The Positively Pottstown calendar of Christmas concerts, performances, historical events, happy hours, craft and bake sales, and much more is here to help you plan your holiday shopping and entertainment!
Fun for the whole family starts with the Twelfth Night tours, which begin today at Pottsgrove Manor and continue until January 8th during regular museum hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 am to 4 pm; Sun. 1 to 4 pm
Get your gift-buying underway with a shopping march set for downtown Pottstown tomorrow (meet at Bistro 137, 137 E. High Street.) And take advantage of Sunday shopping as Pottstown offers another “Super Sunday” this Sunday, with free, fun activities for the kids at the Farmers’ Market.
Over the next 24 hours, I’ll be putting up several posts to let you know, or remind you, of all that Pottstown’s restaurants, retailers, and arts venues have to offer this holiday season. Stay tuned!
Pottstown’s First Annual Pet Fair will take place downtown tomorrow, Saturday, September 24 from 9 AM to 2 PM. The Pet Fair will be located in Smith Family Plaza in front of Pottstown Borough Hall.
The Fall Festival will include a massive community yard sale, which is on from 8 am – noon so get up early and head downtown to catch the best deals and find that special something you never knew you needed!
Thanks to resident Debby Penrod for reporting that Pottstown’s long-standing Fourth of July celebration made the Channel 6 news. See the videohere.
The comment near the end about the event being funded through private donations, rather than tax dollars, will surely strike locals as a skimming of the surface of the very real difficulty of funding the event. The many volunteers who make this and many other community events happen are to be commended for all their hard work and dedication throughout the years. Unfortunately, it’s no longer business-as-usual for the private or public sectors. There’s got to be a new modelof broader and more innovative collaboration in order to keep these community events going — if they are to keep going at all.
As part of the Heritage Action Plan process that took place this spring – the plan is in the final stages of being drafted – it was noted that Pottstown is the host for local and regional events just about every month out of the year. See list below.
What does this have to do with raising money for the Fourth of July? The marketing of these events is left up to the individual organizations who run them. Pottstown, as the home of these events, does not “claim them” as their own, supplementing and coordinating with the existing marketing. Imagine the events on this list always being promoted together, wrapped up in a simple, cohesive branding message, on the Borough, PDIDA, PACA and (eventually) PAID websites.
Pottstown would suddenly look like a place where something fun is always happening. Potential visitors would see the pattern and realize that there is fun and safe entertainment to be found in Pottstown on a regular basis. This is a crucial step (among many others) toward marketing Pottstown’s empty storefronts, industrial space and housing to newcomers — and this is where new donors, volunteers and organizational partners can be found to help keep traditional community events like the Fourth of July going. Donors, especially, want to feel like they are supporting not only a worthwhile cause but a “winning” cause.
Pottstown already has a winning line-up. It just needs to flesh out a couple months, come up with the message (speak with one voice!) and market the hell out of it.
And just because I can’t help myself, here are a few ideas to toss onto the table:
January – continue the winter holiday spirit with Friday Night Lights downtown with literary readings, music and hot cider at multiple venues; bring in outside talent as well as locals, including students from all schools.
February – come up with a Valentine’s Day-themed event or weekend; schedule historical walking tours and coordinate with Pottsgrove Manor & Historical Society programming over Presidents’ weekend.
March – St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl (Brickhouse, Frankie & Johnnie’s, Pourhouse, Jack Cassidy’s)
April – Repent from Pub Crawl by focusing on Easter season events and holding historic church tours every weekend; add outdoor activities such as Schuylkill River bike and kayak tours every weekend.
November – Open up the holiday season with Pottstown Pie Festival. Re-claim Mrs. Smith and our pie-making heritage!!
Festivals/Special Events in Pottstown, by month
January – Polar Bear Plunge
February – ?
March – ?
April – Easter/Cross Walk
May – BMX National Event; Classic Car Show
June– Schuylkill River Sojourn; Soap Box Derby; Volleyball Rumble; Summer Solstice/Dog Show; Classic Car Show
July – July 4th; Classic Car Show
August – Classic Car Show
September – Carousel of Flavor; Open Doors; Classic Car Show
October –Schuylkill River Festival; Halloween Parade; Shiver on the River
November – ?
