One of the things I love most about Ardmore (and there are many, which you know if you read this blog regularly) is that it has a vibrant business district. I love that there are so many nice shops to browse to find the perfect gift for someone or the perfect item for my home. I am not a fan of big, overwhelming shopping malls and try to avoid them as much as possible. I much prefer to stroll along the sidewalk in Ardmore, do some window shopping, stop in a few stores, and follow up my shopping trip with dinner or a drink!
So one of the things I’ve been curious about is how our local businesses are doing and what is happening in town to support them. That’s why I was so happy to have the chance to speak to Christine Vilardo, the Executive Director of the Ardmore Initiative, an organization in town that supports local businesses.
Vilardo has been Executive Director since 2007. She has a background of being very involved in Ardmore as a business stakeholder: in 2000, she moved her scuba diving business, the Aqua Hut, to Ardmore; she served on the board of the Ardmore Initiative before becoming Executive Director; and she is a former officer for the board of the Ardmore Business Association. What a perfect person to talk with about businesses in Ardmore!
The Ardmore Initiative was created in 1993, and according to its web site, is the “business district authority responsible for physical improvements and economic development in downtown Ardmore.” According to Vilardo, Ardmore is “a business improvement district, and [the Ardmore Initiative] serve[s] the commercial property owners within the district.” Wondering what areas are included in the business district? Check out the map below.
It’s the heart of Ardmore and a place that so many of us who live count on for all sorts of things. The organization does many important things for local businesses in its district:
- Business recruitment efforts
- Advocacy for businesses and property owners with Lower Merion Township
- Street improvements like the Ardmore “A” lights and snowflake lights on Lancaster Ave., flower pots and beds, benches, and trash cans
- Marketing for the business district through their web site, emails, newsletters, and social media
- Grant programs for façade improvements from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development
- Business assistance grants, which provide startup funds for new businesses
As for how business are doing in Ardmore? Vilardo said “it’s looking very positive.” Most businesses have gotten through the economic recession pretty well, and many businesses are seeing improving numbers. According to Vilardo, “2012 was a better year than 2011, [and 2011] was a better year than 2010. That’s a good trend.” There are fewer vacant businesses too. All good news for Ardmore!
But it can’t all be perfect. There are challenges, which Vilardo discussed with me. The general economic climate, including the difficulty in small businesses getting funding from banks, and the prevalence of online stores and Big Box stores, which pull business away from local stores, are issues that many businesses have to deal with, including those in Ardmore.
Ardmore specifically also has to deal with a lot of traffic, which means that “Lancaster Avenue is not a pedestrian friendly street,” according to Vilardo. Insufficient parking and insufficient signage about parking is another issue, which prevents people driving by from stopping in Ardmore to shop. Fixing these issues with more parking, better signage, and informational kiosks in the downtown area that include a business directory are key goals for the Ardmore Initiative.
If you’re familiar with the long-planned project to improve the business district with updates to the train station and the addition of condos, retail space, and parking, you’ll be interested to know that it sounds like it may be moving forward with developer Carl Dranoff. The township recently separated the plan for condos, retail space, and a parking garage on Cricket Ave. from the improvements to the train station and approved an agreement with Dranoff that allows him to proceed with planning. There are still a lot of steps that need to happen to finalize the plan, but renewed momentum of this project seems like a good thing for Ardmore.
In 2013, the Ardmore Initiative will be involved in several things to help bring business to downtown Ardmore, which according to Vilardo, is the main goal of the organization: “Really in a nutshell, what we’re about is getting more people in the downtown.” More people means more business, of course. Here are some of the highlights for 2013:
- The U.S. Open is coming to Merion Golf Club, so there will be a big push from the Ardmore Initiative to get those visitors into Ardmore to visit local businesses.
- Clover Market, the outdoor art and antique marketing, will continue this year, which boosts business for local shops and restaurants.
- First Friday Main Line, which is run by volunteer Sherry Tillman who owns Past, Present, and Future in Ardmore, will also continue.
- Taste of Ardmore in the fall, which is the organization’s main means of fundraising and highlights products and services from local businesses.
Good stuff! Interested in working with Ardmore Initiative to ensure our local businesses continue to do well? The organization has volunteer and donation opportunities. They have several volunteer committees, including marketing, streetscape, and business recruitment, and residents are welcome to participate. If you’re interested, email Christine Vilardo directly. You can also donate a tax-deductible amount to help the Ardmore Initiative keep our thriving downtown in good shape this year and in the years to come.
I could have written ten posts from my interview with Vilardo because we covered so much ground. I learned a lot about our downtown district. As we were finishing up our interview, I asked what Vilardo tells other people about Ardmore. She mentioned many of the positives I love about my town—it’s socioeconomic diversity, the fact that you can get most of what you need right in town, and you can walk many places if you’re a resident—and then she said, “What I tell people is that’s a real town, and it’s a real community.”