungry for home” to friends in London, they googled the phrase, found it wasn’t taken and urged her to write a book about her family’s life at Hillside Farm.
She was laughing when she returned home and mentioned the idea to her sister.
But her sister started crying. “You’re supposed to do this,” she told Ruth. She introduced Ruth to editor Jessica Glasner who immediately flew in from California to tour the farm and quickly signed on. “I couldn’t have done this without her … Writing is not my thing,” Ruth says. “What is my thing is family and home and entertaining.”
Over the next year, Megan Tidmore, the Wayne photographer who’d been shooting the family’s Christmas cards, came every weekend to document Ruth’s food, home, gardens and gatherings. In ten months, she took 22,000 photos.
“It was one of the most amazing projects I’ve been involved in,” Tidmore says. “This house is so organically this family. There’s this sense of peace and calm and togetherness that you don’t see in other people’s homes.”
Adds Ruth’s friend, Amy Holzapfel: “It’s authentic. Everything in the book is who Ruth is.”
Hungry For Home: A Year Together at Hillside Farm by Ruth McKeaney, $42.95, can be ordered at hungry4home.com.
Teens turn away from in-person learning
Younger kids seem happy enough to mask up and head to school.
But teens? Not so much.
Students at Main Line public high schools tell us they’d just as soon stay home.
“I know a few kids in my school who have COVID so I’m not a fan of being in person right now,” Harriton junior Jack Stevens tells SAVVY. When he went back to Harriton this week, he had about four kids in classes that should have had maybe 20.
Attendance has sunk so low at Harriton and Lower Merion that the district just pulled the plug on in-person learning. Classes will be 100% virtual from Dec. 13 until at least January 11.
The district cited “operational issues.” Not only were too many staffers calling out or quarantining but “many” students were opting to stay virtual, according to LMSD spokesperson Amy Buckman.
It probably didn’t hurt either that 2,300 people signed a petition, started last weekend by two Harriton seniors, asking LMSD high schools to go all-virtual due to virus surges, hospital loads and staff sicknesses.
Seniors we spoke to at Conestoga said classrooms were quiet there, too. “Most of my classes don’t have more than five people,” reports senior Emily Gutsche, who still heads to school most days when it’s open, but says attendance has fallen off. “Most students have shown up once or twice but they don’t go in most days. It’s more convenient for people. You can sleep in, eat lunch at home and you have more freedom than you would at school.”
Stoga senior Allie Reiner chose the hybrid option but her schedule made it easier to learn from home. On one of her two in-school days, she has just one class but had to stay in school for eight hours with no break. “The rules are very strict. I didn’t see any of my friends and there was nothing to do that made school fun or interesting. I’d rather be at my desk at home.”
Radnor High School parent Tricia Bader told the Inky that in-person class had been a bust for her two daughters, too. With so few showing up, there’s less socialization.
“It’s depressing to go into school,” Badey’s daughter, a Radnor senior, told her mom.
Two historic theaters scramble to stay afloat
Sad signs of the times: the nonprofit Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville and the for-profit Narberth Theater have both launched their first-ever GoFundMe campaigns.
With attendance down 90%, the Colonial says it’s become almost entirely dependent on donations to stay alive. “You are the only thing preventing the loss of treasured historic, indie venues like the Colonial Theater,” reads its urgent GoFundMe appeal.
So far, cinephiles are responding. At press time, the Colonial, Home of the Blob, had raised nearly all of its $50K goal.
Meanwhile, the historic Narberth Theater managed to survive its five-month shutdown with PPP and SBA loans.
It re-opened Sept. 1 but even with strict capacity limits (now just 10%), folks are staying away.
“Business has cratered,” says Greg Wax of Reel Cinemas, the theater’s owner.
Wax’s GoFundMe set a $100,000 goal for his 93-year-old movie house. Two weeks in, he’s raised less than a quarter of it.
This isn’t the first time Wax has asked the public to pitch in for his theaters. You may recall our story about his Save the Anthony Wayne campaign, which raised only $10,000 toward its rather ambitious goal of $1.3 million.
A third Reel Cinemas movie palace, the Bala Theater, closed five years ago.
When you win a million bucks in the Pillsbury Bake-Off and you’re first runner-up for “America’s Best Cook” on the Food Network, what do you do for an encore?
If you’re Tina Verrelli and you happen to live in Devon, you take your talents to nearby QVC.
For the last four years, Verrelli has been an on-air ambassador for KitchenAid appliances, acquiring foodie fans from across the country that hang on her every tip.
Nudged by followers of her recipe blog and KitchenAid segments, she released her first cookbook this fall. Homemade Made Easy sold out the day it was launched.
“I tried to keep the recipes simple and doable,” Verrelli tells SAVVY. “It’s how I cook. I’m busy and I need quick and easy recipes. Some are decadent but I try to incorporate healthy cooking at home so I have that in there as well.”
