Monday, February 3, 2014

Being Forced to Trade Down

Council hasn't listed their agenda for tomorrow night yet, and I don't want to waste a whole day waiting for them. Chances are no one will be in to work at Muni. Hall today because of the snow anyway. Plus they're calling for more snow tomorrow night, so maybe the meeting will be postponed again. At least the high temperatures are supposed to be above freezing today through Wednesday. If they get some salt down on the main roads during and between storms, we shouldn't have the impassable streets we had in January.

I told you all about the petition to stop the demolition of Montgomery Hospital last week and I'm happy to report that we already have 182 signatures. Thanks to those who signed. Please keep spreading the word. As soon as we get some decent weather, we'll also round up some volunteers to canvass the hospital neighborhood, to make sure the residents there know about it. If you haven't signed, click on the photo of the hospital on the right of this column.

But Montgomery isn't our only endangered building. On the other side of town, at Stanbridge and Airy, is Central Presbyterian Church. Central Pres, as it's been called my whole lifetime, was built in 1906 as a missionary extention of First Presbyterian at Airy and Dekalb. The exterior walls of Central Pres are Valley Forge marble. The sanctuary is Gothic, with windows by Philadelphia artist Nicholas D'Ascenzo, who also did the windows in Valley Forge Chapel, West Point Chapel, the National Cathedral, and historic Riverside Church in New York City.

But the congregation slowly died off the last few years, and now Central Pres and its large lot are up for sale. It's listed for $490,000 on Loop-Net.

Recently, members of Norristown Nudge  talked to the realtor for the property. The realtor was thinking of putting a Family Dollar store there. if you're like me, your stomach sinks at the thought of this. Why is this a bad idea?

1)  Family Dollar is headquartered in North Carolina. Profits not only leave our town, but leave our state. Corporate stores like this are an economic drain on our town. Most jobs in their stores don't pay a living wage, and there have also been reports of underhiring, where managers are expected to complete the extra work without overtime compensation.

2)  Norristown already has 2 Family Dollar stores, plus 6 other dollar stores in the surrounding area. We absolutely do NOT need another. The ones we have don't give anything back to the community.

3)  We'd once again be forced to "settle" for a trade-down. We gave up the Norris Theater for what? A McDonald's that never helped our town. We swapped a YWCA in a great building for a CVS that also does nothing for our local economy or town image. In fact, it's hurting our image because you only see that store in the news when there's a robbery.

Time and time again we allow realtors looking for an easy sale to dictate what our town will become. Do they look to put Family Dollar stores in King of Prussia or the Main Line? No, only in depressed places like  Norristown, Pottstown, Coatesville and Reading. In doing so, they contribute to the depression. They have a negative opinion of us--they have a detrimental vision in their minds of what should and shouldn't go into our town--and they're the ones determining what Norristown will look like future. If it were up to them, we'd demolish all our buildings to put up Family Dollars, Walmarts, fast food, convenience stores, etc. We'd have no local economy left--no decent jobs, no way to entice outsiders to come spend money in our community.

What's needed are realtors, perhaps guided by Council and our administration, who'll look at vacant buildings as opportunities to trade UP for the good of our town.

I've been in Central Pres's fellowship hall, and it would be a great venue for wedding receptions, reunions, funeral luncheons, and anniversaries--something we don't have much of in Norristown. Most people go outside town for those functions, and we often have several weddings per Saturday in the nice months. We could keep that commerce in town. Here we have an ideal building for the purpose, along with parking for 50 cars. Caterers could be brought in from outside, at least until the kitchen could be re-done. The sanctuary, too, could be repurposed for that kind of business, or could be used as a concert/theater venue. It could be rented to a congregation for weekly services--we have a few congregations who need this, but can't afford the upkeep of the whole building. Possibly the Sunday school rooms and offices could be let out as office space, or for a school of some sort. Nothing says the building has to have one purpose.

I'm sure some of you could come up with better ideas for Central Pres besides a Family Dollar. Any entrepreneurs out there willing to give Central Pres a second life? Let's save the art and architecture.


  1. I am a community developer that specializes in finding new uses for Philadelphia area churches. We are currently working to reuse three area churches in Germantown and Mt. Airy (private school, drama school and performing arts center, condos). I have seen the inside of the Central Presbyterian Church two times and would love to buy and renovate it for the right user that is acceptable to the community. If you have any ideas or suggestions for possible tenants, please email me at For more information about our projects, please check out our website at Thank you,
    Ken Weinstein

    1. Mr Weinstein, it does my heart good to know there are people like you who see the worth in places like Central Pres. I'll spread the word and see what possibilities we can come with. Thanks.


    1. The link is for a video about turning churches into homes. Central Pres is pretty big for a single home, but as the comment above mentions, it could be turned into condos. Interesting. Thanks MaryEllen