Thursday, 25 May 2017 02:18

West Chester: Award-Winning Town

Written by  Malcolm Johnstone, Business Improvement District

Photos by Timlyn Vaughan Photography. Download the PDF Version.

Nabbing the Great American Main Street Award in May was just the latest in a string of accolades for Chester County’s county seat.


Outdoor dining is a summer favorite at Mercato Ristorante. Image by Timlyn Vaughan PhotographyIf you’ve visited West Chester, you likely remember its many charms—leafy, walkable brick sidewalks bordered by unique boutiques and tempting restaurants with plenty of entertainment options—from street fairs to Broadway caliber theater.

Well, you’re not the only fan.

In just the past few years West Chester has been heralded as a Great Neighborhood in PA, a Tree City USA, one of the 10 Best Cities in PA, a Money Magazine Best Place to Retire, and a Philly Mag Best Philly Staycation location.

 More recently on May 1, the National Main Street Center presented Downtown West Chester and the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) with a Great American Main Street Award in part for “demonstrating that a prosperous and livable future is being attained.”

 One of the three winners of the 2017 award, West Chester was recognized for its efforts to preserve the area’s historic and cultural heritage while modernizing the downtown into a dining destination.

Here’s a closer look at some of the reasons West Chester continues to attract attention and accolades.


Destination Dining

West Chester has continued to expand its range of restaurant options to draw diners from the four corners of Chester County and beyond. From surf and turf at Pietro’s Prime to take-out tacos at Jaco Juice & Taco Bar and authentic French pastries at La Baguette Magique, you can get anything you want … in West Chester.

Sidewalk dining is a hallmark of the Borough’s thriving food scene, combining the best of the town—delicious food with unmatched ambiance. In fact, County Lines Magazine bestowed its 2017 Best of the Best award for al fresco dining on the movable feast that is West Chester.

You may not realize that West Chester has 64 restaurants and more than 75 retail stores all within walking distance of the downtown area, making an after dinner stroll the perfect dessert. In addition, the annual Chester County Restaurant festival, scheduled for September 17th this year, attracts even more foodies from around the country.


Vibrant Community

The completion of the historic courthouse renovation and the opening of a new hotel and theater venue are just a few visible signs of West Chester’s revitalization, made possible through the partnership of local, regional and national organizations that helped West Chester evolve into such a vibrant community.

Another part of West Chester’s charm is being home to West Chester University and being ranked among the Top 50 College Towns by College Rank in 2016. The university’s 15,000 students include international students from more than 40 countries, contributing to the diverse population of this small town.


Mas Mexicali Canina’s rooftop bar has great views of downtown West Chester. Photo by Timlyn Vaughan Photography.Performing Arts Capturing Hearts

A major contributor to town pride is the $4-million re-development of the historic 1916 armory into the new Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center at 226 North High Street. This hub of artistic excitement and entertainment, featuring three venues, continues its first full year with eight resident companies showcasing every type of theater. The 327-seat main stage is the perfect venue for musical theater, film, dance, comedy and featured music groups. It’s quickly becoming an attraction for the entire Brandywine Valley region.

 A smashing first run of Monty Python’s musical Spamalot, presented by Resident Theatre Company, launched the inaugural season with standing ovations and sold-out performances. Producer/director Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell attracted professional casts and crews to provide a New York Theatre experience. Tickets are already on sale for next season’s performances, including Next to Normal, an award-winning rock musical, and A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play for the holidays.

 The summer season kicks off June 2 to 4 with Blueprints, performed by Nickerson-Rossi Dance, a bi-coastal contemporary/modern dance company now making its home at the performing arts center. Company founder Michael Nickerson-Rossi has had his work described as “filled with complex intricacies that unravel through a beautifully orchestrated mixture of artistic movement and emotional freedom.” The dance company also creates opportunities for local pre-professional and professional dancers through programming created by Nickerson-Rossi.

 You can find tickets and information for performances at the Knauer Center at and at the arts groups’ websites.

 And why not make it dinner and a show by visiting one of the many convenient downtown restaurants before or after the performances?


A Season of Festivals

It wouldn’t be summer in West Chester without downtown festivals—another attraction for both residents and day-trippers. Here are a few highlights, with more in the events section that follows this article.

Mark your calendar because the first weekend in June is filled with super events. Swingin’ Summer Thursday starts things off June 1 when part of Gay Street becomes a pedestrian plaza for the evening. Bring the whole family downtown for great musical entertainment, wonderful food, crafters, clowns, jugglers and dancers. You’ll find Swingin’ Summer Thursdays on first Thursdays each month through September.

 First Fridays continue throughout the summer with June 2 setting the stage. Boutiques are open late for browsing the newest fashions and finds. Look for in-store specials and complimentary refreshments that make window shopping and actual shopping a pleasure. Remember there’s free parking at meters and in metered lots after 5 p.m. on First Fridays and more parking at downtown garages.

 See and be seen at one of the summer’s signature events, while supporting the West Chester Downtown Foundation at the “Up on the Roof” fundraiser, June 3. Take in panoramic views from the rooftop of the Chestnut Street Garage, toast the sunset with the popular Rooftop Martini, and enjoy cocktails, appetizers, a catered buffet dinner and desserts from West Chester’s best. Plus live dance music by the Donny Syracuse Band.