Her Devon home is in the QVC spotlight, too. Like other on-air talent during the pandemic, Verrelli’s segments are being broadcast from her kitchen via Skype.
An ethernet cable runs through the house; blackout curtains shield the kitchen.
“It’s been a learning curve,” says Verrelli, who acts as her own producer, lighting and camera person and food stylist as she demonstrates products and recipes.
“Anything can happen” during her live segments, she says. And bloopers have been a hit with fans. Like the time egg whites flew in her face. Or when her ear buds kept falling into batter. Or her laptop crashed to the floor.
“You learn to adapt to anything,” she says.
Presenting on QVC combines “my teaching and my passion for food. I love it. But I don’t know if anything can fully prepare you for being in front of a camera.”
Survival of the Fittest (Part 2): Adapting to stay in the game
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story published before the state announced the shutdown of gyms and fitness studios from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4.
Last month, we listed the local fitness studios that have closed due to COVID – ugh – and told you how the big boys like Life Time and the Y have managed to stay afloat.
This month, we spotlight ways smaller fitness businesses are riding out the pandemic.
A family-owned club in Wayne, Club La Maison was flying high when COVID hit. “2019 was a great year for CLM, one of its best in our 35+ years of business,” GM Paul Meshyock tells SAVVY. Members were happily staying put, new joins were steady, and “the business culture was the best it had ever been,” he says.
COVID closed the club for 106 days and, although it reopened with comprehensive safety measures and strict capacity limits, scores of members cancelled and club visits are still down about 50 percent, Meshyock says.
With fewer active members, there are fewer classes: 260 classes this month as compared to 480 last December.
While many are choosing virtual workouts, some are venturing inside for classes, or, weather permitting, the parking lot.
Club La Maison’s biggest hurdle? Getting some clients to get over their fear of health clubs.
Meshyock’s also worried about another forced shutdown from Harrisburg. Before officials make such decisions, he hopes they’ll consider a new survey of 3,000 fitness centers, including Club La Maison that showed a “miniscule infection rate of .0023 percent.”
Still Meshyock is sounding sunny. He expects 90% of members who cancelled to return after the pandemic. Revenue is “steadily increasing” and all full-time and nearly full-time staff remain on the payroll. The state’s recent mask mandate has only kept “a handful of members” away, he says. “We’re still seeing new faces every week.”
It’s chilly, the wind is picking up, and the sun is fading.
Time to start dinner or curl up by the fire.
Not for the women warriors of Mojo Fitness.
When the pandemic forced Mojo founder Cindy Brauer to move her popular dance workouts to the Wilson Farm Park amphitheater in Tredyffrin, she thought she’d teach there until October, early November, tops.
But here it is December and Mojo’s “Hiit Hop in the Park” parties are still going strong.
Even in 35- and 40-degree temps.
“It almost feels like I’m playing a game of limbo with our community: How cold will they go?” Brauer tells SAVVY.“ Just when I think it’s too cold, they are still showing up and excited about it.”
Brauer has been nothing if not resourceful since COVID killed off her in-person classes at Nackord Karate in Gateway Shopping Center and Main Line Sports Center.
During the early days of the lockdown, she started livestreaming Mojo routines from the basement of her Malvern home.
“The hardest part was learning the technology, then trying to broadcast and teach live at the same time,” Brauer says. “I was lucky to have a patient and supportive audience with a sense of humor.”
It helped, too, that she’d had the foresight six years ago to begin Mojo Online, a $10/month subscription service for dance fitness fans on the Main Line and far beyond.
And so, nine months into the pandemic, her fiercely loyal Mojo community – dance lovers of all ages and fitness levels – has stuck together.
Each week they have options: they can log on to 20-, 30- or 50-minute workouts on demand, tune into a livestream, or bundle up and hit the park.
Through it all, Brauer, who choreographs all the routines herself, counts her blessings. “At such an isolating time, safely jamming it out to loud music with the camaraderie of friends and neighbors – in person or online – has been an exhilarating gift,” she says.
Founded by Main Line bodybuilder Roger Schwab, The Sporting Club Main Line is playing to its strengths.
The Bryn Mawr club just cut its footprint in half and now offers only personal training. Group exercise classes and almost all cardio machines have left the building. Clients train on the club’s exclusive X-Force strength-training and Nautilus circuits.
“X Force will be the engine. It always has been,” says owner Tim Rubin who bought the 45-year-old club – then called Main Line Health & Fitness – from Schwab five years ago. “It generates a disproportionate amount of our revenue. We’re playing to our strengths.”
The club’s membership skews older so social distancing and masks have been mandated for everyone since its August reopening.
“Some clubs bend the rules and look the other way,” Rubin says. “We made a conscious decision not to do that,” he says.
