Two well-known businesses in Ardmore have shuttered in recent weeks, and their owners cast at least some of the blame on a loss of parking to make way for new housing.
Viking Pastries, a 62-year-old sweet shop, and the Party Place — located around the corner from each other in the borough's downtown — stood in the shadow of One Ardmore Place, a long-embattled residential project expected to open early next year. Work on another mixed-use complex, the Cricket Flats, is set to begin across the street.
While the owners acknowledged that the construction isn't the sole reason for the downturn, they say it played a major role. Local commerce groups, however, contend that the majority of businesses in Ardmore have been thriving while the cranes tower overhead.
"It's progress, but I guess I don't understand it," said Marge Petrone, owner of Viking Pastries. "It's very sad. I feel bad for all my loyal customers that were just heartbroken."
Petrone said her bakery on Cricket Avenue saw business cut in half in recent months as two nearby parking lots were closed. The first, a municipal lot, was sold to the Philadelphia-based Dranoff Properties as the future home of One Ardmore Place. Another lot up the block was closed more recently to make room for the Cricket Flats, an unrelated project from Core Development.
In a twist of irony, Viking Pastries took part in a groundbreaking celebration for One Ardmore Place last June called "the Big Dig," in which customers decorated cookies shaped like dump trucks.
"We have elderly clientele that can't walk too far when they're picking up a cake," Petrone said. "We just couldn't survive without parking."
Petrone said she's moved the business into a smaller temporary facility to fulfill orders for weddings and other functions.
"But I don't know what I'm going to do permanently," she added.
Compounding the lack of parking was the sale of the building where she leased her storefront. Petrone said that she couldn't afford the increased rent from her new landlord.
Property records show the building was sold in October for $2.4 million to 35-39 Cricket LLC. The company is based out of an office in the Cira Centre in West Philadelphia, according to data from the state Department of Revenue. A message left at that office was not returned.
Neighborhood tensions are nothing new for One Ardmore Place.
In a 2015 lawsuit, the Save Ardmore Coalition argued that the $10.5 million in state funding for One Ardmore Place had been misappropriated, and contended that the project was architecturally overwhelming for the town. The legal fight ended in 2016 when the state Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of Commonwealth Court and said the development could proceed.
Construction began on the 282,000-square-foot project in March 2017. It is expected to be finished in early 2019, and will house 110 loft apartments, 337 parking spots and 8,400 square feet of ground-floor retail on Cricket Avenue.
"A lot of times, people think the solution to parking is putting in more lots," said Philip Green, the Main Street manager for Ardmore Initiative.
"People don't go to Manayunk and Passyunk Avenue thinking they're going to get a spot directly in front of their destination," he added. "They expect to walk a few blocks past stores and other businesses that will interest them. Here, we have beautiful architecture and sidewalks. That's the appeal of a historic downtown."
Ardmore Initiative, a pro-development organization, has been working with Lower Merion Township and the borough's business association to produce parking guides to assist visitors during construction. They've also been touting $1,000 grants to local businesses, funded by Dranoff Properties, to give owners a boost as One Ardmore Place is being finished.
"There's been a lot of activity in the area, and the majority is positive," said Nancy Scarlato, the initiative's executive director. "It's a shame that they've closed; they're both mainstays in the business community."
Scarlato noted that several new businesses have either opened or expanded downtown since work on One Ardmore Place began, including Nam Phuong Bistro, Ripplewood Whiskey & Craft, and Bercy Brasserie.
"I think the whole thing is good in the long run, and I didn't feel that way before," Kathleen Bradford, who co-managed the Party Place with her daughter, said of One Ardmore Place. "But parking has been an issue."
Bradford said the 28-year-old party supply store closed its doors on Lancaster Avenue at the end of July. She and her daughter are currently working on a plan to reopen the space, but have no concrete time frame for the revival.
The loss of the lot that will soon become the Cricket Flats was "the final nail in the coffin," Bradford said. And it couldn't have come at a worse time: A helium shortage caused an unexpected hike in expenses for the Party Place, which had to turn to a new supplier when its usual vendor ran out.
"As far as businesses go, once [One Ardmore Place] is finished and opens its garage, it will be a benefit in the end," Bradford said "But right now, it's a struggle in this town to wait it all out. And we couldn't. It was affecting our business too strongly."