Friday, January 30, 2015

Full Calendar This Week !

A whole slew of events this week. Get out and enjoy.

Today from 11 am to 12:30 pm in the Community Room of the Human Services Center (Fornance and Dekalb) is the first event in a month-long Black History series. Bring your lunch and learn about Ned Hector, a free African-American teamster and artilleryman who fought in the American Revolution. He's portrayed by Noah Lewis. (Personal note-I've met Noah from doing living history at Valley Forge. He's amazing and it's worth seeing his performance.)  There will be another program next Friday at One Montgomery Plaza Board Room. Same time. For info contact Turea Hutson 484-674-6562 or email

 Saturday, 10-11:30 am, Feed The Burbs presents the 2nd workshop in their ongoing series at Zachary's BBQ, 1709 Markely St. (across from Logan Square). This workshop will show how to design an herb garden. A light lunch from Zachary's is included in the registration fee of $10. Go to this link for more info and to register.

Sunday after 2 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo is once more offering Norristown residents FREE admission to the zoo on the first Sundays of each month.Residents must show valid ID and children must be accompanied by a resident. Non-residents will be charged regular admission rates. Visit for a map of qualifying areas.

Sunday starting at 5 pm, Jus' Java (317 Swede) is hosting a Beef and Beer Super Bowl party. $12 admission. Zachary's and Diva's Kitchen are also offering catering for your own party. Don't get inferior grub. Support our businesses.

Sunday night while you're watching the Super Bowl, check out the Temple University ad. The live owl at the end of the ad is Norristown's own Stella, from the Elmwood Park Zoo.
Monday is Groundhog Day and that means Nora the Groundhog will be making her big decision at Elmwood Park Zoo at 1 pm at a special Groundhog Day animal show. The show is free with Zoo admission and begins at 1 pm in the Canopy Gardens Hall. Nora has been correct in her predictions more often than Puxsutawney Phil, maybe because she has the sense to come out in the middle of the day instead of before sun up. Nora's also way cuter than Phil.

Every Tuesday from February 3 to April 14, 10 am to 2 pm at the Norristown Library (Powell and Swede), an AARP Tax Aide will be on hand to help you with your 2014 taxes. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is available free to taxpayers with low and moderate income, with special attention to those 60 and older.

Tuesday, Council meeting, 7:30 pm. No agenda available yet. If I can find it anywhere else online, I'll post it Monday or Tuesday.

Sign your kids up for ACPPA Summer Arts program before Wednesday, Feb 4 and get last year's rates for all sessions. Info at!summer12/cv4l or drop by the office at 506 Haws Avenue.

Thursday from 5:30-8 pm at Paul V Fly Elementary, Strengthening Families Program. Learn skills to help your child succeed during the teen years. Free Family program with dinner and childcare included. This program will continue on Thursday nights for 7 weeks: Feb 5,12,19,26, March 5,12&19. For more info contact Julia Shemeley at 610-630-2111 x228, or

Also Thursday from 6 - 8 pm at 207 Cherry St., the Norristown Dems Winter Fundraiser. Special guest Sean Kilkenny. Meet the 2015 candidates running for office. Food, drinks, and music, sponsored by the Friends of Norristown Dems. Suggested contribution: Committee Person: $25 General: $50 Silver Sponsor: $100 Gold Sponsor: $250 Please make checks out to: Friends of Norristown Dems.

Also Thursday, the Sondheim musical INTO THE WOODS opens at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street at 7:30 pm. The show continues through March 1. February 11 is Norristown Night. Free admission for residents. Information and tickets at this link

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pothole Season Again

We're nearly halfway through winter and so far, the bad weather hasn't been that bad. But this past weekend, I started to notice potholes around town. And if you know anything about how potholes form, it's no surprise. Poorly kept streets form potholes much more often than well-kept ones.

Swede Street, of course, especially between Basin and Elm. Despite the honeycomb pattern of cracks (called crocodile cracks) that formed last winter, and the fact that the street had actually sunk down in several places, and the fact that this is a major traffic route to the Courthouse and downtown, the Municipality refused to do anything more than fill potholes there last year. Luckily we don't have the same geology as King of Prussia or Swede would be one huge sinkhole by now. Even so, the sunken street is dangerous as it is, and after even the minor storms so far this year, potholes are opening up frequently on Swede.

I'll be driving through the West End today to go to an appointment, so I'll check out the streets there, but I'm guessing I'll find more of the same. I seem to remember similar crocodile cracks and sunken paving on Hamilton and other streets that weren't addressed last year because the Municipality decided to only fix potholes.

On the bright side, the new site makes it easy to report potholes. Go to this link, and you can fill in a form to report both potholes and streetlights that don't work. Or you can email or call 610-270-0437. You can also download the N-town app for mobile devices and report potholes with your phone. For Android devices, go to Google Play and for Apple, go to Apps Store. Type in Norristown Municipality and it should come up.

But more needs to be done this year than simply filling potholes. Today, Municipal Council is having their annual retreat to come up with goals for the coming year. I hope one of those goals is to properly fix the streets so that we don't have to deal with so many potholes for a few years to come.

