Father, son beget a lively market

Nourish, a juice bar and cafe in the Market. Also there, a creperie, grocer, seafood market, wine bar, ice cream shop.
Nourish, a juice bar and cafe in the Market. Also there, a creperie, grocer, seafood market, wine bar, ice cream shop.

Kennett Square's Liberty Place is a bustling, much-needed town center and food start-up incubator.

Posted: June 13, 2014

When Larry Bosley and his son Geoff bought the hulking building at 148 W. State St. in Kennett Square in 2010, they knew it had a prestigious past.

Most recently, it contained offices; before that, a furniture store. But originally, it had been built out of the steel hull and beams repurposed from the Joshua Alexander, a World War II Liberty cargo ship made in a Baltimore shipyard from Bethlehem steel.

The building's future, though, was less clear.

The 10,000-square-foot ground floor, vacant since 2008, was prime for retail. But its expanse was out of scale with the independent shops and cozy cafes on Kennett's quaint main street.

So, the father-son team behind Kennett Square's LGB Properties began seeking inspiration - and found it at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, which draws throngs of Main Liners at lunchtime.

Their take, which they call the Market at Liberty Place (in honor of the Liberty ship), opened last summer. It's now home to seven businesses, including a juice bar, creperie, grocer, seafood market, wine bar, and ice cream shop (a couple more spaces remain vacant).

It's a feat of creative reuse that has yielded both a neighborhood gathering place and an incubator for food start-ups.

"It's like a de facto community center," Geoff Bosley said. Parents' groups, church groups, and knitting clubs gather there; schools and nonprofits host fund-raising nights; and Fridays bring live music and, sometimes, painting classes. "People come here for any number of reasons: They come to get their coffee first thing in the morning. They come to do their shopping. They come for lunch. They come to get a drink after work and get a bottle of wine to take home. They come for dinner."

Turning a dead end on the State Street retail strip into a destination for locals and tourists was no simple matter for the duo, who got into business together full time in 2008.

Larry had been dabbling in real estate after retiring as superintendent of schools, and, later, Geoff, an accountant at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, bought a property in town as well.

"Next thing you know we're real estate developers," Geoff said. As tends to happen in Kennett Square, "It just kind of mushroomed."

Since then, it's Father's Day pretty much every day for the Bosleys. "We can bounce in and out of father-son relationship and business relationship in mid-conversation," Geoff said. The upside: total trust and fundamental understanding of each other. The drawback? Even Sunday afternoon family dinners can turn into strategy meetings.

That would pay off in planning the market, their most complex project yet - and a model they'd like to replicate elsewhere, eventually.

"We spent a year and a half doing our homework," Larry said. "We visited Chelsea Market in New York, Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco."

Their first job was to pull in the right mix of vendors, seeking those that would offer interesting and complementary menus and who would be considerate roommates.

They recruited food-business newcomers - such as Elizabeth Davis-Cerami, who spent 20 years working for Deloitte before launching Yo'R So Sweet creperie at the market - and old hands like Francine Covelli, owner of Nourish Juice Bar & Cafe.

Covelli had owned cafes in Delaware for 20 years, before scaling back a few years ago. Last year, she was ready to launch something new.

The Bosleys offered something other landlords couldn't, she said. "The market is about collaboration. It's about community."

Covelli, whose specialties are fresh-squeezed juices, green smoothies, and wheatgrass shots, said she's getting ready to bottle her juices for sale in the region.

But fans will still have to visit the market to get her house-made traditional and gluten-free bagels, muffins and pastries, and quiches, soups and power-green salads. Most menu items are driven by local ingredients, like the apple pie made from Barnard's Orchards' produce.

Sharon Popeo was sipping a cappuccino from Nourish on a recent afternoon. "My son's home, so it's easier to get paperwork done here," she said. "I have a favorite table over in the back."

Popeo said that when she moved to Kennett Square about seven years ago, there was nothing like this; she had to drive to West Chester to find a decent cafe. But with the appearance of the market and favorite restaurants like Talula's Table, that has changed.

Recently, Popeo and her husband were considering moving out of town, closer to her husband's work. "But we refinanced and decided to stay - and it's mainly because of the coffee shops."

The market has become a hub for gluten-free offerings, at Nourish, at the organic Terra Foods grocery, and at George & Sons Seafood, the offshoot of a Hockessin, Del., store that offers options such as gluten-free crab cakes, bound with rice flour.

There's also Punk'd Pineapple, a soft-serve shop built around variations on Dole Whip, the Disney World favorite that also happens to be vegan and gluten-free.

For the grown-ups, there's the Paradocx Vineyards bar and wine boutique, an offshoot of the Landenberg winery.

Joel Baldwin and Donna VanDyne of Parkesburg had taken the day off from work to go wine tasting, and stumbled across the market by accident.

Baldwin, sipping from a Paradocx flight, was impressed with the place, but could see a downside.

"It's almost like a small Reading Terminal, with all the choices of healthy foods and natural foods," he said. "It's going to be very difficult to get out of here without spending some money on healthy food."


smelamed@phillynews.com

215-854-5053

@samanthamelamed

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