When it closed for renovations Nov. 1, the Sporting Club was doing about half of its normal volume, up from just a quarter when it first reopened.
“People are sad because we’ve been around a long time,” Rubin says. “But they know we’re the victim of something out of our control. We’re turning the page. Most are thankful that we’re keeping the club open instead of closing it entirely.”
Club Pilates: Franchisee struggles to see daylight
Locked into leases and shedding members, Club Pilates franchisee Randy Longo hasn’t paid himself since March. Unlike many gyms, Club Pilates can’t duplicate classes outside or online. Reformer machines aren’t portable and almost no one has them at home.
“Prior to Covid, I had a great life,” Longo says. “Now, it’s all worry, just hoping you’ll survive.”
Longo estimates he spent up to $10,000 on PPE and sanitizing equipment so he could safely reopen his Frazer and Exton studios in late June.
Still, he’s lost members at an alarming clip and many still aren’t rushing back.
His Frazer studio had 320 members pre-COVID. Last month it was down to 180. Exton had 350 and now has 210.
About a third were scared away by his mask mandate, Longo says. But he insisted on protecting his staff – three just had babies – and masks are easier to tolerate during Pilates workouts, which don’t usually require much huffing and puffing.
With fewer members, he’s had to cut classes and says instructors are making half their pre-pandemic earnings.
Virus surges and the holidays aren’t helping, either. “Just when you think things are starting to get better, people start cancelling because they’re quarantining to visit relatives,” Longo says.
For now, Longo is waiting it out, hoping for a new stimulus package and a vaccine.
But he can only wait so long. “As an owner, you dump money into your business, but there’s only so long you can stay unprofitable and survive.”
vTrainers: Slowly bouncing back in Wayne and Bala
For 20 years, vTrainers has run a solid personal training business at its Wayne and Bala Cynwyd studios, with a steady stream of clients drawn to its one-on-one sessions at unusually affordable rates. Alas, two-thirds of them stopped coming when the pandemic hit, reports owner Chris Bradley.
Like other gym owners, he scrambled to offer virtual training and equip clients for home workouts – no easy feat when you literally couldn’t buy a barbell.
The virtual platform succeeded and new clients from across the U.S. found vTrainers online. “It’s added a whole new element to our business,” Bradley says.
When he re-opened for in-person workouts, he allowed just three trainers, instead of the usual six, in his studios at a time.
One bright spot: Clients are leaving larger gyms they felt were unsafe for vTrainers’ smaller spaces. And more and more former clients are finding their way back.
Despite the rocky road, Bradley remains upbeat. “The company has been around so long and we’ve been through a ton, so I figure we’ll get through this.”
Movement Rx goes all-virtual, rents fitness co-op Main Line Moves
Good things have always come in the small package that is Movement Rx, a boutique studio in Wynnewood that specialized in functional and therapeutic workouts.
After a slow start in spring 2018, Movement Rx had hit its stride by early 2020. Then COVID crashed the party.
With her studio so small, Christine Sturgis never re-opened for in-person classes. Instead, she pivoted online and took some workouts outside, mainly to the grounds of nearby Maybrook Mansion.
Now, she’s switching things up again.
Sturgis is convinced the future of fitness is virtual, so she just made MovementRx an exclusively online platform showcasing a roster of topnotch instructors and wide range of classes. For $30 month, subscribers get unlimited access to new and pre-recorded classes, live chat, fitness tips, even healthy cooking sessions.
When her studio isn’t used to film MovementRX classes, she rents it to Main Line Moves, a loose co-op of fitness instructors with big followings – from dance fitness and interval training to Pilates and T’ai Chi, each offering eight-person, masked classes. For now, Main Line Moves is a month-to-month experiment. Time will tell if enough exercisers decide to come back inside, Sturgis says.
Wayne shop’s bold retail experiment: Flip that store!
Buffeted by a stubborn pandemic and a sputtering economy, Main Line merchants face headwinds at every turn.
No wonder so many barren storefronts dot Lancaster Ave.
But when the going gets tough, retail gets creative, perhaps no merchant more so than the Little Shop That Could, aka Christine Shirley Shop, which has been turning its Wayne store upside down – literally.
Each month, the boutique closes for few weeks while its industrious team “flips” the entire place. Out with the old wall paint, props, furnishings and inventory, in with a new theme, with décor and merch to match. The store then reopens for a week or so for a “Christine Shirley Popup Shopping Experience.”
October’s theme was a boho’s paradise. November’s was a cozy cabin in the woods. In December, shoppers will enter an enchanted Swan Lake fairyland.
“The response has been unbelievable,” owner Paige Sullivan tells SAVVY. In the age of COVID, “people really need something to look forward to.”
The team is loving the change, too – although they’re working like mad. It takes 200 hours to flip the store each month. “It’s creative, it’s inspiring and it’s brought our team together. Everyone has a part.”