If we want outsiders to come to Norristown and leave their money in our restaurants and at our festivals, we shouldn't be discouraging them with poorly-kept roads. So, everyone, now that we have all sorts of way to report the bad condition of our streets, let's do it. Maybe something will finally get done.

In the meantime, be careful driving out there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Zoning Agenda - 2 Thumbs Down

315 Arch. 
Not sure if there's a Zoning Board hearing tonight or not, since we didn't get the amount of snow predicted. The Municipal offices are opening 2 hours late today, so I'd guess it's probably still on, though I'd call before going. Here's what's on the agenda.

315 Arch Street -- This is located across Arch Street from La Michoacana, between Main and Airy. The owners want to put a carpet warehouse and storage facility there. The building was originally a Quick Stop Food Market. Looks okay to me, as long as the street isn't blocked by trucks loading and unloading.

638 Markley
638 Markley -- This is Wright Auto Sales and Service, between Marshall and Elm, next to CubeSmart, across from the train tracks. Their request is a very long confusing paragraph that seems to boil down to them wanting a special exception for off-street parking and loading for an auto showroom. Currently, traffic on Markley often has to inch around trucks parked out in front of their place. If this request means more of that, or if they want customer parking on the street, I hope the Zoning Board says no. The building has a driveway leading around back to what appears to be a lot (their service lot perhaps?). They have a lot in front which they already seem to use for car sales. Furthermore, since Wright S&S bought the building decades ago, they've let the appearance of it deteriorate. If they're going to improve the appearance, maybe there's some room for negotiation, but they don't have a good track record coming in.

638 Kohn
638 Kohn -- A company calling itself 638 Kohn St. LLC, owned by Marta Martin of Collegeville, bought this property last October. The house was built in the late 19th century and as you can see from the photo, it's a small rowhouse, only 1960 square feet. It looks well-kept except for the sidewalk. The new owner wants to turn it into a duplex. There does seem to be parking off the alley in the rear, but in my opinion, the house is too small and the neighborhood, too crowded. The well-kept look won't last long if it's a duplex, not to mention extra trash, extra cars and extra strain on infrastructure like water, sewer, electric, etc. Martin obviously could care less about the impact on the neighborhood. This would be a violation of new zoning ordinance that says if a house is single family, even if it was a duplex in the past, it has to stay single family.

Marta Martin bought at least one other house in Norristown last year, at 820 Kohn, but there's no search criteria in the county records letting me search on the owner's home address, so possibly Martin owns more houses here under LLC names. The LLC name is done for liability reasons--I get that. Still, I think we need to be able to more easily keep track of how many houses each landlord owns in our town, especially landlords from out of town.

Monday, January 26, 2015

We Who Must Not Be Named

There's a villain in the Harry Potter books that most of the characters refer to as "He Who Must Not Be Named." They're so afraid of and intimidated by this villain that they think it will bring evil upon themselves just to say his name aloud. The hero finally convinces everyone that to deal with their fears, they have to face them, and that just saying "Voldemort" isn't going to hurt anyone.

Since I started this Diary, I've been amazed how many people I've run across in town who shy away from using the N-word -- that's right, "Norristown." They think it will somehow damage the reputation of their business or organization or even themselves personally. For instance, I recently came across two businesses out on Johnson Highway, on the Norristown side of the road, who list their locations as "East Norriton" on social media. Because God forbid anyone should know they're actually 30 yards over the border, on tainted ground.

But I'm happy to say that I know of many more business and groups who are proud to let people know their association with Norristown.

Apex Darts, manufacturing in N-town for over 100 years and respected all over the world, still puts our town name on their product and on the boxes they come in.

Zachary's BBQ will soon be selling their delicious barbecue sauces worldwide. They put "Norristown, PA" right on the front label of each jar.

Strategic Wear not only isn't afraid to put "Norristown" on the front of some of their clothing, but encourages residents to show their Norristown pride by wearing them.

Our most active organizations, doing the most good for N-town are ones like Norristown Men of Excellence, Norristown Area CTC, Norristown Preservation Society, Greater Norristown PAL, Norristown Business Association, The Norristown Project, etc. The reason they're successful is that their passion and pride in our community is the energy behind their accomplishments.

I've been to meetings of many groups these last 2 years who waste a lot of precious time just trying to think of a name for themselves. They're the ones who always seem to tiptoe around the word "Norristown." If you don't really believe in the community, or if you're overly influenced by those who keep saying Norristown will never amount to anything and that everyone should be ashamed of the place, you're not going to be able to act.

We need people to act right now. We don't need residents and businesses so stigmatized they won't even admit they're from Norristown. Sure, our borough has problems, but we don't have problems BECAUSE we're Norristown. All of our problems--crime, bad economy, you name it--have been experienced by other communities across America since the 1970s. As the general US economy improves, a lot of those other communities are improving, too. No reason we can't follow suit.

Norristown isn't under some special dark cloud. There isn't toxic waste leeching out of our soil. No underground coal fires. No dust bowls. No sink hole swallowing us up. We never had a curse put on us. (Even if we did, we could put a spin on it and use it as a tourism pull.)

