It’s Phoenixville. At least, the guys from Iron Hill hope it is
Last month, entrepreneurs Kevin Finn, Kevin Davies and Mark Edelson opened the doors to the sixth location of their popular Iron Hill Brewery. Center City dwellers, who often claim a monopoly on the region’s best in dining and drinking, must be forgiven for being ignorant of
Last month, entrepreneurs Kevin Finn, Kevin Davies and Mark Edelson opened the doors to the sixth location of their popular Iron Hill Brewery. Center City dwellers, who often claim a monopoly on the region’s best in dining and drinking, must be forgiven for being ignorant of the 10-year-old franchise, named by BrewPub Magazine as the best brewpub in the Mid-Atlantic. All of Iron Hill’s locations are stubbornly suburban: West Chester, Media, North Wales. Iron Hill’s flagship is in Newark, Delaware; its sixth location is in Phoenixville, 30 miles from Walnut Street’s Restaurant Row.
"We look at smaller, up-and-coming towns because the economics make sense," explains Finn. This business model worked well in West Chester and Media, but less successfully in North Wales. A town’s potential is a slippery concept. "You don’t want to be the first one," Finn says, "because you might be the only one."
Iron Hill won’t be the only restaurant in four-square-mile Phoenixville. It joins Black Lab Bistro, which was a pioneer when it opened on Bridge Street six years ago, and two-year-old BYOB Majolica, which put Phoenixville firmly on the foodie map. Downtown Phoenixville has gone from a 21.3 percent vacancy rate in late 2003 to a mere four percent — and most of those storefronts are under construction. Irish pub Molly McGuire’s is in the works, and a restaurant and entertainment venue is planned for the massive Foundry. But what makes a neighborhood ready for the type of restaurant boom that seems to be taking place in Phoenixville, population 15,000?
The easy answer is people. Phoenixville has added 700 homes in six years, is central to the expanding residential areas of Chester County, and is easily accessible by routes 202 and 422. More specifically, it’s hungry people — college-educated 25-to-54-year-olds with incomes that allow for regular culinary indulgence.
The less obvious answers to the tipping-point question are police officers, trash cans and The Blob. This year the borough put into action a multimillion-dollar arts and entertainment economic development plan. When Governor Ed Rendell showed up in Phoenixville this September to announce a $1 million commitment from the state, he held his press conference in front of the Colonial Theatre, the recently reopened century-old movie house that served as a backdrop for The Blob, and complimented the area’s aggressive streetscape improvements. "Phoenixville looks like West Chester or Doylestown or Media," Rendell said. Then he stopped for ice cream at new Brown’s Cow.
Iron Hill’s West Chester location opened at the corner of High and Gay streets when three of the four corners at that now-major commercial intersection were empty storefronts. But "up" can be a long time coming. "We’re going in early in Phoenixville," Finn worried, even as he scouted obscure locations for the seventh Iron Hill.