After seeing a “huge dip” in holiday sales last year, Sullivan knew she had to change things up. Making matters worse: neighbors that brought her foot traffic – Wayne Sporting Goods, BellaDonna Gifts, Gap, Coco Blu and Vinnie’s Pizza – had all closed.
But she admits turning over about 90 percent of her inventory each month is a “major risk … What if people come in and don’t like anything? Then I’m stuck with all this stuff.”
Still, she says, “This is something that fuels me.” A regular vendor at craft shows and the Devon Horse Show, Sullivan enjoys nothing more than “turning ugly stinky space into a place where people want to be … and it gets easier as you go.”
Christine Shirley, 104 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, (610) 999-1090. December Popup Experience runs Dec. 14 – 23 with private shopping parties available.
Are popups and co-ops the answer to retail struggles?
With vacancies ballooning and retail on the ropes, Main Line landlords are increasingly playing let’s-make-a-deal with tenants.
Need extra time to mail us your rent check? Sure.
Don’t want to be locked in a long-term lease? No problem. Just pop up for few months and see how it goes. (Witness the Boyd’s and Pilot/Powell holiday pop-ups in Ardmore and the new Taste of Britain Boutique in Eagle Village.)
Want to pool the risk and form a co-op? Why not? (Witness the Main Line Co-op in central Wayne, which started as a multi-month popup and is still going strong more than a year later.)
The latest local co-op: The Suburban Collectiv, where seven upscale vendors in Suburban Square are dipping cautious toes into bricks-and-mortar retail.
Most sold exclusively online or at special events and shows, which have been curtailed or cancelled during COVID.
“The whole reason we did this was to stay afloat during the pandemic because we were sitting on so much inventory,” says Haverford’s Maribeth Moore, owner of the Calvert Collection, a home decor and accessory line, who organized the co-op with Villanova’s Rachel Skyman, owner/designer of IsleField sweaters.
Moore and Skyman scouted other Main Line spots but settled on the former Gilbert & Evans space near the bustling Trader Joe’s and Hip City Veg. “We needed a place that gets good foot traffic,” Moore says.
Traveling to shows is no picnic, she says. Expenses – gas, lodging, meals, entry fees and sales commissions – add up quickly.
By contrast, costs at The Suburban Collective are shared, from rent and staffing to tissue paper and bags.
“This lets us take part in retail without being a single retailer on a lease and really putting yourself out there,” Moore says.
Joining them are Carrie Dunham handbags, Moire Anne jewelry, Cal Designs denim, Addison Bay athletic wear; W Collection home accents and Designs by Madison Taylor sunglasses.
The Suburban Collectiv stays open until mid-January but, if sales are strong, Moore says the group may return during busy Main Line shopping seasons in spring and fall.
Meanwhile, many moons after it debuted as a pop-up, The Main Line Co-op has become a fixture in downtown Wayne.
Twelve local artisans and vendors currently share rent and utilities and take turns minding the store. “Most of our customers live nearby and walk to the store,” says co-op founder Melissa Sinni, owner of The Blue Beret, a children’s outfitter. “They don’t want to lose their Main street.”
Sinni feels for merchants who are going it alone. “I don’t know how you own a store on your own these days and stay alive.”
The Suburban Collectiv, (215) 410-6834, 92 Coulter Ave., Ardmore, is open Mon. – Sat. 10 to 6, Sundays 12 to 5. The Main Line Co-op, 122 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, (610) 293-7487 is open Tues. – Fri. 11 to 5, Sat. 10 to 5, Sun. 11 to 4., or by appointment for in-store or FaceTime shopping.
Clark’s Manor: New safe haven for adults with mental health challenges
Clark Widger has found his way home.
And his new front door is wide open – he’s ready for housemates.
A former Conestoga athlete with chronic mental illness, Clark now lives in a home that bears his name.
Clark’s Manor, a lovely 10,000 sq. ft. Okie-designed farmhouse on four acres off N. Providence Rd. in Media, was years in the making, a labor of love from his parents, his therapy team and the behavioral health experts at nearby Elwyn.
“Chronic mental health problems affect families across all socioeconomic levels,“ says Chuck Widger. “I don’t care who you are, you want to know your adult child is going to be safe and well taken care of.”
Before settling happily in Media a few months ago, Clark, 37, had cycled through a half-dozen residential programs in the last 18 years. His last stop, Wild Acre, was a winner – the therapists, place and program were perfect.
But Wild Acre was in Boston. And his parents, Barbara and Chuck, and his sister, Ashley, were in Berwyn.
Clark wanted to come home.
Alas, the Widgers couldn’t find a single program between Boston and DC that followed Wild Acre’s innovative “milieu” model of collaborative living.
So they created their own.