There's nothing wrong with Norristown that hasn't happened elsewhere--nothing wrong that can't be fixed. But it WON'T be fixed if we waste time trying to avoid the N-word. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Events: Start Thinking Spring

From what I've heard around town, everyone is in winter hibernation mode. Here are some events to relieve you of your cabin fever and remind you spring is coming.

Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm, Gotwals School (Oak and Swede), Health Fair. Health Screenings Available. Tips on healthy eating and food demonstrations. Exercise workout, HIV testing, free giveaways and more.

Saturday from 10 am to noon, Photo ID Clinic at New Life Plaza, 25 East Marshall St. for those who need a photo ID, Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Voter Registration or Social Service application. Questions, call 610-945-6398. Bring any of the following: personal ID paperwork: social security card, old photo ID or driver license, military ID, marriage or divorce certificate, passport, education ID, naturalization or proof of residence: Rental agreement, mortgage paperwork, utility bills, medical bills, W-2 Forms, work ID, tax returns, bank statements.

Saturday from 1 to 2:30 pm, ACPPA Community Arts Center (Haws Avenue behind Grace Lutheran) hosts "Keeping It Klassy" for girls ages 9-13. Please register by emailing

On the Town Calendar for Monday, "Shade Tree" is listed. I assume this is a meeting of the Shade Tree Commission, assuming will still have one. The location is Municipal Hall, no time given. No agenda.

Monday afternoon from 2-4 pm, one-on-one help is available for those needing help with e-readers, tablets or laptops at the Norristown Library at Swede and Powell. Want to set up your own account for email, Facebook or Twitter but not sure how to get started? Interested in an introduction to the library's online resources? 30 minute time slots are available. Reserve yours by calling 610-278-5100.

Monday at 6:15 pm at Eisenhower Middle School Gym, FREE Baseball Clinic for girls and boys (Little League age). Presented by the Eastern University baseball team. Bring your baseball glove. For more info contact Norristown Rec at 610-270-0467. (Spring training's only a month away!)

Tuesday morning from 8:30 to 9:30, the Norristown Business Association will hold their January breakfast meeting at Stony Creek Office Center, Bldg 2, 2nd floor (enter by side door). The meeting will feature an overview of all NBA's planned projects, events, festivals, taste tours, etc. for 2015. Come be a part of Norristown's reawakening. RSVP to (I'll probably be doing the presentation. Come heckle me.)

Tuesday night at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, Zoning Board Hearing. View the agenda at this link. Properties include 315 Arch, 638 Markley, and 638 Kohn Sts.

Wednesday through Saturday is "Women Build Week" at Habitat for Humanity. They are asking for women to volunteer for one day each to help rehab the house at 27 W. Chestnut St. All Women Build participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt as well as lunch on her build day. Each day will begin with a special guest speaker. On Tuesday, January 27, they'll will kick off Women Build Week 2015 with a WBW Happy Hour for volunteers and their guests at California Kitchen Pizza in Plymouth Meeting. There will also be a WBW safety clinic at Lowes on Saturday, January 24. They ask that each Women Build participant make a gift of $250 in support of her build day. The goal is to raise $10,000 to help support construction on this house and ensure the family can move in this June! For more information and to sign up, go to

Another solution for those winter doldrums is to get out and discover a new favorite restaurant. The Norristown Business Association has been adding eateries to their Restaurant Directory on Facebook. View it at this link. Click on each photo for address and menu information. They're up to 22 entries and will add a new one each day until they list them all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vote for the Best of Montco

The voting has opened for "Best of Montco" and a few Norristown establishments made the list of nominees. You can register your vote at and you can still add nominees (just be sure they aren't already listed).

I did notice some definite discouragements in the way Montco Happenings listed categories and did nominations. For one thing, to make a nomination, you have to enter the email address of the nominee. A lot of businesses don't list email addresses on their websites, but all list phone numbers. Would have been nice if there had been an either/or option for email or phone.

Also, the street address of the nominee is a required field. A lot of businesses/organizations don't have brick and mortar stores these days. They might actually be the Best of Montco, but they'll never be nominated.

The sub-categories seem kind of hit-and-miss. Under the Food & Drink category is the sub-category "Chinese" but not "Asian." So there was no place to nominate my favorite Korean and Vietnamese restaurants. "Cheesesteaks" was a sub-category, but not hoagies or pork sandwiches. They all get lumped under "Sandwich." No BBQ category either.

But, here are the Norristown nominations that I found. I added links for the sub-categories to make it easy to find them. (I have to admit, I didn't slog through all the sub-categories, so if you know of any other nominees, or if make a nomination yourself, leave a comment and I'll add them to the list below.) Congratulations to

Jus' Java, nominated under the Food & Drink category for both Best Coffee and Best Kept Secret.

Zachary's BBQ, nominated under the Food & Drink category for Best Kept Secret.

Sessano Cafe & Deli, under the Food & Drink category for Best Sandwich.

Taqueria La Michoacana, under the Food & Drink category for Best Mexican.

Ghost Tours at Selma Mansion, under the Everything Montco category for Best Family Event

Riverfest, also under the Everything Montco category for Best Family Event

William Frank Hair Designs, under Beauty & Wellness for Best Hair Cut

Norristown Diary (hey, that's me), under the People category for Best Blogger.

