Thursday, August 28, 2014

The CAR SHOW and Other Events

I'm posting events today because I'm going to try to get to the first event posted tomorrow morning. If I hear of any others, I'll post them later tomorrow. As always, check the calendar links to the right of this article.

Friday morning from 8:30 to 10:30 am, the Norristown Police Department will open their bi-weekly COMPSTAT meeting to the public. Municipal Hall, 1st Floor Council Conference Room. Seating is limited. First come, first served.

Friday is the Red Cross Blood Drive from 2-7 pm at Hancock Fire Co, 820 W Airy St. Appointment is required, call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Saturday at 11 am at 19 W Marshall St, YouthNet Creative Session built around teaching & encouraging healthy forms of self-expression for youth ages 12-17 years. LUNCH IS INCLUDED. For information, call 484-250-1996.

Saturday at 6 pm, Summer Concert Series presents The Battle of the Bands Winner at the Elmwood Park band shell. FREE Summer Outdoor Concert. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

Sunday from noon-4 pm is the Norristown Police Thomas Barone Memorial Car Show on Main St.  Registration at 10 am. Pre-Registration $15, Day of Show $20. Awards for excellence to top 25, best in class, goody bags to first 50 registered. Food, Beverages, Music. Contact Rich Racich 610-585-7115. or email

Sunday night at 7 pm at the Elmwood Park band shell, Summer Concert Series present the Beach Bumz in concert (think Beach Boys/Jimmy Buffet). Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

Monday at 6 pm, Edible Forrest Urban Farm (417 Forrest Ave) is hosting a Labor Day Farm Party and Vegetarian Potluck. Bring your best vegan/vegetarian friendly dish to share. Or, if don't have time to make a dish and don't have the ingredients around, come anyway. Games, guitars for impromptu jam sessions, possibly fire pits for the evening. Feel free to go a little early to work in their garden with them or use their kitchen and veggies to make your dish. More info on their Facebook page:

Tuesday at 7:30 pm at Municipal Hall, Council Meeting. No agenda yet, but I do know the winners of the Norristown Garden Club contest will be honored.

Wednesday from 2 to 4 pm, Basic Computer Skills Class at Montgomery County OIC, Arch and Basin Sts. Learn basic computing skills with this FREE class at Montco OIC. Space is limited to 8 per session, registration is required. Call 610-279-9700 to register.

Thursday at 7 pm at the Centre Theater will be the 2nd organizational meeting for those interested in forming a middle school community marching band. Volunteers are needed. For information, contact Ernie Hadrick Jr at 484-614-0983 or

Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library Adult Computer Classes start in three weeks. The following courses are being offered: Computer Basics, File Management, Internet, MS Word, MS Excel and MS PowerPoint. Seating is limited. Registration must be done in advance and in person. You can view course descriptions at this link.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our Cockamamy Package Delivery System

This is a quick update to Monday's Diary entry about the Post Office. I lost 2 work days waiting for the package I talked about--it finally came yesterday--so I've got loads of work to catch up on, but I did manage to find out what the package delivery procedure is now for Norristown. I think. Every time I talk to someone at our Post Offices, I get a slightly different story.

I heard from several of you who are also having problems with package delivery. I also heard from 2 residents who said they usually had no problems at all, though one said that when her regular carrier was on vacation, she'd had all kinds of problems, including packages that had been lost. So it does seem to be a carrier problem.

Our carriers now work out of the Conshohocken Post Office. They pick up the mail and packages there, then come up to deliver them in Norristown. My package was printed with the instruction "Carrier--Leave If No Response." He didn't do that, which further leads me to believe he didn't put it in his bag at all.

Whatever the reason, if a package can't be (or won't be) delivered, the carrier brings it back to Conshohocken. Then it's either given to the carrier to redeliver the next day, or put on a truck to the Norristown Post Office, to wait for the customer to pick it up--it doesn't seem to matter that the customer probably doesn't know the package is there. If it was sent as a gift, the recipient might not even know it exists at all. If it's not picked up within 2 weeks, it's returned to the sender. Whether it's given back to the carrier or sent to Norristown seems to be a totally random decision.

USPS has a system where you can fill in a form online requesting redelivery. Unfortunately, I found that Norristown PO doesn't look at the redelivery orders unless you specifically call them and tell them to do so. Conshohocken doesn't get them at all--only the PO in the customer's zip code. But once Norristown knows that the customer wants the package redelivered, they put it in a bin to be shipped back to Conshohocken. They apparently only send the truck to Conshy once a day, at night, and only on weekdays.

So my package sat in the Norristown PO all weekend and all day Monday--1.2 miles from my house--before it was sent back to Conshy--nearly 6 miles away--to be given to my carrier, who then drove it back to Norristown Tuesday. The waste of taxpayers' money in gasoline alone is stupefying.

So there's the reason so many of you are having problems with package delivery. Here are the phone number of both post offices--you'll need them.

Conshohocken PO (for all carrier questions or complaints): 610-239-6424
Norristown PO (for when a package doesn't get delivered): 610-275-0198

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unlicensed Landlords

I found out this month that 2 people I know personally, who are or were renting out houses in Norristown, don't have rental licenses. I'm now wondering how widespread of a problem this is.