“It’s so hard to find the right fit for adults with chronic mental illness. There’s no 1-800 help line,” Chuck Widger tells SAVVY. “These illnesses are so different and care can be so uneven. It’s a real shortcoming in our mental health system.”
(No stranger to blazing trails, Widger founded Brinker Capital, a top investment firm in Berwyn, and was the leading benefactor of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.)
Clark’s Manor is geared to adults who are stable and committed to their treatment but need extra support. Residents live together as a family. They head out to work, school, doctor’s appointments and errands, then return home to have dinner together at night.
Clark himself hits the gym, goes skateboarding and food shopping, takes online courses in art and music, does his own laundry and helps make meals. When COVID passes, he’ll get out and do even more, his father says.
“The doors aren’t locked. There’s nothing institutional about it,” says his father. Staff from Elwyn are all master’s trained clinicians. They don’t live on site but are there 24/7 to subtly keep residents on track and productive.
Clark is but the first resident; there’s ample room for seven more. His mother Barbara has taken the lead on redesigning the property for comfort and privacy.
If the day comes when Clark can leave to live on his own, Clark’s Manor will live on. The Widger Family Foundation will fund the program in perpetuity.
“I know this works and can help a lot of people,” says Chuck Widger. “We’d like to be a model that’s cited in academic literature and replicated elsewhere around the country.”
He believes milieu programs can be a godsend for families. “Finding the right solution for your adult child changes not only the child’s life but it also changes the lives of family members. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Pandemic pulls plug on popular Newtown Square eatery
Too big to fail? Apparently not.
After 15 years, Trattoria Guiseppe has served its last chicken parm.
The family-owned Edgemont Square restaurant closed for good over Thanksgiving weekend and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. According to court docs, it was $500K to $1 million in debt.
Worth noting: This wasn’t a small mom-and-pop done in by social distancing and capacity limits. No, this was a big operation – lots of room to spread out – supported by a brisk banquet trade.
Scratch that. Formerly brisk.
Loyal customers were shocked at the closure. Nearly 1,000 posted mostly heartbroken comments on Facebook.
We tracked down Giancarlo Musso, son of founder/chef Guiseppe Musso, and asked him why such a roomy, seemingly always busy place, fell so far so fast.
COVID was the culprit, he told us. Both his restaurant and catering business were pummeled. Outdoor dining kept them going for a while, but business fell off as soon as the weather cooled.
According to Musso, the family has no plans to re-open in Edgmont or anywhere else. “We are focused on coming together as a family during these difficult times.”
Remember our story about Deb Ciamacca, the esteemed Stoga civics teacher who left the classroom for the campaign trail?
Well, she lost by 900 votes.
Ciamacca told us her race to unseat a Republican incumbent in the PA House was a long shot – and she was right. Still, 82% of voters in her district turned out, the highest turnout of any House race in PA.
Ever the educator, Ciamacca has been offering fascinating takeaways from her race on Facebook. Among her “lessons”:
- Only 5% of people picked up phone calls from her campaign in the closing weeks.
- Only 20% of people opened their doors when Ciamacca or a campaign volunteer knocked.
- The race turned entirely on TV ads and campaign mailings. According to Ciamacca, her opponent, incumbent Chris Quinn, never felt pressured – by the public or the press – to debate the issues publicly or attend issues forums. Since there were no events where both candidates explained their positions – and local news outlets are woefully short-staffed – there was no “independent reporting” about where the two stood on issues. “This is outrageous. No one should be able to win election to office without defending their positions on the issues in a public forum,” Ciamacca writes.
- Yes, U.S. congressional maps were changed when the PA Supreme Court ruled districts were unfairly drawn but PA’s legislative districts stayed the same. And they’re still gerrymandered to favor the GOP, according to Ciamacca, who’s also a speaker for nonpartisan Fair Districts PA. She lost her race in part because a reliably red part of Marple was intentionally included in her district, she says.
- Legislators of both parties worry more about losing primaries than about losing elections and that pulls both parties to the extreme. “There is not much of a center anymore – and that is worrisome,” says Ciamacca who calls herself a pragmatic centrist.
Will Ciamacca run again in two years? Perhaps. Even if she doesn’t, we’re pretty sure she’ll find ways to do what she did so successfully for 18 years in T/E: teach us about our democracy.
Ardmore merchants hanging tough
Things are sure sounding peachy in downtown Ardmore.
“We have very few vacancies,” reports an upbeat Nancy Scarlato, executive director of the Ardmore Initiative.
New businesses like Blue Pearl Café, Sophie’s Barbecue, Daydream Bridal and Sakana have all opened during the pandemic. And the area’s first float tank/cryotherapy lounge, Main Line Float & Freeze, is coming soon.
More proof the town is holding its own: At least 50 of 77 apartments at the new Cricket Flats are already leased, One Ardmore’s units are 96% full, the façade of Ardmore Music Hall is getting a big fat facelift, and real estate remains robust.
