Malvern district awaits end of SEPTA project

Work has disrupted business, but better parking and pedestrian safety will result.

Posted: October 02, 2011

The business community in the tiny Chester County town of Malvern is looking forward to better times. If an economic recovery kicks in, that would be welcome, too.

But for now, what will constitute better times for the stores and restaurants that line King Street, the borough's main commerce corridor, is when a construction project in the heart of town since February 2010 finally comes to an end, possibly by Nov. 1.

The goal of the $9.9 million SEPTA initiative – $8 million of which was paid for with federal stimulus funds - is to improve pedestrian safety for those using the Malvern train station, a stop on the Paoli-Thorndale line, and boost available parking.

But en route to delivering that relief, the undertaking has produced a fair amount of suffering, inconvenience, and - in the case of women visiting Kiss & Makeup, a cosmetics boutique half a block from the train station, who have had to endure whistles and shouts from male construction workers - annoyance.

Sean Weinberg, who owns the upscale Alba restaurant with his wife, Kelly, blames station work going on literally in the eatery's backyard for a 40 percent drop in lunch business. (Construction has rarely run over into the dinner hours, Weinberg said, though it has devoured parking spaces in the adjacent train-station lot that Alba's patrons usually used.)

Inside the station itself, the construction project proved disruptive enough - including a cracked floor believed to be from tunneling vibrations - that Dawn Lewis has kept her Caffe Craze coffee shop closed since June 30. It has occupied a portion of the 111-year-old station owned by Amtrak since July 1997.

"I truly appreciate my train customers, like family, but they only made up 1/2 of my business," Lewis wrote in an e-mail last week. "People driving or walking by wouldn't venture in from the street once the project was in front of the station."

Add to that road closings, the noise of excavation equipment, and the dirt kicked up from the earthmoving that was integral to creating the project's centerpiece: a 75-foot-long pedestrian tunnel.

"It's been a long haul," Robert Lund, senior director of capital construction at SEPTA, acknowledged in an interview Thursday. He also extended thanks to "the community and our riders for putting up with" all the undesirables of such an intrusive project.

"They will see the benefit at the end," Lund assured.

The new 10-foot-wide, 8-foot-high pedestrian tunnel will enable anyone on foot or in a wheelchair to get from one side of the tracks to the other without having to share North Warren Avenue with cars and trucks.

"It was a very scary walk," Lund said of the route the tunnel under the tracks replaces.

Access stairs and ramps on each end will be protected from the elements by a green steel canopy. And what should be more good news in this notoriously parking-deficient town: Forty-two additional spaces will be added to the train-station lot for a total of 332, said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch. Asphalt, painted lines, and energy-efficient lighting are coming to what had been an unruly expanse of paved and gravel sections with inconsistent illumination, Lund said.

It was also "awful to look at," Alba's Weinberg said.

The change that has thus far pained him ultimately will benefit him. Alba is expanding into adjacent empty commercial space by the middle of November, and "the view from the bar will look out on the station," Weinberg said. The entire station area "really will be nice to admire."

Another thought occurred to him: With the new tunnel rendering use of the station a less-perilous experience, there might be an uptick in regional-rail commuters coming and going from Malvern.

"That's more people coming off the train looking for a quick drink at our bar," Weinberg said, allowing a smile.

Banking on the hope it also will mean more people looking for their morning cup of coffee or Caffe Craze's speciality, chai, Lewis plans to reopen in November.

While the Malvern resident has focused her efforts during the down coffee-shop months on another of her entrepreneurial endeavors - selling liquid chai concentrate - Lewis said the train-station cafe is "home."

At Kiss & Makeup, on the corner of King Street and Warren Avenue, spirited owners Darci Henry and Lisa Di Caprio might not miss the vocals from the hard-hat crowd. But they will miss the traffic that has backed up routinely in front of their display windows thanks to construction-related road closings.

"It would be five minutes of sitting there looking at our store," Henry said.

That exposure has been priceless in spreading the word about the two-year-old business' line of lip gloss, bronzers, and more.

However, it appears that a news release the company sent out touting its products has led to the biggest break so far: darci by Di Caprio Brush Cleaner will be included in the bag of goodies handed out to Hollywood's beautiful people at the Academy Awards on Feb. 26. Kiss & Makeup will hold a party that night.

Forget the pedestrian tunnel. "We're going to have a red carpet!" Di Caprio gushed.


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.

 

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