Who Says Chestnut Hill Is Going to Hell?

Signs of life

A year ago, things in Chestnut Hill were looking bleak. Hammered by the recession and the hangover effect of a war between über-landlord Richard Snowden and the neighborhood’s all-powerful Community Association, occupancy rates along storied Germantown Avenue were at 80 percent. “Space for Rent” was replacing cute and quaint.

Don’t look now, but the Hill seems to be getting its mojo back. Last year, the Community Association, Business Association and Business Improvement District, along with a few individual property owners — led, ironically, by Snowden — banded together and hired national consulting firm Downtown Works to put together a plan to get Chestnut Hill rolling again. Step one: hiring Eileen Reilly as the borough’s first official retail recruiter. “I’m a retail matchmaker,” she says of her job, which is to find occupants for the 120 retail spaces along Germantown Avenue. So far, so good, since occupancy has already risen 6 percent (including leases set to begin this fall).

Besides leading the charge to get Reilly on board, Snowden recently entered into a partnership with one of his tenants, Doug Reinke of shelter store Host, to open a handful of new stores in vacant spaces. Two of them — a Terrain-esque garden store named Earth and a bedding and baby boutique named Linen — will open in time for the Chestnut Hill Home & Garden Festival on May 1st. In September, Reinke will move Host into bigger digs at the bottom of the hill and spin off a sister store focusing on rugs and lighting. Snowden has also just signed a lease with Fresh Market to develop a giant, 17,000-square-foot market on Germantown Avenue, complete with 14 condos and nine townhomes.

With the additions of Mica, the recently opened restaurant from Blackfish’s Chip Roman; Chestnut7, the American bistro from the people at Public House Investments; new eatery Thai Kuu; and a ninth Iron Hill Brewery outpost (set to open this fall), the Hill is seeing a restaurant revival, too. “We want people to come here and go for an 11-block walk,” says Reilly. “And I’m not even cautiously optimistic that it’s going to happen, at this point. I am positive.”