December – Candlelight House Tour; Hometown Holiday Celebration
The Borough of Pottstown recently received a $2,000 Trail Towns and Tours Grant from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA). Pottstown resident and biking and greenway advocate, Tom Carroll, and I have been retained by the Borough to implement this grant, and this blog post is meant to kick off that process and give some details about how it will work. Along the way, we’ll keep the community informed via this blog. For a good summary of the purpose of the grants, see Evan Brandt’s article from January 29th here.
The Trail Towns and Tours Grant is to be used to create a 30-page Heritage Action Plan (HAP) by the end of April 2011. It’s a deliberately short time frame in order to get results and for the SRHA to meet the William Penn Foundation’s time limits for spending the funds.
The overall intent of creating the HAP and going through a planning and consensus-building process (however quick) is to identify and leverage existing cultural resources, market Pottstown as a heritage destination, and get Schuylkill River Trail users (and other visitors) into the downtown to spur economic activity. Just as important will be the chance to develop and formalize solid working partnerships among individuals, organizations and businesses committed to promoting downtown Pottstown. This is what we’ve all been talking about for quite a while, and this grant gives the community a chance to try it out – working together and presenting a new image to potential visitors, outside governmental agencies and funders, as well as residents themselves.
It should be noted that heritage tourism IS economic development, but that it should be considered just one prong of a multi-pronged economic development strategy for Pottstown. There is still plenty of room to develop and promote Pottstown as an arts community, or one that values and hosts sustainable technology companies, or whatever other approach comes out of other visioning/planning efforts.
So, what is a heritage or cultural resource? I’ll just give a few examples: the River and its trail; historical architecture, markers & walking tours in the downtown; arts organizations; restaurants, including “heritage eateries,” such as The Very Best and the diner; the Historical Society; The Hill School; Pottsgrove Manor; Riverfront & Memorial Parks; a completed Carousel & mini-golf, etc. Visitors want an authentic experience when they decide on a destination and how to spend their money. Pottstown has loads to offer and the point of this grant is to identify and package it all in a way that will appeal to these visitors.
Another key part of this planning process will be looking at what needs to be done to make it very easy for people biking or hiking on the Trail to know what’s available in town and then actually direct them off the trail and safely to High Street. This whole approach is based on the idea of making the Pottstown Business Loop – a stretch of High Street – an official part of the River Trail, since it’s unlikely a right-of-way along the river will be available from Norfolk Southern anytime soon.
We’ll be helped along in this process by using what’s known as the Heritage Towns and Tours Toolkit, provided by the SRHA and created by their consultants, Peter Johnston & Associates of Easton, MD. From a planning perspective, this Toolkit is just amazing, allowing communities (& consultants, I might add) to dive in where they might otherwise be totally intimidated. The Toolkit lays out a step-by-step process to create a HAP with the rationale, forms and examples that make it seem do-able. Even better is that the SRHA grant comes with $5,000 worth of consulting services from Peter Johnston & Associates. They will be in Pottstown at least once for a 3-4 hour workshop to help us work our way through the Toolkit. We’ll also have support from the SRHA staff, who are right around the corner at 140 College Drive.
Basically, we will go through the following 5 steps:
1. Organize & Plan – What do we want for our community as a heritage destination? Form Useful Partnerships; Create a Vision & Goals, and Define Partner Expectations.
2. Identify & Assess – What do we have to offer as a heritage destination? Identify Heritage Resources; Assess Heritage Resources; and Bring People and Ideas Together.
3. Market & Improve – What do we need to market our community and what has already been done? Create an Image; Market Your Community; Improve Effectiveness.
4. Protect & Manage – How do we get there? Build Public Support, Look at Ordinances & Other Regulations, Make Any Recommendations That Will Help Protect Resources.
5. Prepare & Implement – How to complete the Heritage Action Plan?
Define Projects and Activities, Assign Costs, Manage Resources Over Long-Term
By the end of this process, Pottstown will have:
• A List of Partners and Stakeholders
• A Vision, Goals, and Objectives
• A Summary of Stakeholders and Assigned Jobs, Tasks, and Other Duties for Partners
• An Inventory of Heritage Resources, which have been Evaluated and Assessed for the Heritage Program
• A Marketing Plan Summary including an Image/Brand
• A Listing of Current Government Protections for Heritage Preservation and Tourism
• A Summary of Needed Policy and Regulatory Protections for Heritage Resources
• A Project List, Description of Projects, and Budgets
• A Final List of Recommendations or Strategic Actions including projects; and
• An Organizational Structure for the Long-Term Management and Oversight of the Heritage Program
The HAP will then be used to make another application to the SRHA for $25,000 in implementation funding to carry out the top priorities in the Plan. Those activities must be completed by May 2012.
