Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let's Connect the Dots

If there's one thing we need to do better here in Norristown, it's connect the dots.

Last night, a couple friends and I had dinner at Zachary's BBQ (on Markley St., at Astor Shopping Center). Quick plug for a local eatery--authentic Southern comfort food, right here in Norristown. Food's amazing, service is fast, the staff goes out of their way to help you, and the chef even comes out to chat. And for people like me, a lot of their offerings are gluten-free.

As we sat and ate, we had a view of Logan Square across the street. Frankly, it's not a very inviting view.
The sidewalks are cracked and filled with weeds. The parking lot's too big and random, and patched in too many places. The roof of Impact Thrift Store looks like a Quonset hut out of the 1950s, which essentially, it is. The empty stores beside Impact almost seem to stand out more than, say, Sessano's Cafe, on the corner. Beyond Impact is Rite-Aid Drugstore, with a little landscaped walkthrough area in between that used to be lined with small shops. The shops are empty now. And beyond the drugstore are more empty stores. It's now called Norristown Centre, an uninspired and confusing name, since it's nowhere near the center of town. The Norristown Centre signs are too small. (Seriously, everyone still calls it Logan Square--let's bring back the old name or at least something like North End Shopping District.)

Still, as my friends and I sat there, we starting connecting the dots--what is in that neighborhood that's positive? Who are the potential customers that might patronize Logan Square and Astor Shopping Centers?

1. The Sears building has been refurbished, and now looks like a modern office building. The architecture's interesting, and the building has green certification (meaning it's environmentally efficient). US Maintenance moved their corporate headquarters into it, bringing 800 jobs to town. All potential lunch customers.

2. Rittenhouse Apartments, on the other side of USM, is filled with seniors who'd benefit from more stores within walking distance, and safer access to them. I have a cousin who lives there, and everytime she wants to get something at Family Dollar, she takes her life into her hands trying to cross Logan Square's lot, then Markley St.

3. One place in Norristown brings more visitors to town than anywhere else:  Elmwood Park Zoo. How can we entice those visitors to stay a bit longer in town and spend money?

So here was our vision:

Phase 1 -- Work something out with the apartments across from the Zoo, to convert their blocked drive into a pretty lane and walkway from the Zoo to Astor Shopping Center. We already have Zachary's, Rita's Water Ice, and El Primo Produce, that offers Mexican street food there. We have a gas station that would benefit from tourist trade. Via Veneto's Pizza will be returning to the area. Jomar's big empty store could become something like Reading Terminal Market in Philly--a variety of vendors--especially anything that might appeal to tourists (souvenirs, artisans, a bakery, other foods). Create a partnership with the zoo--coupon books for the businesses to be handed out with zoo admission, zoo promotions handed out at the Astor businesses, maybe Logan Square, too.

Phase 2 -- Create a one road exit from Astor Center directly across from the entrance to Logan Square. Put a stoplight there and a pedestrian walkway.  We're hoping that, as part of the Markley project, the sidewalks will be fixed on both sides of the street, but in addition, make the fronts of both parking lots appealing. A wall perhaps, with grass or a low hedge in front. Not a boring look, though--give it style enough to make a motorist slow down to see what's there. And make both sides of the street match, to tie the shopping areas together.

Phase 3--A new facade for the part of Logan Square along Markley, high enough to hide Impact's roof and the things on the roof above Sessano. Fix up the walkway between Rite-Aid and Impact and get some tenants into those shops. Continue the parking lot facade along Johnson Hwy. Redo the facades of the empty buildings between Plymouth Produce and the street.

So that was our Southern BBQ-induced vision for those blocks. It might not be the right vision, but I think we came at it from the right angle: starting with potential customers and connecting the dots from there--tying together the landscape in a common goal. All the local businesses I mentioned above are worth promoting, but right now they're like buoys bobbing in a vast ocean. We need to create one big, connected, shopping and food destination for the North End.

Let me know what you think, but more importantly, share your visions for other parts of town.


  1. What great ideas!! As usual you're right on the money. Now we have to make sure Norristown's "big wigs" see this.

  2. That sounds awesome! I always wish that there was more to do there- since Jomar left the only thing in the area that I've been interested in is the produce market...and that's across such a stretch of parking lot that it's hardly worth looking at the other stuff. I think your vision sounds grand and would make the whole area better! There are also all those great little businesses on Johnson Hwy- if there was a better way of crossing the street all that extra parking could be used to help with that- having a wall (places to sit and not needing maintenance) would assist in safety both on the sidewalk and in encouraging people to use the walkway (instead of jay-walking). This sounds great!