So, go vote for your favorites. Let's let Montgomery County know that Norristown has some of the Best of Montco right here in their county seat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Council Agenda - Please Share

Once more the Council agenda was posted to the Facebook page "Norristown Natives For Change" (Derrick Perry and Sonya Sanders campaign page) and not to I'm reproducing it here so the rest of the residents can have access to it. Share it, please.

I'm not going to comment because most of it, for once, seems fairly straightforward. 821 Haws is the house the Jehovah Witnesses are taking down to expand their parking lot, which has been on agendas for a while now. Though I am curious about "Parking Plans" at the end.  Meeting starts at 6:30 pm, 1st floor conference room of Municipal Hall.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Primer For The Town Calendar

This was going to be about the agenda for tomorrow's Council Meeting, but it's not posted yet, and since today is a Municipal holiday, I don't really expect to see it soon. I'll check tomorrow. But looking at the Town Calendar again this morning reminded me what an embarrassment it is to our community, so I decided to try to help the Powers That Be fix the problem.

This is meant mainly for the people who post items to the calendar and for whomever is overseeing the process (though I have to wonder if anyone is, now that the new app is more automated). It can also apply to those posting events to the OIC/TNP calendar or sending events to me for my Friday post, though Shae Ashe and I seem to have less trouble receiving more complete information.

Experienced writers will tell you that there are 6 things you need to tell a reader in every story or article: when, where, what, who, why, and how. The same goes for an event listing.

When:  Day AND time.
Where:  Physical location.
What:  What the event is.
Who:  Who is sponsoring or hosting or involved. Is there contact info?
Why:  Why is the event happening? Is it a fundraiser? A weekly/monthly/annual meeting?
How:  What does the reader need to do or bring? Is there an admission fee? Should they come early? Where can they park?

When I do event listings each Friday, I try to give as much of this information as possible, but at the very least, I'll give the first 4 bits of information. Frankly, if I can't find out when, where or what, I won't list the event at all. It's no good to anyone and just clutters the list.

On the new calendar, it seems easier for community members to submit their own events, but without the above info, submissions can be useless. But that's not the biggest problem.

 On the old town calendar, you could just click on a day and all the events would be listed. You can sort of do that on the new calendar, except not all the days can be clicked on, just the highlighted ones. The default is for the Council meeting days, which have the least number of highlighted days a month. If you click on "Town Events & Festivals" different days (and more) are highlighted. Ditto if you click on "Local Clubs & Organizations" or "Board Hearings."

Furthermore, the events blocked out under each section give no clue if there is more than one event the same day. For instance, under "Town Events" for January 24th, the item says "Little Learners"--an event at the zoo. If you hover over it, a scroll bar appears, but there's no direction to tell users to do that. Unless you click on the day, it's easy to miss the 2 other events scheduled that day. I missed a bunch of events last week because of these hidden ones. I entered an event for the Norristown Business Association 2 weeks ago and finally found it this morning (Don't believe me? See how fast you can find it).

As it is, no one is going to have the patience to figure out this system, let alone actually use it.

If that weren't enough, some entries are missing vital information, like times.  Under "Board Hearings" on January 26, it merely says "Shade Tree." If you click on it, you get the location--Municipal Hall. No time. No what, who, why or how. Under January 28, the HARB Hearing is listed. Location and contact, but again, no time or anything else. A lot of people have no clue what HARB is. A one liner description would help.

So here's my suggestion for what could fix this calendar, assuming it's possible to get the programmer to do so (I hope we haven't paid that invoice yet). Put the calendar month graphic right at the top and let it be the same on every page, with the ability to click on every day of the month. Let the default be for today's date, with a list of events for the day right over or under the calendar, so people can tell at a glance what's going on in town within the next 24 hours. The boxes at the bottom, in my opinion, aren't useful and contribute to the confusion, but if we have to have them, make it so they show more than one event per day in that category, and default to the "Town Events" category.

Secondly, put a word or to about how to use the calendar on the page. Tell us where things are hidden.

Third -- have a municipal worker check every entry on the calendar for needed information. They should contact the person who submitted the info if more details are needed.

The calendar is important and not only to keep our residents informed. It's part of our town's public persona. It gives a first impression. When strangers visit, they should come away saying "Wow, look how many great and interesting things are happening in Norristown!" As it is, at one glance, they'll think all we have are Council meetings. Council meetings without agendas.

Friday, January 16, 2015

MLK Weekend and Beyond

It's the first holiday weekend of the year and we have plenty of activities. The weather forecast has improved for Monday, so get out and enjoy the MLK Day of Service.

Tonight and Saturday at 8 pm, "Redemption: a romantic comedy?" at the Centre Theatre.

Monday, start your day of service from 7-9 am with a kick-off breakfast at Greater Norristown PAL (340 Harding Blvd), then stick around PAL from 9-3 to help with painting, storing, moving, etc. They need your help and are willing to feed you for it (breakfast sponsored by Einstein). For information, call 610-278-8040.

Monday from 9 am to 3 pm, ACPPA will host creative activities for students who are off from school. Preregistration is required. Visit or call the office: (610) 277-2270.