The next step for Tom and me is to get in touch with folks from an initial list of local “Partners,” inviting them to participate in the process and start filling out a Partnership Form from the Toolkit. Please give me a day or so to get that email out. We invite others who want to participate to get in touch with us at PtownHAP@gmail.com.
Obviously, I think there’s a lot of potential here to get some solid forward movement on the economic development front. I appreciate the Borough giving Tom and me the chance to work on the project and rally the community around common goals – an improved local economy, stronger partnerships and more positive exposure and marketing of all that Pottstown has to offer.
The Smith Family Plaza, together with Pottstown’s Borough Hall, was named a Bronze Award Winner in 2006 by the 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. Since then, this open, pleasant and visually-harmonious town center has become the gathering place for First Saturday celebrations during warm weather months as well as other community events, such as the recent September 11th remembrance service and kick-off to a daylong “Open Doors” event.
Across the street and within a 2-block radius of Smith Plaza, you have your choice of restaurants. And speaking of food, the Smith Family Plaza is at the heart of the Carousel of Flavor culinary festival, which just passed the seven-year mark this past weekend. This celebration of food, crafts, art, and live music allows residents and visitors to sample some of the best cuisine available in the region. It is organized by the non-profit Carousel at Pottstown and benefits their carousel revitalization project under construction at 30 W. King Street.
But I like Smith Plaza even after the crowds go home. The lawn is beautifully-manicured and the lush landscaping makes this public space feel cool, safe and inviting, even on the hottest summer day. It’s one of just a few areas in Pottstown with free WiFi, so if you’ve got your laptop and absolutely have to check your email, this is the spot for you. I also have a healthy respect, and a kind of awe, for well-designed government buildings, so a seat in the shadow of Borough Hall suits me just fine.
SMITH FAMILY PLAZA Location: 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464, in front of Pottstown Borough Hall
Size: 1 acre
Suitability: All ages can enjoy this public gathering space for community celebrations, passive recreation and connecting with nature.
Facilities: fountains, small multi-purpose lawn, concrete plaza, benches in sun and shade, people-watching areas, historical marker, seasonal flowers.
Activities + tips: The fountain will be tempting to all, especially young children, but no one’s allowed in! Even though there is no playground equipment, the parents of the stroller-crowd might want to grab a specialty coffee and pastry from across the street at Churchill’s, and then enjoy a moment of peace while the little ones doze.
The brightly-colored mural at 140 College Drive in Pottstown is your signal to turn into the parking lot and bring yourself closer to the beauty and tranquility of Riverfront Park. This 60-acre public park offers a wooded oasis with biking and walking trails, sitting areas, a pavilion with picnic tables, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, and a chance to re-connect with the Schuylkill River, long a part of Pottstown’s industrial and recreational heritage.
The building with the mural is occupied by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, which manages the Schuylkill River Trail, a path that will eventually stretch 130 miles in southeastern Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Pottsville. To learn more about the trail itself, see their website here.
While the Schuylkill River Trail Council manages the trail itself, various county and local parks and recreation departments maintain the parks through which the trail winds. In Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintenance and stewardship. They are also the agency that handles the requests and permits for all the festivals and events that take place in Riverfront Park and all of the Borough’s parks throughout the year.
The Penn State study, recently done for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, classifies Riverfront Park as a moderately well-rounded, large, nature-oriented park. The “well-rounded” part of that description refers to the opportunities it offers for physical activity, contact with nature, social connections, and feeling connected to the history and culture of the place. Before I read this study, I probably would have said that a trip to Riverfront Park allowed me to connect with nature and get a little exercise. But on a couple of recent visits – one on foot, another on a free bike from Bike Pottstown and Tri-County Bicycles – I found myself more tuned in to the possibility for social connection and the culture of the river than I ever had before. Here’s what I saw:
Families with young children walking and biking together… a teenaged couple walking hand-in-hand… a woman sitting on a bench, gazing at the water… a lone fisherman drifting past. It was a special treat to see an egret take flight in a low and graceful sweep above the water. I caught another glimpse of him at the water’s marshy edge a short time later. I hope you can see him in the bottom, right corner of this photo!