Norristown's ordinance states: " rent a single family dwelling the owner would complete a rental license application and submit it to the code department. A code inspector or a member of the Code staff will then contact the applicant to schedule the required property maintenance inspection. Once any violations are repaired the owner will be issued the annual rental license once the ($65.00) fee is paid."

It's slightly more involved for a multi-family dwelling, because zoning has to be in on the process to make sure the owner isn't adding units when they shouldn't be, but the gist is, you have to pay the fee PER UNIT rented. And more importantly, each rental property MUST be inspected by the Codes Department before the license is issued.

One of the landlords I mentioned above used to live in Norristown and when he moved, decided to rent his old house instead of selling it. The problem with this kind of situation, which is all too common in Norristown and elsewhere, is that simply owning a house doesn't mean you ought to be a landlord. I'm sure it never occurred to the man that he ought to check with the borough about licensing or other responsibilities. He found it difficult to deal with his own full time job and family plus come into town every time something needed to be fixed on the house or the walks needed to be shoveled. By not doing so, he inflicted hardship on his tenant. I'm happy to report that he learned his lesson and is no longer a landlord.

The other man, I found out yesterday, owns 5 rental properties in Norristown and not one is licensed. He's been renting out one house on my street for the last 10 years and never had a license for it, nor was it ever inspected by Codes. For this property, at least, he doesn't try to do everything himself, but uses property managers (I suspect he uses the same guys for all his properties). Still, the house on my street is in horrendous condition. Outside alone, the sidewalk is dangerously uneven, the bushes are overgrown, the front screen door is broken, the back porch is rotting and the garage falling apart. Inside the tenant (who's in her 80s) has been putting up with a leaky roof, sewage in the basement, a non-working stove, windows that won't close and lock, a broken furnace, a broken sink, a broken cellar window that took years to get fixed--and that's only the short list.

The tenant had to call 911 one night when the ceiling fell in, which finally made Codes aware of a few of the violations. Her reward is that she's being evicted, with less than 2 weeks notice. Our town government is aware of the situation, but frankly, despite the fact that the landlord wasn't licensed, is in clear violations of Codes on several counts, and abused his tenant by making her live in squalor, I have serious doubts as to whether anyone will lift a finger to help the tenant--the victim in this situation. The bad landlords in this town seem to get away with this sort of thing all the time. In this case, code violations were cited in February and again in June, but only a few of the problems have been fixed.

The landlord in this case, I've heard, is now getting licenses for his properties, but I have yet to see Codes come out for a full inspection. And even then, will they follow up and make sure he does the repairs before renting the house again? I don't know if he paid violation fines or not.

For the rest of you, if you have a derelict rental property on your street, or know of a tenant in distress, you can check to see who owns the property at Click through the disclaimer pages, then click on ADDRESS to enter the house number and street, and put NORRISTOWN under Municipality. Once you find the owner's name, you can search by name to find out how many other properties that person owns and where. If you want to find out if the landlord is licensed, you can put in a request to see the license at Municipal Hall.

Since this kind of search is so easy, someone tell me why our government doesn't use it to find unlicensed landlords. According to the last census, we've got nearly 7800 reported rental units in Norristown. That's over a half million bucks in licensing each year. If there are many other unlicensed units, Norristown ought to be actively looking for them. That's a lot of potential revenue, not mention code violation fines. And if Codes follows up, we might see some of our derelict houses repaired.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Life Without a Real Post Office

A year and a month ago, I did a Diary entry on the Norristown Post Office--about it being sold and what to do with the building. Now it's time to reflect on what closing down many of the old functions of our Post Office has meant to our community. I only have personal experience to draw on so here are my observations.

Most of you know I live in what was my parents house. Since I was born we've had the problem that's probably common to everyone in Norristown who lives on one of the long east-west streets. If your address is West-Something, you get the mail meant for the same house number at East-Something, usually because the person mailing the letter didn't specific "east" or "west." Even if they did, the sorter at the Post Office would occasionally make a mistake. The mistake was infrequent so no big deal. You mark the envelope "Deliver to EAST," put it back in your mailbox, the mailman takes it and that's that.

In the last year, though, I've begun to get mail for other houses on my street or for the same house number on parallel streets, sometimes as far away as 3 blocks. Not infrequently either, often weekly. And when I mark it and put it back in my box, the mailman doesn't always take it. Last week I finally taped a letter-sized sign to a piece of mail that read in large capitals: "DEAR MAILMAN, LOOK AT THE ADDRESS ON THIS. PLEASE TAKE AND DELIVER IT TO THE RIGHT ADDRESS." He finally took it, ripping the note off and leaving it to blow around on my porch.

But the clincher, which has happened to me 3 times now, twice in less than the last 2 months, is when I'm expecting a package. I track it online. When it says "out for delivery," I keep an eye on the front of the house, lately working in my front room where I can see if someone come up to the porch. 3 times, I've gone back to online tracking later only to find a message that says in effect, "We tried to deliver your parcel but no one was home. We left a notice. Contact the post office on the notice about picking up your package or rescheduling a redelivery."

No notice was ever left. The doorbell never rang; no one knocked. In fact, this last week, the package should have been delivered on Friday and I didn't even get mail that day, so no mailman came to my door at all. I would have seen him.