Monday from 9 to 1 pm, Montgomery County OIC, 1101 Arch St. Join The Norristown Project and Montgomery County OIC for an indoor volunteer activity in honor of MLK Day of Service. Volunteers will assist with a office expansion project on the 2nd floor, as well as clearing out storage space in the basement. Majority of the work is light and should not take long but will have a huge impact. Please arrive as close to 9 am as possible. For questions, email

Monday from 10 am to 3 pm, Agape Church (376 E Moore St) will host a Community Health Fair. Free screenings. For information, call 610-279-9597 or email

Monday from 10 am to 4 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo is celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by offering FREE ADMISSION. They'll also be hosting a special animal show at 1 pm.

Tuesday at 6:30 pm in Municipal Hall, Council Committee Meeting. No agenda yet.

Also for Tuesday, there's a note on the town calendar that says "Kenya Delegation to visit Norristown." No other information. I wonder if the new calendar was supposed to come with a mind-reading app.

Wednesday at 8 pm at Centre Theater (208 Dekalb), Open Words Norristown. Poetry open mic. $5 if you pay in advance at . $10 at the door.

Thursdays, 6:30-7:15 pm, Christ United Church of Christ (W Marshall and Noble Sts) is looking for more volunteers for their bell choir. It's open to all members of the community who can commit to Thursday night rehearsals at 6:30 and about 4 Sunday morning service performances a year. You don't have to know about music, just be able to count. (I did bell ringing in their choir a while back and it was a lot of fun.) Anyone interested, please contact Melanie Eberhard at

Thursday from 6:30pm to 9pm, the Municipality, in partnership with the Norristown Arts Council and Cabrini College, will present the movie “Forks Over Knives”--about learning the benefits of eating a more natural diet, followed by a Q&A session with Vincent DePaul the Gangster Vegan and Bruce A. Rogers, of the Center for Nutrition Studies. Free event. Food samples provided by Gangster Vegan and Whole Foods Plymouth Meeting. You can watch the film trailer at   (Personal note--I think a more appropriate venue for this would have been the library or a church or school. I don't mind the film or Mr. Rogers, per se, but I don't think Council ought to be promoting non-Norristown businesses  in Borough Hall when they never promote our own businesses there.)

Saturday the 24th, from 10 am to 1 pm, Gotwals School (Oak and Swede), Health Fair. Health screenings available. Tips on healthy eating and food demonstrations. Exercise workout, HIV testing, free giveaways and more.

Saturday the 24th, from 1 to 2:30 pm, ACPPA hosts "Keeping It Klassy" for girls ages 9-13. Please register by emailing

I've included a link to the Library Calendar in the column to the right, so check it out.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bike Racks, Easy Art

Last week I talked about how most of the restaurants downtown are within a half mile (6 blocks). Except for the slight climb up to Jus' Java, it's a fairly flat, walkable distance.

It's a very cyclable distance, too. Only one tenth of a mile to the south, paralleling Main Street, is the Schuylkill River Trail. Once the warm weather rolls in, we can expect something like 100,000 riders to pedal through N-town this year. So what can we do to get some of them to take a tiny tenth of a mile detour up onto Main Street to try out our restaurants?

I already mentioned signage in another blog about the trail. We can get high tech about it and include a CR code so that cyclers can use their smart phones to view the Norristown Business Assn. restaurant directory on Facebook and eventually link to the bigger searchable restaurant website that's planned.

But let's say we entice them here with signage. What else do we need to make them feel welcome? The obvious answer is BIKE RACKS.

If you go downtown on a nice summer day, you see bikes tethered to street signs. We can do better than that. Businesses can buy a simple steel bike rack, some for less than $80, and some in pretty nice colors. Check out this site.  I would hope that, if businesses wanted to make this investment that there would be no zoning/code glitches in the way of their installation.

But here's another option. Norristown can promote itself as an arts community with a few creative bike rack sculptures. Here are some examples from other parts of the country:

You can get some fairly artistic racks ready-made at links like They even do custom racks (picture a rack in the shape of a coffee cup in front of Jus' Java or a bourbon bottle or fire truck in front of Five Saints). Still, with the cost of shipping, ordering custom racks from Minnesota can get pricey.
Thing is, I know we have local people who work with metal. We also now have Metal Supermarkets, Inc. located in Norristown (Markley near Elm), and they can get the raw material. Keep it local and you not only save the expense of shipping a heavy steel rack, but you support Norristown's economy. Plus we end up with bike rack sculptures unique to N-town. That alone might attract some cyclers off the trail, as well as other visitors.

Maybe this can work as a partnership between the businesses and the municipality, with the municipality doing the installation curbside. Maybe organizations can sponsor racks. Maybe the borough can even spring for a rack or 2 themselves. However we do it, bike racks could go a long way towards bringing back our economy.  Let connect the dots between the potential customers using the bike trail and our downtown.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Redemption at the Centre Theater

Tomorrow night a new show opens at Centre Theater. It's FOUR NIGHTS ONLY, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, so you don't have much time to mull over whether or not to go. Here are some reasons you should.