From my limited anecdotal experience, I would venture to say that the word is getting out about all that Riverfront Park has to offer. On a chilly day last April, before the parking lot was completed near the Heritage Center, I encountered very few people in the park. It was quite a different story in the past few weeks as college students, adults, families with young children, and senior citizens all took advantage of the many spaces and activities that the park provides.
Ideally, everyone would have a park within a half-mile walk (about 10 minutes) of their home. But communities also benefit from regional destination parks, and Riverfront is fast becoming one. The Park hosts the annual Schuylkill River Festival, a community festival that draws thousands of visitors and celebrates the arts, food and music, and also offers demonstrations about available recreational opportunities on the river. This year it will take place on October 9th from 11a.m. to 4 p.m.
Throughout the summer, the Ronald C. Downie Amphitheater is home to the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance’s Sunday in the Park Music Series. It is also available for other musical events as well; just get in touch with the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department (see contact information below.)
Riverfront Park is the site of Pottstown Parks and Rec’s Halloween fun, known as Halloween Hijynxx and Shiver on the River. The festivities take place this year on Saturday, October 23rd from 4 – 9 p.m. and include children’s games, scarecrow-making, a magic show, haunted hayride and more, which can’t be beat at just $5 admission per person.
Come New Year’s Day, the river’s edge is the place to be for the annual Polar Bear Swim and Bonfire, also organized by the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department. Hearty souls must register and sign a waiver before taking a plunge in the river, with rescue crews nearby, of course. Afterward, “polar bears” and onlookers can warm up at a bonfire and scarf down a traditional Slovak meal of pork and sauerkraut, which is thought to bring good luck throughout the year. You can find Mercury reporter Evan Brandt’s account here. I also checked out this video posted on YouTube, and – seriously? – I feel a Polar Bear throwdown in the making. You just might find me in the Schuylkill River (for the first time in my life) on January 1, 2011!
So, how do you get to this amazing park?
I found three ways to enter Riverfront Park.
If you’re coming from High Street, head south on Hanover Street toward the Hanover Street bridge. If you’re on foot, or if you are able to carry your bike down steps, you can enter via the stairway shown in the photo and immediately start to feel like you’ve left urban life behind.
Or you can turn right onto College Drive to access one of the other two entries, which each have parking.
Or you can drive, bike or walk into the park near the intersections of Keystone Boulevard and College Drive. Make the turn, cross the tracks near the overpass, and you’ll be in the park.
Riverfront Park is the newest addition to Pottstown’s outstanding parks system and, with its burgeoning programming, has the potential to become a regional destination with year-round activities that appeal to residents and visitors of all age groups and activity levels. I strongly encourage you to check it out, both for its current programs and also as the site for your next hike, special gathering with friends and family, or secret spot for daydreaming on a sunny afternoon.
Location: Along College Drive, between Hanover Street and Keystone Boulevard. Use 140 College Drive, Pottstown, PA 19464 to find it on a map.
Size: 60 acres
Suitability: Active and passive recreation for all ages.
Facilities: Amphitheater, small multi-purpose open space, river, internal trails, picnic areas/tables, picnic pavilion, sitting areas, people-watching areas, natural study areas.
Activities + tips: Shaded, paved path ideal for strollers, walkers, joggers and bikers. Some internal, dirt trails with small jumps that seem to be used by dirt-bikers. These trails are suitable for hiking, although there are no trail maps; if you give these a try, be sure to go with a friend or two.
I was kind of holding my breath as the commemorative service got underway in Smith Plaza yesterday morning. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, scanning the good-sized crowd, trying to gauge how many were there, and whether their numbers would swell or dwindle as the daylong community events, spearheaded by the Pottstown School District and the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance, played out.
After heartfelt speeches, memories of that fateful day in 2001, the honoring of service and rescue personnel, and a moving poem by Ron Downie, I headed up High Street with fellow blogger, Mo Gallant, who writes Pottstown’s Blog. I’d already set up my puzzle- and community-building activity at the Pottstown Regional Public Library and we were going to finish setting up on the sidewalk in front of The Gallery School.
While School Board member Michele Pargeon coaxed passersby to check out the inside of The Gallery, a few determined puzzle-builders got busy with the first pass at puzzles of The Gallery, the Middle School, Borough Hall, Churchill’s and Smith Plaza. Bill Krause emerged from The Very Best next door and shot the breeze with us for a couple minutes. Council President Steve Toroney and his wife came by, so did Dave Kraybill, Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Foundation after picking up a free bike at Tri-County Bicycles through the Bike Pottstown program. Periodically, Mo and I would look up and down High Street and say, “They’re here. People are really here.”