When this has happened before, I've called the Conshohocken Post Office (now our distribution center). They've been sympathetic, but they say once packages are sent to Norristown, they can do nothing. The guy I talked to on Saturday in Conshy implied that the Norristown P.O. was a problem child. The last 2 times when I've called the Norristown P.O. it takes forever for anyone to answer the phone, if they do at all. They say they're holding the package for me to pick up. I say I want it redelivered and ask them to actually look for it. Then they say they can't find it and they'll get back to me. Then it miraculously appears on my front porch that day.

Saturday, since I couldn't get hold of the N-town Post Office, I did a stake-out on my front porch and when the mailman finally came, I asked where my package was. He said he never saw a parcel for my address.

Thing is, two other residents have told me the same thing has happened to them with packages this summer. Norristown claims to have tried to deliver and left a notice, but no notice was left. It looks like no one's actually trying to deliver the packages--they're only covering their asses by saying they did, especially on overnight and 2nd-day mail.

This morning I called Norristown PO and explained the problem. The woman who answered was very nice and even gave me a Consumer Affairs phone number to register a complaint. She said a lot of residents are calling in with the same experience, and calling in is the only way management at our Post Office will be forced to look into it..

If you're getting lousy postal service, do your community a favor -- call Consumer Affairs at 215-863-6060 or go to this link to send an email. In the email specify the Norristown Post Office and our zip 19401.

It's hard not to take this new bad service from the P.O. personally--that someone out there feels this is all that N-town deserves. Maybe if we complain soon enough, it won't become the norm.

Friday, August 22, 2014


We're partying all weekend here in N-town. You don't have to be Irish or Country or Baptist or even have a family for Family Unity Day to attend the events. Norristown's your family this weekend. Get out and have fun.

Tonight from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo presents Country Fest. Live music, mechanical bull riding, access to the petting barn, food, drinks, dancing, and much more! Philadelphia's Country Station 92.5 XTU, will be broadcasting LIVE from the Zoo with Andie Summers. Tickets are $9/person, $7/child and $5/Zoo member, which can be purchased at For more information, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 x221.

GODSPELL continues tonight at Centre Theater at 7:30 pm. Shows also Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Presented by the talented youth of Norristown. This is the last weekend. Get your tickets at this link .

Every Saturday at 11 am at 19 W Marshall Street, a FREE program called YouthNET, for ages 12-17 years. Creative session built around teaching & encouraging healthy forms of self-expression. LUNCH IS INCLUDED. For info, call 484-250-1996.

Saturday from 3-5 pm, Siloam Baptist Church presents The Art of Worship Festival at Elmwood Park band shell. FREE outdoor gospel concert. Come experience a day with awesome gospel music, praise dance, mime, and flag ministries. Face Painting. Food and vendors. Seating is limited so bring a comfortable lawn chair. Call 610-275-8163 for info or email
Saturday Night from  6 to 10:30 pm, the Irish Festival begins with Irish Pub Night in the basement of St. Patrick's Church (Dekalb and Chestnut). Homemade food (beef, ham, corn beef and cabbage, hot dogs, desserts, etc.), music, dance, and of course, drink (including Guinness). The festival continues Sunday with a noontime Mass of the Golden Rose (complete with bagpipes and Celtic harp) followed by more food, drink, music and prizes in the basement afterwards.

Sunday, noon to dusk, is Family Unity Day at Simmons Park (Oak between Arch and Violet). NORRISTOWN'S FAMILY RE-UNION 2014. Bring your grills, grub, and grab a spot. Invite family, friends, and anyone else you know. Singers, Dancers, Performers, 2nd Annual 'King of The Grill" BBQ Cook Off (with trophy and cash prize). Moon bounces, kid's activities. Prizes, give-aways. Food and merchandise vendors, and much more!

And don't think you have to choose between the Irish Festival and Unity Day. Do BOTH. Festival hop.

Sunday at 7 pm, the Summer Concert Series presents Boogie Dogs (classic rock) at the Elmwood Park band shell. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

Tuesday at 7 pm, Zoning Board Hearing. The only item on the agenda is for the rear of 350 E. Main, which is the factory/warehouse building between Arch and Walnut St. DiBussolo Container Service is seeking a Special Exception, though the agenda isn't clear what they're asking. I wish someone would improve the appearance of the building both on Main and Lafayette.

On Wednesday at 3 pm, a meeting of the Schuylkill River Action Team will take place at Barton Partners. Anyone interested in seeing how Norristown can revitalize its recreational riverfront is welcome.

Next Friday, August 29th, from 8:30-10:30 am, the N-town Police Department will once again open their bi-weekly COMPSTAT meeting to the public. It will be held at Municipal Hall, 1st Floor Council Conference Room.

Next Friday, Hancock Fire Company is having a blood drive from 2 to 7 pm. I'm telling you now because appointments are preferred. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Attracting Tourists

Last week my best friend, who lives in King of Prussia, said to me, "Hey, do you know that the zoo has a zip-line?"

Of course I knew. I live in that neighborhood and drive along Harding Blvd several times a week. You can't help but see the zip-line Elmwood Park Zoo put in this summer, or if you do somehow miss it, you'll at least see the signs for it. Why hadn't I told my friend about it? Truth is, like a lot of us, I take the zoo for granted.