 Topping off this super weekend is Super Sunday, June 4 on Gay Street. West Chester Parks & Recreation presents this free event filled with entertainment and lots of tasty food. Children will enjoy crafts, games and rides, while adults browse the four blocks of local food vendors, artisans and live bands.

 Next up, June 15 marks the kick-off of the popular Town Tours & Village Walks series at the Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High Street. Enjoy light refreshments and entertainment by the Lukens Band and then choose one of several free, guided tours featuring sites in the Borough. Presented by


The Fun Doesn’t Stop

Summer events keep coming! July 16 is the 34th annual Turks Head Music Festival at Everhart Park. The day-long outdoor festival features popular regional bands performing on two stages, plus 70 food vendors and artisan booths. There’s literally something for everyone in the family, so bring a blanket or lawn chairs and be prepared to chillax. Presented by the West Chester Parks & Recreation. Rain date July 23.

 There’s nothing like an old-fashioned summer sidewalk sale for browsing in the sunshine and fresh air, the way casual shopping was meant to be. Check out unique shops Wednesday through Sunday, July 19 to 23, and choose from among a vast selection of accessories, apparel, gifts, home decor and specialty foods. Visit Downtown West Chester Facebook page for updated sales and promotions throughout the week.

 Though not a festival, when you’re downtown Tuesday through Saturday through the end of the year, make a point to visit the Chester County Historical Society exhibit of the Visionary World of Humphry Marshall (1750-1800). The namesake of Marshall Square Park, Humphry Marshall is the subject of nationally acclaimed artist Adrian Martinez, who showcases the richness of early Pennsylvanian history presented in a series of 12 new painting s depicting the evolution of Chester County from frontier-land to farmland. 

Find events at and in the Best Local Events section of the magazine.

West Chester Events

A bird's-eye view of award-winning West Chester. Photos by Timlyn Vaughan PhotographySwingin’ Summer Thursdays
Thurs, June 1–Sept 7
Great food, live music, clowns, artists, magicians, jugglers and more. Gay St. between High & Darlington Sts. or High & Matlack Sts.. 6:30 to 9. 610-436-9010;

First Fridays
June 2, July 7, Aug 4, Sept 1
Extended hours at galleries and boutiques, restaurant specials, entertainment and more. 610-738-3350;

Uptown! at Knauer Performing Arts Center
June 2–Aug 10
June 2–4, “Blueprints” by Nickerson-Rossi Dance; June 8, Opera Tutti! That’s Italian, 7 pm; June 16, The Summer Club, 7:30 pm; July 9, Opera Tutti! Americana: in English, 2 pm; July 28, Better Than Bacon: Interactive Improv Comedy, 8 pm; Aug. 10, Opera Tutti! Summertime and the Singing is Easy, 7 pm. 226 N. High St.

15th Annual “Up On the Roof”
June 3
Join the WC Downtown Fdn. and the WC BID and help beautify West Chester. Enjoy great food, music and drinks on the rooftop, Chestnut Street Garage, 14 E. Chestnut St. 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets $100 in adv.; $120 at the door. 610-738-3350;

West Chester Spring Flea Market & Bike Sale
June 3
Municipal Bldg., 401 E. Gay St.. 9 to 1. 610-436-9010;

Super Sunday June 4
A huge street festival with kids’ crafts, games, rides, food vendors, live bands and artisans. Gay St., from Matlack to Darlington Sts.; High St. from Chestnut to Market Sts. 11 to 5. 610-692-7574;

Residence Theatre Company Events
June 9, 22
June 9, 2nd Annual Classic Broadway Gala featuring a red carpet walk and New York City performers, Chester County Art Assoc., 100 N. Bradford Ave., 6:30, $100–$125. June 22, Broadway in the Borough—an evening with world-renowned tenor Luke Grooms at Sprout Music Collective, 130 E. Prescott Alley, 7 pm, $15–$22.

Chester County Hospital Polo Cup
June 11
See June Picks in this issue.

Focusing on the Groom
June 11
The groom takes center stage at this bridal event hosted by Greystone Hall and Chester County Night School. Appetizers, music, micro brew tasting and cigar bar. 1034 Phoenixville Pk. 2 to 4 pm; $30. 610-692-1964;;

Music at Marshall Square Park
June 15, July 20, Aug 17
Come to the gazebo in Marshall Square Park for these picnic concerts. Visit the website for performers. 248 E. Marshall St. 6:30 pm. Free. 610-436-9010;

Town Tours & Village Walks
June 15–Aug 24
Explore Chester County’s heritage and rich landscape on these tours: June 15, Land of Goshen, 1777–From Turk’s Head to County Seat, tour kick-off in West Chester; June 22, Two Days Before Brandywine, Kennett Borough; June 29, The British Flank at Trimble’s Ford: An Archaeological Journey; July 4, Independence Day Ceremony at Revolutionary War Soldiers’ Cemetery, E. Vincent Twp.; July 6, Witness to Battle: Two Armies Clash on the Farm Fields of Brandywine. Tours continue through Aug. 24, 5:30 pm. Free. Some require registration. 610-344-6923;

FatherFest—American Helicopter Museum
June 18
Treat Dad to a special day of classic cars, motorcycles, food trucks, a beer garden and maybe even a helicopter ride. 1220 American Blvd., West Chester. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $10; helicopter rides, $60. 610-436-9600; AmericanHelicopter.Museum.