That feeling of wonder only grew in strength as the day unfolded.
After putting some stuff in my car, which was parked for free all day in front of the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, Mo and I popped in for a quick hello to Executive Director Marta Kiesling. Then, at an outdoor table at Juan Carlos Fine Mexican Cuisine, we indulged in the sublime Mexican egg rolls with honey jalapeno dip and their spicy Mexican Caesar salad.
Skateboarders from Bentley’s Boards Skate Shop kept us entertained on Penn Street. Mayor Bonnie Heath, her husband Mason Craig, Borough Manager Jason Bobst and Main Street Manager Leighton Wildrick were at a nearby table, and that outdoor spot was perfect for people-watching, saying “hi” and meeting new folks. As lunch was winding down, I realized that I was in the midst of a perfectly balanced, lively urban/small hometown experience. Great food, people of all ages on the street, full trolleys passing by, and outdoor dining in a place where “everybody knows your name.”
As it got closer to three o’clock, Mo and I bid farewell (Thanks, Mo! Thanks, Michele, for looking out for the puzzles!) Then I headed to the Library to make a quick stop and see how things had gone over there. On my way up High Street, I slowed down to take in the crowd and the thumping salsa beat in front of SwingKat and Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches. Music! Joy! Dancing in the streets! This was Pottstown on September 11, 2010. Mark it on your calendar. Imprint it on your souls.
The puzzle report from Mike Packard at the Pottstown Regional Public Library was thumbs-up. If you haven’t been to the library recently, it’s got a whole new look inside, with the fiction downstairs and popular and current fiction on display. Check out the way-cool teen room downstairs. And there was popcorn! In the library! The smell was heavenly. If they keep this up, they’re going to give the big bookstores a run for their money.
I made my way to the high school where school district volunteers and staff had lined the cafeteria and halls with tables for any community and school group that wanted to participate. I set up my puzzles and free book raffle in the cafeteria and never got a chance to see the hallways filled with people, including elected officials from both Borough Council and the School Board. In addition to all the families and young puzzle fanatics who stopped by, there was Erica Weekley of the Borough’s economic development staff, and Tim Phelps of Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerce and his family.
John Armato, Director of Community Relations for the Pottstown School District and Superintendent Dr. Reed Lindley both stopped by to chat and thank me for being there. It wasn’t just me – they were talking to everyone. It’s obvious that these leaders are real people-persons and that they are “for real.”
In closing, I’d like to hearken back to my blog post of August 8 – The work of the community. From a community revitalization perspective, yesterday was a HUGE bump up to the next level. The community sees the positive and good things it’s capable of. You never know when that’s going to happen – that breakthrough – but once it has, in a lot of ways there’s no turning back.
While yesterday provided the community with a long moment of harmony, where the results of true teamwork were visible and palpable, every day isn’t going to be like this. But the more of these moments that you can string together, the better prepared you will be to get over the rough spots in between, together, with ultimate faith and trust in each other. Congratulations, Pottstown – you’re awesome!
This Saturday, September 11th, Pottstown will commemorate the tragic events of that day, nine years ago.
After opening ceremonies and remembrances at Smith Family Plaza at 11 am, the School District, businesses, arts and community groups, The Hill School, Genesis Housing, Pottsgrove Manor and more are publicly opening their doors for the rest of the day to encourage people to spend time together, get further acquainted with their downtown, and to strengthen community bonds. The School District initiated the event, which has come to be known as “Open Doors.” It’s got a contagious, positive vibe that’s almost magical, judging from today’s Mercury.
The Mercury is running articles all week. For news stories and a schedule, check out the District’s website here, and the Pottstown Arts & Cultural Alliance blog here.
In general, downtown locations will have special events going on from 11-3.
From 3-6 pm, the High School will hold an open house – with a gazillion activities! – followed by a home football game at 7 pm vs. Upper Moreland.
Building community, one piece at a time…
From 11-2:30, Positively!Pottstown is offering puzzle-building at tables at The Gallery on High and the Pottstown Regional Public Library. Puzzles of various Pottstown buildings will be available for anyone to piece together at these locations. They can then be broken up and started all over again. Fun for adults and kids!
At 3 pm, the puzzle-building will continue over at the High School. There, students can also put their name into a free drawing for a book; there will be books for all grade levels. Buildings… books… what else do you expect from a planner and writer? 🙂