For a native N-towner like me, the zoo's always been a neighbor. When I was a kid, it was little more than a duck pond, two miserable bears, a stinky monkey house and a bison pen. I guess I was in junior high when they began expanding it--lions, howler monkeys, snakes, a petting zoo with farm animals, big birds. I could hear the lions and howler monkeys from my house when our windows were open. Great way to freak out overnight guests.

For the US Bicentennial in 1976, the zoo expanded up the hill by building a boardwalk and adding American animal exhibits like bighorn sheep, elk, bald eagles and my favorites, prairie dogs. They raised money by selling planks on the boardwalk (and at fairly reasonable prices--I remember everyone wanting to get their family's name on a board).

After that, the zoo really seemed to take off. More people came, so they could afford to built more and more exhibits, They started charging a fee, which discouraged locals at first, but outside visitors didn't know the difference, so the zoo kept growing. This year, Elmwood Park Zoo celebrates it's 90th anniversary, so every 1st Sunday of the month from 2 to 5 pm, the zoo is free to Norristown residents.

Outside of Philadelphia, it's one of the larger tourist attractions in southeastern PA, and is starting to be really talked about in the surrounding counties. A Bucks County friend mentioned to me not long ago, "I didn't know Norristown had a zoo. And it's so big!"  When you drive by on a nice summer weekday, you can see that the lot is fairly full. On a weekend, it's packed. Cars are parked on the grass around the entrance.


But most of the residents, like me, take the zoo for granted. It's on the fringe of town, so most of us don't see the tourists. Whenever town leaders and planners envision bringing outsiders into town, they talk about things needing to happen downtown. Five Saints Distillery and Firehouse Museum hopefully WILL start bringing visitors to Main Street starting next year, but no one seems to be thinking about what to do with those tourists after they tour Five Saints. Let them simply go home? No, we should be coming up with ways to keep them in town longer, spending their money. Maybe start with something as simple as handing out coupons for the restaurants on Main and the theaters on Dekalb. And don't forget, we've got thousands of outsiders visiting Norristown every weekend via the Schuylkill River Trail. Right now, they cycle straight through without stopping.

Look at all these visitors!
At Elmwood Park, tourists visit the zoo and they go home. How can we encourage them to stay? We've got some good restaurants in the North End, like Zachary's BBQ and Sessano's. How many visitors to the zoo even know those eateries exist? We desperately need SIGNS.

Right now, the look of Logan Square encourages tourists to leave faster. The place needs a facelift--with a big bright mural on the wall facing Johnson Highway--and businesses geared to tourists. More eateries, ice cream, a bakery, a souvenir shop. AND we need another tourist attraction at Logan Square. How about something like indoor miniature golf?

Via Venuto's will be returning. The work on Markley is a pain now, but we'll have pretty new curbs, and a turning lane when PennDOT's done. Let's give tourists a reason to use that turning lane.

Anyone else have an idea for a tourist attraction, at Logan Square or anywhere else in town? What are the kinds of places you like to visit? Leave a comment below or on Facebook.

Leaders, add more signs to connect the dots between where the tourists are and where we need them to be--our restaurants and theaters, at least. Come up with ways to bring in more tourist attractions and related businesses.  Residents, tell your out-of-town friends about our zoo and other places in town you'd think they'd enjoy. We all need to start thinking of Norristown as having a tourist economy and act on it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Selma Mansion - Volunteer!

If you've been following the Diary, you know that Selma Mansion (at Airy and Selma Sts.) is slowly being restored. In the last year, the exterior woodwork has been repaired and painted and, as of today, is about done. Below are some before and after photos.
The Norristown Preservation Society is receiving a Lenfest Foundation grant, which will allow work on the exterior to continue this fall. The first plan is to remove the stucco, which is in bad shape. However, removing it will also afford the opportunity to study how the building was built and hopefully solve some of the questions concerning the house's evolution. It may be one 1794 building, or an older house with one or even two additions.

Before other professional work can happen, though, a volunteer day is needed. The NPS is partnering with The Norristown Project, and asking for volunteers on Saturday, September 27th from 10 am to 2 pm. Tasks include cleaning the window wells (which will help drainage) and digging a trench for a drainage pipe in the basement. Both these projects might produce artifacts which would increase our knowledge of the mansion's history even more. If the NPS has enough volunteers, they could help weed the garden beds or help to prep and do some painting in the parlor. If it rains, there's plenty of work indoors.

The NPS promises it won't be as cold as the last volunteer day. They'll have food for volunteers. More details will be forthcoming.

If you're interested, you can RSVP on the NPS Facebook event page, or send an email to me at

Monday, August 18, 2014

Participate in a Council Workshop

Tomorrow night, Council will hold their monthly "workshop" meeting at 6:30 pm in the 1st Floor Conference Room at Municipal Hall.

I haven't had a chance to get to one of these workshop meetings yet, but I talked to Council Prez Bill Caldwell about them a few weeks ago. He says they're to invite discussion about topics concerning the town. Last month they had a discussion about the Carver Center. Unfortunately, the agenda didn't come out in time before the meeting, so a lot of residents who would have liked to participate in that discussion never knew it was going to take place.