“If you look at sales of commercial properties within downtown Ardmore, the prices are increasing, which helps the tax base,” Scarlato says.
The township wisely eased a few rules during the pandemic. And businesses – old and new – have upped their games.
Hunan, a 37-year-old Ardmore institution, created an online ordering system lickety split.
John Henry’s and Jack McShea’s opened beer gardens.
Delice + Chocolate started takeout dinners.
Merchants quickly ramped up e-commerce, curbside pickup and home delivery.
A few, like toy shop Pucci Manuli, started offering Facetime shopping appointments. Owner Carrie Kohs will gladly whip out her phone and walks around to show you what’s in store.
Alas, COVID has cancelled town-boosting events like Taste of Ardmore and Winter Wonderland but the Rally for Ardmore, a gift-card promotion that raised $10K last spring, is back for Round 2 this month.
“Studies show 66 percent of people prefer to shop local,” Scarlato says. “We need people to know Ardmore is open, safe and will accommodate shoppers in whichever way they want to be accommodated.”
For the ageless beauty queen…
.. a little sin for your skin. After using CBD creams for pain, arthritis and anxiety, two Main Line church pals – Mary Katherine Schenkel and Suzanne Zelov – noticed a surprising side effect: their skin was glowing and less red.
Excited by the discovery, the two skin-care junkies worked with chemists to formulate their own CBD-infused beauty line. Their plan: marry the best of nature – organic, full-spectrum hemp extracts and soothing anti-inflammatory botanicals – with the best of science – pharmaceutical-grade anti-aging agents like retinoids and CoQ10.
They called their company Sweet + Kind and began selling at shows, beauty expos and online, picking up two Indie Beauty Award nominations in the process. S + K’s goodies include an illuminating serum ($68), moisturizer ($68), and muscle rub ($42) that has “a devout following,” says Zelov, who befriended Schenkel at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Wayne. “We’re no Mother Teresa,” reads the brand’s cheeky website. “But we are kind to the pore.”
For a trendy teenager or 20-something…
… retro ‘sunnies’ by Designs by Madison Taylor
Wondrous things can happen when you’re stuck back in Wayne with mom and dad. Just ask Madison Taylor Bailey (Shipley ’14, Colgate ’18), who used the early days of COVID quarantine to launch a line of vintage-inspired chain sunglasses that’s winning converts across the country.
“Like your grandma used to wear but made for the modern generation” is how Bailey describes her designs. Worth noting: Bailey’s grandmom and “fashion inspiration” is Main Line philanthropist Suzanne Cohn and her grandfather, entrepreneur Norman Cohn, is her business sounding board.
Instead of traditional stiff arms, Madison Taylor shades have “Sunloops” – chain arms that loop around the ear. At the end of each chain are interchangeable charms that dangle like earrings. There are seven sunglass styles – from classic cat eyes to mod hexagons. Each is $75. “I absolutely love the funky patterns and colors of the 60s and 70s,” says Bailey, whose wardrobe includes mod pieces her mother and grandmother once wore. “They’re sustainable and unique!”
For the busy family that leans green…
…a “Gift of Composting” package from Mother Compost.
Eco-conscious Wynnewood mom Gwenn Daniels Nolan was sick at the thought of food scraps and organic material filling our landfills, degrading our soils, releasing methane gas and feeding global warming.
But composting those scraps into fertilizer takes time and effort, not to mention yard space. Nolan had heard about services that take the hassle out of composting, but couldn’t find one that served the Main Line.
So she started her own.
Mother Compost functions like a recycling service. Subscribers simply fill the supplied buckets with scraps and yard waste and a truck arrives bi-monthly to haul waste to a composting site. Sweetening the deal: subscribers can get up to 60 free pounds of nutrient-rich compost to spread on their plantings each spring.
Just two years old, Mother Compost serves 400 homes from Bala to Devon. And now you can gift the service to a friend.
For a frazzled friend who needs an extra pair of hands…
… the services of Hedge and Haven.
Even during a pandemic, our days are packed and our to-do lists runneth over.
Where’s a fairy godmother when you need one?
Actually, she’s right in Berwyn, awaiting your call. Eileen McDade, now known as Hedge and Haven, works to “scatter joy” in your home and garden.
She’ll deck your halls, arrange flowers, buy gifts, prep meals, plan your parties, spruce up your wardrobe.
Mixing Mary Poppins magic with Martha Stewart know-how, McDade tackles discrete creative and organizational tasks, often for people struggling with life challenges.
If her face looks familiar you may remember her from her Best of Philly Ardmore flower shop, Rue Coco. Or from stints as retail manager at Skirt, Lilly Pulitzer and Barbour in Suburban Square.
Beneath the sunny smile, McDade has had her own challenges. For two years she was a full-time caregiver for a loved one while she worked full-time. “I knew how impactful it was when someone helped me out with little things in life that are sometimes big,” she says.