1. It's a comedy--you'll get to laugh and that means your brain releases more endorphins, which are really good for stress. Winter is really bad for stress, and most of the supposed comedies on TV aren't all that funny, so you should come to the Centre this week for some therapy. I'm a devoted fan of the comedy genre and wouldn't mind seeing more of them in our local theater show line-up. Hint, hint, Centre and Theatre Horizon.

2. It's live theater, which is WAY better than TV. (Okay, except for the fact that you have to go out in the cold to get to it. But live theater is worth it.)

3. It's at least 25% off the cost of their regular shows and you'll be supporting the arts in Norristown.

Here's the plot summary:

Redemption: a romantic comedy?
A new play written and directed by Dave Ebersole, starring Richard Bradford, Joseph Cartagena Jr, T.J. Deluca.

Marco is a killer for hire. Joey is the petty crook in his crosshairs who will do anything to save his skin, anything. But when these men realize they have more in common than they think, could they really escape a life of crime? Is it all a scam or something else entirely? Will either one make it out alive or …will they make it together?

So, unless you're one of the multitude who are physically ill right now (in which case, please, PLEASE stay home), plan on getting to the Centre this week. You can get tickets on line at or at the door.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Events for the Coming Week

See? I told you activity would pick up after the holidays. Especially a lot of meetings this week.

Saturday, 8-11 pm, August Moon features The Lynn Riley Quintet with vocalist Denise King, Emcee Rich Rogers. Doors open at 7:30. Entertainment Fee: $10, 2 Drink Minimum. For info, go to Crying Sam Entertainment,

Sunday, noon to 3 pm, Jus' Java (317 Swede) presents the 1st of its Sunday Music Series concerts. Come and enjoy the music along with gourmet coffee and lunch.

Tuesday, 6 pm, North End Town Watch Meeting at Montgomery Hose Fire Co, West Freedley and Pine Sts. All residents are welcome to attend.

Tuesday from 6-7:30 pm, Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (Harding Blvd) will host a Community Board Meeting in their board room to talk about the trends in youth behaviors for our community.

The Greater Norristown Law Enforcement Exploring Post 752 will be hosting an Open House on Tuesday,  from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Campus, 1175 Conshohocken Road, Conshohocken. The program is open to young men and women ages 14-20, who have an interest in a future in law enforcement. Questions may be directed to CPT Rich Clowser, Norristown Police, at 610-270-0496 or

Tuesday at 7 pm, Planning Commission Meeting at Municipal Hall. Big item on the agenda is the consideration of the OR Zoning Ordinance Amendment for the new senior housing development at the Montgomery Hospital site. The zoning language  was put together by a committee consisting of residents from nearby blocks, the developer, Municipal and County Planning Departments and interested parties (me, for instance). It was the kind of process that should ALWAYS be used in these sorts of large developments being plopped into the middle of established neighborhoods (like 1202 Dekalb was). I hope Norristown will continue to use this model in the future. The other item on the agenda is for 821 Haws Avenue--Norristown Congregation of Jehovah Witnesses Inc. is requesting Minor Land Development approval for the expansion of the parking lot to create approximately 43 spaces.

Wednesday at 1 pm at the Norristown Library, the film “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (one of my favorite movies) will be shown in the Board Room for this week's Senior Film Fest.

Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Centre Theater (208 Dekalb) presents "Redemption: a romantic comedy?" (photo left), a new play written and directed by Dave Ebersole, starring Richard Bradford, Joseph Cartagena Jr, T.J. Deluca. Tickets available at this link.

Wednesday on the Town Calendar, under Board Hearings, there is merely the notation NMWA and nothing else. I assume that means Norristown Municipal Waste Authority, but have no idea what it's about. I assume it's open to the public or it shouldn't be on the calendar, but there's no time and no agenda. (If the Planning folks above can do such a great job getting their info on the town calendar in a timely manner, why can't anyone else? Or conversely, why can't the person in charge of the calendar, assuming we have one, make sure postings are complete before they go live?)

As always, there are loads of activities at the Norristown Library every day. Check out their calendar.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ya Gotta Eat

Yesterday I said we have to analyze consumer spending habits to come up with a plan for revitalizing the downtown. It's a simple strategy: figure out what will bring people to spend their money in Norristown, and go away happy enough that they'll be back to spend more and recommend it to others.

Here are our competitors: malls, chain stores, the internet, and other close-by small towns like Phoenixville and Conshy.

Think about what you usually buy. Clothes? Most people buy clothes 2 ways--they either need a particular item and go back to the store where they've found that item in the right fit, style and price, or they window-shop and make impulse purchases. Purchases for needed items are being done increasingly online, though there are always buyers who want to browse all the colors and choices in person before choosing.

Window-shopping these days is done mostly at malls, where you have a wider choice of stores, styles and price-ranges. I know people who window-shop on the internet, but the drawback is that you can't feel the fabric, see the true colors or try on the clothing. Window-shopping on Main Streets that have small boutiques will attract a certain kind of customer, but usually that person is in the town for other reasons. For instance, I still remember a great sweater I bought in Doylestown years ago. I was there to do a book signing and had 20 minutes to kill before I had to be at the bookstore. Small town boutiques tend to rely on other businesses to bring them foot traffic. Doylestown, like Norristown, has a courthouse, and we might expect potential customers from there during the day, but we still need to give those folks a reason to head down to Main Street in the first place.