Perhaps realizing their error last month, the agenda for tomorrow came out over the weekend. Here are the highlights:

1. A presentation about the PennDOT Markley St. Project.

2. 8 "Action items"--motions that need to be voted on, 3 regarding Police and Fire personnel, 1 agreement with East and West Norriton concerning shared equipment, 1 settlement of the lawsuit about landlords, tenants and police calls, 1 about handicapped parking spots, 1 agreement with PennDOT for Winter Traffic Services (does this mean we get cleared roads?), and a motion to participate in a "joint disposal bid."

3. Items for discussion include Community Development Block Grant projects for 2015, a recommendation for a Fair Housing consultant, the contract for a consultant to prepare the 5-Year Consolidated Plan (needed to get CDBG and other housing grants) and the Annual Action Plan, and a proposed ordinance to approve an intergovermental agreement between our Police Department and the PA Board of Probation and Parole.

There's a Public Comment period near the beginning of the meeting if you want to suggest any other topic for discussion or comment on any of the listed items. If you want to make a comment, before the meeting begins, there's usually a sign-up sheet--list your name and topic and you'll be called on.

You can read the full agenda at

Friday, August 15, 2014

Theater, Concerts, More Italian Food

(and Other Upcoming Events)

Tonight, 7:30 pm, "Godspell" opens at the Centre Theater. This production is presented by Norristown's incredibly talented youth. It continues Saturday evening at 7:30, Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, and next weekend at the same times. 2 weekends only! Tickets $15 for adults, $12 kids, at this link or at the door.

Saturday and Sunday Coffee Talk Artists' Co-op at 507 W. Marshall is hosting "Celebrating the Music of the Woodstock Era." Open Mics, 10 am to 1 pm both days. The Analog Dinosaurs in concert Saturday night 7 to 8:30, followed by an open stage until 11 pm. Sunday night 7-11 pm is also open stage. Tickets each day $5. '60s dress welcome. Call 610-272-4811 for info.

Sunday is the 2nd cultural festival of the summer: the Feast of Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca, celebrated by Norristown's Sicilian community. At 11:30 am there will be a mass followed by a procession at Holy Saviour Church on E. Main. After the procession, the festivities will begin indoors at Saviour Hall, on Airy near Walnut (the old Holy Saviour School Cafeteria), sponsored by the MSS Club. It will go from approximately 1:30 pm through Sunday evening. Pork sandwiches, tomato pie, fried dough and other foods. Entertainment.

Summer Concert Series presents Where's Pete (Rock, Hip Hop, Dance, Country), 7 pm Sunday. FREE concert Elmwood Park band shell, sponsored by The Arcadia Foundation. Bring a blanket or chair. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions, call 610-270-0467.

Monday at 10:30 am, Job Corps will have an information session at the Human Service Center, 1430 Dekalb St. Enrolling for immediate openings. Call 1-800-733-5627.

Also Monday 11 am to 2 pm, The Fatherhood Initiative will hold their 2014 Job Fair at the Norristown Library, 1001 Powell. Bring Resumes and Dress Professionally (no Jeans, shorts, tank tops). For more info, call Ted LeBlanc at 610-277-6363.

Tuesday night at 6:30 pm, Municipal Council Workshop in Council Chambers. No agenda yet.

As always, check the calendar links for other events. And root for the Taney Dragons in the Little League World Series!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Norristown's Surviving Small Business

Yesterday I didn't do a Diary entry because I was sitting in the front room of Art and Mark's Auto Repair, waiting for my car to get its annual state inspection, oil change and new wiper blades.

Art and Mark's is on Wood Street, right around the corner from Markley. I like them for a lot of reasons. They don't tell me my car needs more work than it absolutely needs. They don't talk down to women. They have a great sense of humor, from their "Sorry, We're Open" sign to the wall-full of clipped comics about car repair that I could read while I waited. They mail me coupons and reminders. They're not a big, cold, corporate car dealer, but a small mom-and-pop (or, I guess you might call them "pop-and-pop") place who seem to know their customers and care about our community (they support the Patrician Society and Norristown Habitat for Humanity). And they're not far from my house. I can walk home and back on a nice day. (Yesterday wasn't nice, so I stayed.)

I've talked before about whether neighborhood stores can survive without other business near them. I was please to see that Art and Mark's had several customers while I was there. Norristown has many small business auto repair places and for the most part, they seem to be surviving (A & M's have been on Wood St. for over 40 years). Sometimes these shops are connected to a gas station, sometimes not. Most of them are on or near a main route like Markley, Main, Airy or Dekalb, accessible to their neighborhoods as well as the rest of town.

That's the difference, I think. Our planning people talk about how small businesses should be "walkable" and how they don't want to see parking lots, never seeming to realize that if only people within walking distance visited stores, those establishments couldn't sustain themselves. But no one for a moment cares if an auto repair place is walkable. The whole idea is that you drive your car there. They can compete for customers all over the area. Yet, if they're a decent business and good neighbors, people like me within walking distance will patronize them.

Another thing I always hear, both from residents and certain members of council: "This town needs a fill-in-the-blank-chain-store." I've heard all the food possibilities mentioned--Wendy's, Wawa, KFC, Subway, etc. And of course, anything that starts with "Wal-." Their rationale is always that somehow it will boost Norristown's economy. The truth is, it would more likely do the opposite by sending profits out of town (and usually out of state).

