Kennett Square bursting at the seams with unpredecented growth

FRAN MAYE-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIADowntown Kennett Square has experienced vast economic growth in the past few years. Developers are flocking to the small town.
FRAN MAYE-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIADowntown Kennett Square has experienced vast economic growth in the past few years. Developers are flocking to the small town.

KENNETT SQUARE >> It seems everybody wants to live or own a business in Kennett Square.

Currently, it’s the most progressive town in Chester County. Vacant storefronts are virtually non-existent and the many festivals throughout the year draw people far and wide. The upcoming Mushroom Festival is expected to attract tens of thousands of people.

“The development activity in this town, and the interest in this town, is immense,” said Rusty Drumheller, the borough’s codes enforcement officer.

Drumheller said many people have come to his office expressing an interest in Kennett Square.

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There’s been interest in building a new brewpub. Another person wants to develop a site for a small pizzeria. There’s also interest in building a new hotel and restaurant within the borough, and a plan to expand existing senior housing. Another entrepreneur is considering constructing a small distillery. A developer has expressed interest in building 24 townhouses -- two separate three-story buildings -- for mixed use. And another developer is considering constructing two to four townhouses.

And one person is even considering starting a shuttle service business to transport people to and from places like the New Garden shopping complex and the Shoppes at Longwood, and Longwood Gardens.

And all of that interest was just in the past month.

Jeff Dowd, a local real estate broker who has negotiated several multi-million-dollar deals in the greater Philadelphia area, believes the surge in the commercial market in Kennett Square is largely driven by a strong residential market that delivers great value for home buyers.

“On the residential side, people are flocking here because homes are more affordable, schools are highly-rated, and they enjoy a great quality of life.” Dowd said. “People also appreciate Kennett Square’s proximity to both Philadelphia and Wilmington. With the population growing, it only makes sense for restaurants, retail shops and other commercial entities to move in and serve this expanding market.”

Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square, said storefront vacancy plays a negative economic role in many small towns, but not Kennett Square.

“We’re lucky in Kennett Square it doesn’t often happen,” she said.

Even when a store moves out, it is replaced quickly with another. Trail Creek Outfitters, located at the Glen Eagle Shopping Center in Chadds Ford, will be opening a store at 120 W. State Street. And a jewelry store will be opening at 131 East State Street.

Miracle Ear, an industry leader in hearing devices, recently located to Kennett Square.

“I have been watching the demographics over the past years in the southern Chester County area, and it’s a growing area, said Joseph DeSimone, of Miracle Ear. “I thought expanding to Kennett Square would give me a good opportunity to reach the ever-increasing number of people who live there.”

To accommodate the growth, the borough recently received a grant for $500,000 for an expansion of the public parking garage at State and Union streets.

And special events like Third Thursdays which features dining on the street, has been wildly popular. Hutchins said that every restaurant is already booked for the upcoming Third Thursday Sept. 20.

And then there’s the borough’s cooperation with neighboring Kennett Township. This partnership may soon provide hiking and biking trails from Pennock Park in the west end of town, all the way to Anson Nixon Park on the east end. Borough officials have applying for a sidewalk grant for North Walnut Street to complement this project.

“We like to think ourselves as the anchor of Southern Chester County, a hub if you will,” said Dan Maffei, Kennett Square council president. “We can’t claim to be the county seat, we don’t have big university but we have commerce, we have banking, we have post offices, we have a library, we have a government, and this is where the center of those kind of things should be.”

Because of the growth boom in a borough that comprises just 1.1 square miles, an economic development director will soon be hired. The director’s $100,000 salary (including benefits) will be paid for equally by both Kennett Square and Kennett Township. It will give a new insight into where growth and development can be directed.

“This year, I have already completed two transactions in Kennett Square, and I’m currently working on a third one with a well-known Philadelphia-based restaurant,” said Dowd, who has been in the commercial real estate business for 17 years.

About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.