Most of the above can apply to other purchases. Electronics? You either need an item and go where you know you can get it, or you love to window shop for new gadgets. Again, a lot of these purchases are made online. Even more so.

One thing people don't buy online is a meal. Oh, they might order it online, but they want it to come from someplace local enough that it's fresh and hot when they sit down to it. The malls and chain stores don't have a big variety of quality food. And one thing we have in N-town is all different kinds of great food.

Downtown on Main Street alone, in the half mile from Banh Mi Bistro down to Lou's Sandwich Shop, we already have more than a dozen eateries representing the cuisines of 7 countries on 4 continents. I've heard we'll probably get at least 2 new restaurants downtown in 2015.

I looked up "International Restaurant District" on Google and got only 3 hits in all of the US. Seattle's district is only made up of Asian restaurants. Charlotte, North Carolina claims to have such a district, but the majority of the restaurants seem to be pancake houses. It's also located along a 10-mile stretch of highway--not walkable.

The only city that comes close to Norristown for variety of cuisine, quantity, and walkability of restaurants is Arlington, Virginia. They have a long city block with about 14 restaurants from different cultures. I've eaten there, and had great Greek, Thai and Italian food. What do they have that Norristown doesn't? A hotel district serving the Pentagon and various conventions. Arlington also has a mall, with an entrance right out of the lobby of my hotel. No one went to the mall to eat. Everyone walked or drove the half mile down to the restaurant district on 23rd Street.

What doesn't Arlington have? Not one single Mexican restaurant. Norristown is fast becoming known as the place to find the most authentic Mexican food outside of Mexico, and from a variety of regions. Our other strengths? We're located in the middle of a populous region where lots of people like to go out to eat, or order take-out fairly often. We offer all kinds of price range options. You can easily find food that's both cheaper and better quality than fast food. I ate at La Michoacana last week and brought home enough leftovers for 2 more meals (roughly $5 per meal). The food was excellent.

What do we need to do to market Main Street as an International Restaurant District? Clean up its appearance. Powerwash the sidewalks. Empty the public trash receptacles more often. Make businesses aware that they can apply for Community Block Grants and other incentives to improve their facades. Add flower planters and art. Make the streets look festive.

Parking is a problem on weekdays, yet most of our restaurants are only open at those times. At night and on weekends, though, we have better parking than places like Phoenixville. We need better signage to show which lots become public lots during non-workhours.

To improve security, we need to light up the darkest, emptiest stretches. Trees look nice during the day, but they make the sidewalks dark at night. We need lighting that reaches beneath the trees. Council was pretty good about adding lighting to our shopping districts last year, so hopefully they'll continue. Even so, we can at least encourage restaurants to stay open an hour or so in the summer months, when the sun sets later. 

The main thing is to get the word out. Norristown's great restaurants are our biggest secret. A website with maps of downtown, the North End, West Marshall, showing the restaurants and parking lots, with info about Restaurant Week and other town festivals and events wouldn't hurt. The Norristown Business Association has begun a Restaurant Directory on their Facebook page this month (check it out--you don't have to sign on to view it). They're planning a better searchable directory for their website. You may even have the capability to order online from your favorite N-town eateries. The NBA is also planning some downtown events for the warmer months to create more activity on Main Street.

Appearance, parking, security, marketing. Those improvements could create a new downtown, and a new attitude toward Norristown. If the restaurants we have thrive, others will follow, along with retail boutiques and other businesses. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Look Where You're Going

My cell phone doesn't take photos or connect to the internet, and most of the time, I don't even turn it on. I don't download every new app and run out to buy the latest in technology. I hang my wash outside to dry on nice summer days. But even I know what century this is. I know that what made Norristown prosperous 30 or more years ago isn't going to work now, and will never ever work again.

And yet the voices calling for a return to "the good old days" seem to be getting louder. They imply that if we put everything back the way it was, Norristown's future is assured. They say, if only we hadn't knocked down the Norris Theater or the New York Store or let that fire get out of control on Dekalb and Main, the downtown wouldn't be the way it is now. Or most often, they're simply spinning their wheels, trying to figure out who to blame. It's always someone or something local--often, generically, "Council."

I'm not saying we've had stellar leadership the last 40 years. We haven't. But here are the facts.

1. When suburban malls started going up across America in the 1960s, retail moved off of Main Streets across the country. Norristown wasn't immune or alone in losing its downtown. Though it didn't help that King of Prussia became one of the largest malls in the US, and that created even more of a draw away from our stores. We couldn't compete.

2. Fast food chains took off nationwide in the 1960s and 70s, creating a whole generation of people whose first choice for a meal out is inevitably McDonald's, Wendy's and the like.

3. Federal deregulations in the 1980s helped to expand places like Walmart into corporate chain megastores. Ditto for restaurants, drug stores, supermarkets, bookstores, etc. The small mom-and-pop places across America were bought out or forced to close.

That's what spelled the demise of our downtown. Nothing our elected officials did over those decades could have stopped the closing of those stores. They did make a mistake trying to substitute chains. They ones we now have in town have knocked down more of our architecture and haven't contributed to our economy in the least.