I realized yesterday that I never heard anyone say that we need something like a Jiffy-Lube or a Midas or an Advance Auto shop. Maybe we smartened up after seeing that the AutoZone on Main Street didn't do a thing for downtown. Or maybe we just realize that we've got great little auto places here already, who are better for our community.

If you're taking your car to the dealer for non-warranty work like inspections and oil changes, consider trying one of N-town's auto repair places. I can recommend Art and Mark's--I'm sure you can find neighbors or friends who'd recommend others in town (feel free to comment below if you have a favorite--or tell me on Facebook and I'll add your recommendation here).

Give Norristown small businesses your business. We'll all profit.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Justice Not Being Done

I went to the district justice's office at Barbadoes and Main last week to observe a hearing about a neighborhood matter. Before the hearing, as I sat out in the waiting area, I got a chance to observe the staff of the District Justice in action. I have to say, I was pretty disgusted by what I observed.

As I sat there, people from, I think, 3 separate cases entered. The 4 or 5 women on the staff sit in an office behind a reception counter and wall of glass on one side of the lobby.

I was greeted with a grumpy "Sign in!" as were at least 2 other women who came in. One guy was there before us, so I can't say how he was greeted, but the men who came in after were given much more friendly and polite treatments. Many of them were municipal employees or other men who the staff already seemed to know, so the problem may not have been gender discrimination, but merely unfamiliarity somehow breeding contempt. Still, to my mind, when someone is being paid by the taxpayers to fill a position that deals with the public, the job skill of courtesy should be required.

Furthermore, in a place where plaintiffs and defendants are forced to gather, there ought to be some rule that everyone be treated by the staff in an identical and fair manner. I've been on jury duty over at the courthouse and never saw anyone involved with a case treated with discourtesy there. Not so at the district justice's office. I got the impression from at least 3 of the staff that they'd decided who in each case was in the wrong and treated the people in the waiting area accordingly.

But the incident that really infuriated me was when one of the women asked for copies of 2 documents relating to her case that she hadn't received. The answer was a surly "Whaddya need 'em for?"

The staff has no right to ask this question. Every plaintiff and defendant has a right to all the documentation involved. It's no business of anyone on the staff why the woman needed the copies. But the woman replied that she didn't know if she'd have to appeal the case so she wanted all the documentation. Another staff member then came forward, perhaps sensing that her colleague had overreached a legal boundary. Bless her, she politely said she'd get the copies.

The woman was called into her hearing before the copies could be obtained. Afterwards, she again asked the staff if she could have the documents. The first staff member said "The judge has all the papers. We can't make the copies." (Though no one actually checked to see if this were the case. I have to wonder why they were so opposed to helping her.)  The woman pleaded with them for another few moments and finally someone said if she wrote down her address, the copies would be mailed to her. She wrote down her address, but as she tried to hand it to the staff member--and this really floored me--the staff member purposefully turned her back and walked away from the window.

Are you kidding me? My taxes are paying someone like that? Just one more ugly thing in Norristown, promoting our bad reputation.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Italian Festival and Other Events

It's going to be a gorgeous weekend for festival-going. Norristown's first of a bunch of ethnic festivals over the next several weeks starts tonight at 5 pm. The Feast of San Salvatore is 3 DAYS LONG. You find it in the rear lot of the Holy Saviour Club, 436 E. Main. Rides, games, bocce, live music, souvenirs and, of course, Italian food (roast pork, ribeye, meatball or sausage sandwiches, fried dough (pizza dough, deep fried and coated with sugar--yum), veal scalloppine, tomato pie, baked goods, beer, wine, sodas, and the best birch beer on tap, and for the less adventurous, French fries, hot dogs and more). Tonight it goes until 11 pm. Tomorrow, 4-11 pm. Sunday there's a festival mass at 11:30 am followed by a street procession with the Verdi Band, then the feast grounds open again (figure around 1 pm or so) and stay open until 9 pm. Everyone is welcome. Come and be Italian for a few hours..

Note: some of the streets in the East End, including East Main past Walnut will be closed for an hour or so Sunday morning. 

Also tonight, Friday Night Basketball is back at GNPAL, Harding Blvd. League registration tonight, 5 to 9:30 pm. Ages 15-21. Food, snacks, drinks will be available.

Sunday at 7 pm at the Elmwood Park band shell, Elvis is back. Summer Concert Series once again hosts Mark Reno in concert. Admission FREE. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

Tuesday, Planning Commission meeting at 7 pm. There's an agenda posted but absolutely nothing on it.

Wednesday night from 5 to 7 pm at Montco Community College, 340 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell, in the Small Auditorium 214, Science Center, you can "Take the Pledge, Be a Mentor, Back on Track."  Public Defender Kier Bradford-Grey and District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman along with Big Brothers/Big Sisters invite the community to attend to become a mentor. Please RSVP to Catherine Fortune at 610-278-3814.

Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm, Marlene Mash, MD & Associates will host an Open House to benefit Greater Norristown PAL. 545 West Germantown Pike, Suite 100, Plymouth Meeting Free Admission and parking. Everyone Welcome. For more info 484-351-8268.

