The end of the line is near for the Trolley Car Diner, which lights up the big bend in Germantown Avenue just below Cresheim Valley Drive, where Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill meet.
Ken Weinstein, who with partners opened the diner in 2000, met with employees Monday to say that Oct. 15 would be its last day.
The diner was created by merging the site’s former Roy Rogers restaurant with a circa-1952 Mountain View-model diner that had been trucked from Wilkes-Barre, where it was known as the Palooka Diner. A huge neon sign was installed on the roof. Three years later, the partners bought a 1948 PCC trolley car from SEPTA and opened it next door as an ice cream shop. The trolley, No. 2134, is said to be the last trolley car that ran to Willow Grove Park in the early 1960s.
“We made this decision after much thought and consideration, and with much sorrow,” Weinstein said in a statement. “I am extremely proud of our hardworking team of employees, and what we accomplished together in nearly 20 years of operations.”
Weinstein said he was not sure of the fate of the property, including the rolling stock.
Mount Airy’s restaurant scene was vastly different 19 years ago when Weinstein, his wife, Judy, and partners set up the Trolley Car Diner. He said the goal back then was to create a family-friendly restaurant and a community gathering spot, and thus reduce blight. The neighborhood then, he said, had few casual dining options.
But then came competition. “These new dining destinations have slowly eaten into our customer base,” he said. “With significantly more options, the diner’s sales have steadily declined, and they’re down by more than 20 percent since 2013.”
As costs have risen, he said, “the diner is no longer financially sustainable.”
In April, Weinstein closed Trolley Car Station, which opened at the renovated 40th Street Trolley Portal in West Philadelphia, after seven months because “the business wasn’t financially viable.”
Trolley Car Diner cards will be honored at the Trolley Car Café in East Falls, which will remain open. Employees will get first chance to apply for a job there, he said.
To alleviate the impact of the impending closing, management is setting aside $100,000 for bonuses to employees who stay until the closing. All staffers who stay will receive a severance based on wages and years of service.