Now it's 2015. People are buying things online, creating a HUGE change in the outlook of retail stores in the US. In my own profession, I saw big bookstores chains--Waldenbooks, Borders--go out of business after Amazon came online. Now, a lot of the malls in the US have begun closing. Because of the internet, people can work from anywhere, so repurposing stores into offices isn't a solution.

I'm not saying our downtown can't be revitalized, but nostalgia and bitterness won't get us there. Our business and government leaders need to take a long hard look at what and how people are buying these days, where they're spending their leisure time, what brings them to a destination and what discourages them from coming.

What we need is a downtown (and for that matter, a Logan Square) that can serve the needs of 21st century residents and visitors, and that can adapt to whatever technology and the economy throws at us next. Or at least, makes an effort to adapt, which is something we're not good at in N-town.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some ideas that may help us create a NEW downtown, one that will make us proud again. In the meantime, turn your heads around and start looking forward. Sure, it's scary, but it's the only action that will get us anywhere.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Elusive Council Agenda

The first council meeting of the year is apparently tonight, 7:30 pm, at Municipal Hall. I only know this because I found a  photo of tonight's agenda posted by a group on Facebook. I tried to find the agenda for myself on and couldn't--not under either listing on the town calendar, not on the quick-find link at the bottom of the website for Council agendas, not under "Resources/Council Minutes."

The photo on Facebook came from a mobile app, so possibly that version of the website is working and up to date, but I don't have a mobile phone that can connect to (and lots of other residents don't either). If the mobile app is the only place we can find an agenda from now on, the Norristown Diary won't be reporting on Council/Zoning/Planning agendas. Not that I couldn't find other things about Norristown to talk about.

But for now, since I have a photo, I'll comment on a few of the items (I apologize for the small size of the photo--that's as big as I could make it).

Regarding the first motion "to approve State Street advisers as the Economic Consultant for 2015," State Street PA is a firm that makes suggestions about public policy and by their own definitions, acts as a link between business and government. On their website, they sound as if they're lobbyists, representing business interests in Harrisburg. The only reason I can see for Norristown to hire them would be to represent our town's interests to the state government.

I would sincerely LOVE to know what ordinance 15-01 says, but there's no explanation on the agenda at all. I found a reference to a notice in the Times Herald on Google, but when I tried looking for it in Times Herald's parent company database, nothing came up for the day cited on Google. So, another case of the Public Comment period tonight coming before the information we need to make an informed comment, before Council adopts the motion.

They're the only 2 items that jump out at me as worth noting. I hope one thing Council will discuss as the begin the year is the lack of communication between themselves and the community. They need to fix the website so agendas are available to everyone with internet access, then put useful information on the agendas, or make pdfs of the proposed ordinances also available on the website.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Starting the New Year

Only a few things again for the next week, but don't worry, more events to come mid-month. If you're looking for something to do in the meantime, start exploring Norristown's restaurants. The N-town Business Association is using that as their theme to begin 2015, and have begun a directory of our community's great restaurants on Facebook (you don't have to be signed in to view it). They'll be adding a new restaurant each workday for the next couple months (we have that many eateries). I'll be blogging about it in the near future, but if you're on Facebook, you can follow their entries by liking the NBA page.

Starting Monday from 10-11 am at the Norristown Library (Swede and Powell Sts), Gentle Yoga classes instructed by Maria Cipollini. $25 for 8 classes or $5 per class. Registration is required. Class will run through February 23. 610-278-5100.

Also starting Monday, 2-4 pm at the Norristown Library (Swede and Powell Sts), Device Advice. One-on-one tech help for those who want help with their e-readers, tablets, laptops, setting up accounts for email, Facebook or Twitter, etc. Also an intro to the library's online resources. To sign up call 610-278-5100.

Direct quote from the calendar on "On the first Monday of January in each year, the Municipal Council conducts a reorganization meeting where they elect a President and Vice President of Council." No time was given, but it's at Municipal Hall. Also no agenda other than elections are listed.

Also on the town calendar, for this Tuesday, is listed a Council Reorganization meeting. Also no time nor agenda given. I'm guessing that only one of the above meetings is genuine, but I could be wrong.

Frankly, I'm going to keep declaring the new calendar a disaster, once a week, until they get it fixed. Or at least, use it properly. Not a great omen for beginning a new year

Wednesday at 8 pm at Centre Theater (208 Dekalb), Open Words Norristown. Poetry open mic. $5 if you pay in advance at . $10 at the door.

Don't forget -- No Electronic Recycling until further notice.

More library events can be found at

The Historical Architecture Review Board (HARB) has some openings. This board recommends approval for changes to buildings within Norristown's historic districts, but it also can advise council on changes in the state law regarding historic preservation, trends regarding potential dangers for our historic structures, and potential changes to zoning that can affect preservation. The board meets monthly and the meetings can run from 2 hours or more depending on the number of cases before them. There is also a need for training which may be performed at Municipal Hall, or outside. There is no compensation for serving.If you live in the municipality and would like to be considered for appointment to this board, please contact Councilwoman Olivia Brady at