Next Sunday, August 17, is the Sicilian festival at Holy Saviour--the Feast of Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca. Sunday afternoon and evening the festival will be indoors at Saviour Hall, on Airy near Walnut (the old Holy Saviour School Cafeteria), sponsored by the MSS Club. Pork sandwiches, tomato pie, fried dough and other foods. Entertainment. More info next week.

Job Corps is enrolling for immediate openings. Information Session, Human Service Center, 1430 Dekalb St, Norristown Monday Aug 18th at 10:30 am. Call 1-800-733-5627

Check the calendar links in the right column for other events.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Council's August Agenda

There's a council meeting tonight at Municipal Hall at 7:30, and wonder of wonders, an agenda has been posted for it! Here are the highlights:

1. Discussion and repeal of Ordinance 14-08 regarding Police Captains and Lieutenants. This was the ordinance that said the Police Chief could appoint captains and lieutenants at will, that those positions no longer had to take an exam for a promotion.

2. Motion to adopt Ordinance 14-09 repealing the three strikes procedure. The 3 strikes procedure held landlords responsible for frequent police calls to their properties. I think the initial intent was to get landlords' cooperation in controlling tenants who in some way continually violate laws. It seems to have been used differently on occasion, against innocent tenants who called the police often about other people in the neighborhood. Regardless, the ACLU sued Norristown over it, so the ordinance will be repealed.

3. Motion to accept the 2009 Audit. Really? We haven't accepted the 2009 Audit yet? It's been 5 years. Just about time for a new audit. (On this topic, I should also mention that Council is appointing a new Director of Finance tonight. We were never told why the last one was sacked.)

4. Motion to adopt Ordinance 14-10 -- regarding litter. The ordinance will allow residents to place a sign “no larger than 18 inches by 6 inches” on their property that reads “No Solicitation or Handbills.” The ordinance prohibits persons and companies from distributing “commercial handbills or other unsubscribed literature.” The idea is that the slips of paper that are occasionally jammed through your door handle won't get loose and fly around your neighborhood.

I already have a "No Soliciting" sign on my door now, which has helped a little, but I still have people knocking, wanting to "talk about my PECO bill" or "I'm installing windows in the neighborhood... yada, yada..."  Handbill-wise, I don't mind the rare take-out menu stuck through my screen door handle, or the notice from the Boy Scouts about their food drive. What I hate are all the political handbills, which before elections are epidemic and yes, DO fly all over. Still, I'm guessing the "commericial" wording was used to exclude political ads.

And what about the handbills you find on your car, often after events like concerts in the park? They blow all over town, and they're a mess if it rains before I get back to my car. Can we put No Handbills signs on our vehicles, too?

The fine will be “$600 and $1,000” for each property where handbills are distributed (though I'm not sure if the homeowner has to report it or if, say, a loose handbill flying around the neighborhood and found by code enforcement is enough).

However, if you erect a sign but don't maintain it, you can be fined $25 to $100. I have my sign inside my storm door, so it's protected from the elements. You could put the sign in a window. It doesn't have to be big--it just has to be present.

So that's most of the line-up for the council meeting. There are a few other items--some HARB approvals and such. You can see the whole agenda at

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Another Reason to Encourage Homeownership

Twin with shared steps and pent roof. 
The majority of the more than 13,000 housing units in Norristown are twin homes and I'm in one of them. If you own anything except a single home in town, you know that now and then you're going to have to do a repair on a shared portion of the properties. Over the years, our family has shared expenses with the neighbors to replace fences, pave a common walk, repair the valley between our gabled roofs, etc.

I'm fortunate to have good neighbors and that sharing expenses usually isn't a problem. More to the point, though, I'm fortunate that the neighbors in the attached house are homeowners. Another resident on my block rents her house and has huge problems getting her landlord to make any repairs at all.

This morning I talked to the neighbor in the attached twin about replacing our 90 year-old shared roof drain (it's backing up into my front bedroom). The roofer can't work on the shared portion without the neighbor's permission.

I found myself wondering what I'd do if a deadbeat landlord owned the house attached to mine. No doubt I'd have to pay for all the shared repairs myself, but would I or the contractor even be able to get hold of that kind of landlord to get permissions? Especially those landlords who live far out of town, or out of state.

Norristown, according to the last census, has a 42% homeownership rate. The majority of our houses are owned by someone who lives elsewhere. We're also a low income town. If a fence between yards blows over, or the ridge between row house roofs crumbles, or a shared storm drain gets clogged, one homeowner might have trouble footing the bill for the entire repair.

I'm not saying all landlords are bad. I know of many good, responsible landlords in town. But we've got too many who don't take care of their rental properties. And this morning I realized that not only will their disheveled houses bring down the neighborhood's property values, but if shared repairs can't be made, the other houses on the block will deteriorate as well.

So, there's another reason to encourage homeownership, or at least encourage responsible landlords. When your house is attached to your neighbor, as the vast majority of ours are, to a certain extent, you're dependent on your neighbor to help keep a roof over your head.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What I Learned in High School

I went to my class reunion Saturday. Our class was the first to graduate from what was then the new Norristown Area High School in 1974, after we spent our sophomore and junior years at A.D. Eisenhower. For that reason, we chose the name "Alpha" for our class and we lived up to it.