She won’t walk your dog or clean your house but she’ll do most anything else: deliver groceries, find the perfect birthday gift, string patio lights, manage your home when you’re away, help stage a dinner party or even plan a wedding.
Hedge and Haven charges $50/hr. to $75/hr. for most projects. Gift certificates available.
For the nature lover who has already has it all…
… a tree planted in her honor in Rolling Hill Park.
For $25 a tree, Lower Merion Conservancy will provide a certificate of appreciation, suitable for gifting. Donate a tree here.
For pets and their people…
… a luxury bandana for Fido and matching mask for you from Butter Bandanas.
Founders Nicole Alper and Christina Kardon, a Malvern native, met at a Philly dog park where they bemoaned the flimsy, unlined bandanas most dogs were wearing. They started making fashion bandanas with a comfortable backing and when COVID hit, added matching masks for their owners. A portion of sales goes to the ASPCA and World Wildlife Federation and funds masks for essential workers.
Butter Bandanas masks come in multiple sizes and are sold online. Bandanas start at $28; Sets start at $39.
For your dog-loving child or grandchild…
…a new picture book from a former preschool teacher at Good Samaritan in Paoli.
Here’s one way to honor dearly departed pets: write children’s books about them.
That’s precisely what Berwyn’s Laney Vogt did after her family lost their beloved golden lab brothers, Otis and Bear. Actually, the whole Vogt family – the labs, Laney and her husband, Joe (and their Berwyn home) – are all recognizable on the pages of The Tails of Otis and Bear, a sweet little rhyming story about a naughty escapade. Lively illustrations are by Madeleine Kunda, an award-winning artist who grew up on the Main Line.
SAVVY Giving: Making meaningful gifts to charity in 2020
By Jean Kane
Like everything else, holiday gifting feels different in 2020. In a year that has felt so overwhelming, it can be tough to focus on finding a scarf for Aunt Sally or a new gadget for your brother-in-law.
One option: Meaningful giving. Give the gift of a donation to a nonprofit or make 2020 the year you get more intentional about your own charitable giving. No matter how or why you give, engaging in strategic philanthropy will guarantee your donated dollars will result in meaningful impact.
- Find a cause that matters to you. Give to what lights you up – reflect on experiences or people that have moved you or made you grateful or causes that keep you up at night. Aligning the cause with your values and interests leads to deeper satisfaction because your generosity is grounded in what you feel is most important.
- Identify organizations that align with your causes. Decide whether to give locally, nationally or globally, to a large, established organization or to a smaller, under-resourced one where your donation may mean more. Narrow your focus with online research and discussions with family and friends about their giving. But don’t get stuck in this step; avoid paralysis by analysis.
- Vet the organization. Use guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org to ensure your donation will be used wisely. Research the charity’s financial health, reach and impact. This is a crucial step. Some well-known nonprofits spend up to 75% of donations on salaries or other non-program related items. Choose nonprofits that will maximize impact with the dollars they’re given.
- Determine the best way to give. Options include one-time or scheduled donations, seeking a corporate match, utilizing a Donor Advised Fund to bundle your donations and/or give cash, appreciated assets or investments. You may want to consult a professional advisor on how to make your charitable gifts tax-effective.
- Monitor your gift. Subscribe to the organization’s social media, newsletter and annual report to stay informed and gain insight on what your gift is helping achieve.
You may not be like Dolly Parton, who seeded Moderna’s COVID vaccine work with a $1 million donation, but by engaging in strategic philanthropy you can create effective and fulfilling charitable gifts. In 2020, when the need is so great, so is the opportunity for impact. Happy gifting.
The principal of Devon-based Kane Consulting, Jean Kane advises donors on effective and fulfilling philanthropy.
This and That
Need a COVID test? This website finds testing sites nearest your location.
Longwood Gardens has donated one of its ultra-cold freezers for vaccine storage for Chester County if needed. Chesco Commissioners authorized a Declaration of Emergency this week and say they’re already planning how they’ll vaccinate residents quickly.
For the first time in its nearly 200-year history, the Philadelphia Flower Show is going alfresco. Instead of taking over the PA Convention Center per usual in March, the show will move outside to South Philly’s FDR Park June 5 – 13. (So much for the Show offering a breath of spring in the waning days of winter.)
The park allows for 45% more elbow room. Plus, later dates mean nature will be in full bloom in FDR Park with ornamental grasses and majestic trees framing the exhibits. Fittingly 2021’s theme is Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece. Timed tickets go on sale in January.
The eerily empty parking lots along the R-5 tell the story: almost no one’s taking the train. With regional rail ridership down 85%, SEPTA is losing – get this – $1 million each day. Without additional funding, count on even fewer trains, higher fares, even station closures. SEPTA GM Leslie Richards doesn’t expect ridership to bounce back to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2022 at the earliest.
