In close-knit communities like Glenside, news of change can bring worry.
That's what happened when two Tudor-style residential/retail buildings in Keswick Village, at Easton Road and North Keswick Avenue, were purchased for $6.2 million at bankruptcy auction in December by Center City real estate company Franklin Residential.
"People would come in and ask me if the diner would be OK," said Jackie Ecker, who owns and operates the Village Diner in one of the two buildings that make up what is being called Keswick Commons.
"There were a lot of rumors," said Patrick Doyle, who with Jack Craig co-owns Humpty's Dumplings, produced in space rented from S.J. Rizzo Catering on North Tyson Avenue. The biggest fear Doyle heard expressed: that the buildings, designed by noted architect Horace Trumbauer in 1929, would be razed.
Those concerns are proving unfounded. Franklin Residential's Steven Balin says he and his partners, Justin Turner and Steve Wennik, immediately recognized Keswick Village as a "catalyst for significant changes to improve the look and feel of Glenside."
They plan $2 million worth of renovations to make this piece of the Keswick Village shopping district near the Keswick Theatre a "destination."
The 2.5-acre site has a two-story, 18,000-square-foot building with retail space and 11 apartments; a three-story, 38,000-square-foot structure with retail space and 15 apartments; a Susquehanna Bank, and a parking lot.
Thirteen of the 14 retail spaces now have tenants signed up, Balin said.
Plans for interior and exterior improvements to the long-neglected buildings over the next year or so were welcomed without dissent at a Jan. 21 meeting attended by more than 170 Abington Township residents.
Michael O'Neill of O'Neill's Market, whose father, Jim, opened the business in 1981, is "looking forward to all the changes because we see this as an opportunity to bring new vitality to the area."
"The previous owner just collected the rent," he said. "Balin will help the community to grow."
"I can't say enough about Balin," said Lawrence T. Matteo Jr., the township's director of planning and code enforcement, saying the previous owner had allowed the buildings to deteriorate over 25 years.
Franklin Residential will renovate the 26 apartments as they become vacant, having discovered that longtime area residents are interested in downsizing to rentals in a walkable area.
The theater has proved to be a big selling point; many of the tenants the company has attracted to the buildings' long-vacant retail spaces plan to offer dining opportunities.
That includes Doyle and Craig, who will move their operations to Keswick Commons in hopes of drawing students from nearby Arcadia University.
"More than 150,000 people come to the Keswick Theatre each year, and there weren't many places nearby that offered a chance for dining before or after," Balin said.
"It's not competition," diner owner Ecker said of the other eateries, but rather "more reasons to come here after we serve breakfast."
Glenside is just one of many older suburban communities where theaters are playing a major role in revitalization. In Lansdowne, Delaware County, for example, anticipation of the theater's renovation has drawn new restaurants to downtown streets.
Of the Franklin Residential partners, longtime Abington School Board member Daniel Kaye said: "They really seem to understand the potential of this town."
Three adjacent retail spaces will become "Dino's Backstage" and "The Celebrity Room at Dino's Backstage," a 1940s-style supper club, with a total of 90 seats, run by Dino and Michael Kelly-Cataldi, who own Kelly-Cataldi Home & Redesign across North Keswick Avenue.
Dino Kelly-Cataldi is a restaurateur known for Napoleon Cafe in Port Richmond. Michael Kelly-Cataldi is also a cabaret singer holding forth at Paris Bistro in Chestnut Hill.
Choosing the right tenants is critical to the growth of the Keswick business district, Michael Kelly-Cataldi said: "You don't just rent space to the first person who comes along. You have to find the right mix of businesses that are the right fit."
These days, the community has gone from concern to excitement about Keswick Commons, said Pat McCann, who has raised four sons and two grandchildren in Glenside.
"We have total confidence that we are in good hands," she said.