Our class congress was a good mix of town and suburban kids--representatives from all three junior highs, all parts of town, most races and ethnicities and religions. We weren't perfectly integrated, either racially or gender-wise (7 boys, 37 girls in our senior year) but I don't think anyone felt left out based on physical attributes. At least I hope not.

We were ambitious and creative and fearless, and most of all, unified. When we came up with an idea for a dance or Homecoming float or assembly, we didn't waste time worrying about how it should be done. I don't even recall spending much time forming committees or organizing. We just showed up and things happened. And when I say "we" I don't mean a handful of kids who did everything. I mean 20 or 30 or more students per project--and we had projects going, it seemed, every month.

If any group was ever an example of Norristown's beehive, it was the NAHS class of 1974.

At the reunion, I found that one classmate still living in the borough had been to some of the same Town Meetings as I had--we just hadn't recognized each other after 40 years. In fact, I was surprised at how many classmates had stayed local. Another told me she was thinking of moving back to town because her heart was still here. Several more who'd moved away showed a genuine interest at what was going on in town and loved hearing about our festivals and theaters and the like. Even after 40 years, my class, where Norristown is concerned, is still pretty unified.

I guess that's why I expect more of our residents. I know what kind of people came out of here in the past. I know how much can be accomplished if people just show up, bringing their energy and enthusiasm and optimism with them. So much of the time, we seem to close ourselves off from the rest of the community, by race or churches, or even just by family. We need a more open community, where we're not afraid to try to accomplish bigger things.

Yes, I realize that a class of about 700 students planning mostly social events is different from a borough of 34,000 trying to turn a town around, but the basic needs are the same. Like the class of '74, we need to be ambitious and creative and fearless (and this last seems to be the most difficult hurdle). Most of all we need to be unified. There's nothing wrong with this town that we can't fix.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Events To Get August Started

I'd hoped once we got out of July, Norristown's doldrums would end and the calendar would once more be full. And I was right! Especially don't forget the big community block party Tuesday night for National Night Out and the first Italian feast starting next Friday down across from Holy Saviour Church on East Main. Plus, check the calendar links to the right for weekly events at the library and elsewhere.

Saturday, 9 am to noon, the Norristown Project and Chosen Ones will host a community cleanup at McCann Park off of Sandy Street near Ford (behind the houses). They are asking the community to help with the following tasks: General park cleaning, removing weeds, park beautification through planting. Open to all ages, anyone from Norristown or surrounding communities, high school students who wish to earn community service hours (bring necessary documents for an organizer to sign). If you have any questions about the cleanup or want more information on how your organization can participate, email In the event of inclement weather, the cleanup will take place on Sunday at 3 pm.

Also Saturday starting at 10 am, you can help a MONTCO Sherriff K9 get a new safety vest at "Bocce for Baldo." Sign up for the CPL James Baldovsky Memorial Bocce Tournament, Holy Saviour Bocce Club, 436 E. Main St. $25 per person, $100 per team. Food, Beer, Soda and Water Included. For more info, contact Deputy Michael Petriga, 610-278-3342,, or Sgt. Patricia Haas, 610-278-3830,

Sunday morning at 10 am, Open Mic at Coffee Talk,  507 West Marshall. $5 admission.

Since this is the first Sunday of the month, there's FREE admission to Elmwood Zoo for Norristown residents from 2 to 5 pm. Bring an ID.

Sunday at 7 pm, Summer Concert Series presents Southern Edge in their Evolution of Country Music show at the Elmwood Park band shell, sponsored by The Arcadia Foundation. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

Monday at 3:30 pm, Job Corps Information Session at the Human Services Center, 1430 Dekalb St. Career Training and Education. Free to eligible low-income youth ages 16-24. For more info call 1-800-733-5627, or .

Tuesday from 6 to 9 pm, National Night Out Community Block Party on the 1300 block of Willow St. Free food, games, giveaways, entertainment. For info, contact Doris Smith-Starks 610-279-7473, Sis Yvonne Massie 610-275-8163 or Rev. Helen M.C. Jones 610-275-7943.

Also Tuesday at 6:30 pm, there will be an interest meeting about starting a Norristown Community Marching Band at the  Centre Theatre, 208 Dekalb Street. The idea is to have a band that middle school students can join to help sustain our high school marching band. And let me tell you, I was a music teacher--participation in band helps kids do well in all their other subjects, PLUS is great for teaching other life skills, like cooperation.  All interested residents, come and bring ideas.

Because of the National Night Out, the Council Meeting this week will be on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm. No agenda yet.

Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, State Senator Daylin Leach hosts yearly Kids' Fair at Elmwood Park Zoo. Free to children and their families in the 17th Senatorial District. Free face paining, free food, spin art and much more! FREE admission but space is limited so you must RSVP at 610-768-4200 or

Next Friday from 4 to 11 pm, the annual Holy Saviour Feast begins in the parking lot behind the Holy Saviour Club at 436 East Main Street. Roast pork and other food, fried pizza like my grandmother used to make (if you haven't had it, you HAVE to try it--think Italian donuts), kids' rides, music, souvenirs, wine, beer, and the best birch beer on tap. Feast runs through Sunday, August 10th. More details next week. Questions: 610-539-3575

Registration is now open for children's acting classes at Theatre Horizon--Acting, Storytelling, Improv and Musical Theater. Classes begin in September. For more information, go to