Artisan re-upholsterer Chairloom is moving from Ardmore to Narberth in January.
An Italian seafood house, Otto di Polpo, should be opening soon near the Bryn Mawr Train station. Details in a future SAVVY.
Weddings have been popping up in backyards and fields, so why not shopping centers? King of Prussia Town Center will host its first wedding Saturday afternoon. The center took pity on a Philly couple whose wedding was twice cancelled by COVID and offered them its outdoor space for free. Stacy and Ugene Bynum will take their vows in front of the center’s 20-foot Christmas tree with a handful of family and friends scattered nearby. Valley Forge Casino Resort is even throwing in a mini honeymoon.
Remember that awful homicide-suicide in Rosemont in the spring of 2018? Well, the cheating husband at the center of it has written a tell-all book. In Irreparable: Three Lives. Two Deaths. One Story That Has to be Told, Mark Gerardot recounts his troubled marriage, his affair with his boss, Meredith Chapman, and his heartsick wife’s descent into murderous madness. At least Gerardot isn’t trying to profit from the tragedy. The book’s proceeds are being donated to Adopt A Golden Atlanta, which places golden retrievers in loving homes.
Get ’em while they’re hot … at the Main Line’s second Nick Filet. The first 25 customers get free filet mignon sandwiches Friday, Dec. 18, ribbon-cutting day for the new Nick Filet in Wayne Shopping Center. Nova, Cabrini, Eastern and Rosemont students get free sandwiches with ID, too. And orders are 15% for all through the weekend. The original Nick Filet opened in Paoli in 2018.
Big doings under the big top (aka the heated tent) at Wayne’s Autograph Brasserie in the next week. On Sunday, Dec. 13, families can decorate a gingerbread house while they enjoy a prix fixe brunch from 10 to noon ($48/pp. Reserve here.) Then, from noon to 3, folks who reserve brunch a la carte can book a mini photo session with Norma Jean the Vintage Machine, a restored VW van decked out for the holidays, which will be parked on site. Sessions are $150 and come with edited images on the spot. And on tap next Tuesday: a crafty happy hour. Valley Forge Flowers will lead a boxwood decorating class in the tent. Your $98 ticket includes materials, wine and a choice of appetizer.
A couple of local angels are warming hearts – and bodies – this winter. Maggie Henry Corcoran and Coeli Hilferty’s “Comfort Someone with a Coat” campaign is collecting gently used coats at the Pilot/Powell popup in Suburban Square. So far, 300 coats have been taken to Project Home, Anna’s Place in Chester, and Community Center Visitation in Kensington. Keep clearing out those closets, Main Line.
A kid who grew up sledding at Willows Park is now running the place. Radnor High alum William Nord, 43, is the new Executive Director of the Willows Park Preserve, the nonprofit that is funding the renovation of mansion and turning the property into a public playground with arts festivals, educational programs and private events. A former teacher, school administrator and Rosemont College soccer coach, Nord welcomes the challenge. “Given the … uncertain times, the project is resonating with residents who understand, now more than ever, the importance of open space and beautiful surroundings,” he says.
And finally, Main Street needs us this month. In a year like no other, shopping small has never been more crucial. Main Line businesses have been walloped by COVID and that includes many of SAVVY’s advertisers. And without them, well, there’s no SAVVY ☹.
So here’s hoping you’ll show some love to merchants from Malvern to Bala and especially to SAVVY’s awesome fall advertisers: Wayne Business Association merchants; Paoli Village Shops, Walter J. Cook Jeweler, HomeCooked and Blurred Lines at Cryo Sculpt Revive in Paoli; Valley Forge Flowers, Rosalie, Day Spa by Zsuzsanna, Solutions 4 Health, Philadelphia Print Shop, and Restore Cryosauna in Wayne; Your Organizing Consultants, Village Wellness, Tasty Table Market & Catering and Philly Cheesesteaks in Berwyn; Bryn Mawr Village, Claytor Noone Plastic Surgery and Dr. Seema Bonney/Anti-Aging Longevity Center in Bryn Mawr; Mulholland-Peracchia Team at Berkshire Hathaway, Lynise Caruso Realtor; Austin Hepburn Windows and Doors; Amazing Lash Studio in Wayne and Ardmore; Clark’s Manor/Elwyn in Media; Stonehaven Homes’ Berwyn Village & Hamlet Circle; Laurie Murphy Team at Compass Real Estate in Ardmore; Realtor Sue MacNamara; Campli Photography in Malvern; Mason Grey Interiors in Newtown Square; Back to Basics Learning Dynamics/Augustine Hills School; career/education consultant Andrea Tropeano.
Until next time, a happy and HEALTHY Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa from Team SAVVY. See you in 2021. It’s gotta be better.