19th Annual BVHAC Challenge
For Cancer Ride June 25
Premiere bike ride in Chester County. 30-, 50- and 65-mile rides, 10- and 5-mile family rides benefit The Cancer Center of Chester County and the Neighborhood Hospice. Begin at Fern Hill Med. Campus, 915 Old Fern Hill Rd. Reg. 7 am. $45–$70. 610-431-5329;

Movie Night at Charles A. Melton Center
June 27, Aug 17
June 27, Invincible; Aug. 17, Finding Dory. 501 E. Miner St. Dusk. Free.

Free Theatre in the Parks
July 7, 13
Pack a picnic and a blanket, sit back and enjoy Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet. July 7, Everhart Park, 501 W. Union St. July 13, East Goshen Township Park, 1580 Paoli Pk. 7 pm. Free. 610-202-7878;

35th Annual Turk’s Head Music Festival
July 16
Great bands, lots of crafters, children’s activities and food vendors. Everhart Park, 100 S. Brandywine St. Noon to 8 pm. Rain date, July 23. 610-436-9010;

5th Annual National Night Out Against Crime
Aug 2
The Borough Police Dept. invites families to enjoy live entertainment, refreshments, kids’ activities, police, fire and EMS vehicles and a meet-and-greet with local responders. Municipal Bldg., 401 E. Gay St. 6 to 9. 610-696-2700.

Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic
Aug 12
Pro bike racing and family fun in the downtown area. Plus a Kid’s Zone, Mile Dash, bungee jumping, community festival, great food and more. Begins at 4 pm.

Touch A Truck Day
Aug 13
Kids love to see and touch different models of cars and trucks. Chester County Gov. Services Complex, 601 Westtown Rd. Noon to 4 pm. Pkg. $2. 610-436-9010;

Secret Gardens of West Chester
Sept 9
Garden tour featuring 12 private gardens. Tour, 10 to 3; plant sale, noon to 4. Benefits the Horticultural Therapy Program. Barclay Friends, 700 N. Franklin St. 610-696-5211;

Chester County Restaurant Festival
Sept 17
Great food, a beer and wine garden, live entertainment and vendors. Held on Gay and Market Sts. The beer and wine garden is located on Gay & Church Sts. Noon to 5. Raindate, Sept. 25. 610-436-9010;

Summer Dining in West Chester

Al fresco dining is a pleasure any day of the week. Photos by Timlyn Vaughan Photography

39 West American Bistro
39 W. Gay St. 484-983-3719;

Bar Avalon
116 E. Gay St. 610-346-4100;

Boxcar Brewing Co.
142 E. Market St. 484-947-2503;

The Classic Diner
16 E. Gay St. 484-947-0809 
Opening its doors in 1995, The Classic Diner serves breakfast and lunch, seven days a week, and has become a trendy landmark and mainstay restaurant in the area. Their dedication to using only the finest, freshest ingredients, prepared by hand, has earned rave reviews and awards. Outdoor Dining available; a full-service catering division.

The Couch Tomato Café
31 W. Gay St. 484-887-0241;

134 E. Gay St. 484-887-0760;

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
3 W. Gay St. 610-738-9600;

Jaco Juice & Taco Bar
8 W. Gay St. 610-436-4177;

Kildare’s Irish Pub
18 W. Gay St. 610-431-0770;

9 N. Walnut St.
Outdoor dining with the charming atmosphere of a café in Italy in the heart of downtown West Chester. Banquet space and catering also available. Mon–Thurs, 11 to 10; Fri, 10 to 11; Sat, 11 to 11; Sun, 4 to 9. Highly recommended is the award-winning lunch buffet, Mon–Fri (sometimes Sat.) 11:30 to 2. Stop in for Happy Hour, Mon–Fri, 4 to 6:30; BYO Wine Sun–Tues.

Lorenzo & Sons Pizza
27 N. High St. 484-999-8756;

Más Mexicali Cantina
102 E. Market St. 610-918-6280;

Mercato Italian Ristorante & Bar
33 W. Market St.
Southern Italian cuisine is the influence for Mercato Ristorante. Whether it’s a Neapolitan pizza baked in a brick oven, or artisan pasta and fish dishes prepared from authentic recipes, you will find an Old World experience here. Enjoy a full bar, wine cellar and outdoor seating, weather permitting.

Pica’s Restaurant
1233 West Chester Pk.

Pietro’s Prime Steakhouse
125 W. Market St.
Pietro’s Prime is an upscale, casual steak house and martini bar in the heart of downtown West Chester, serving prime cuts of beef and a variety of seafood selections. Dine in their rustic dining room setting or enjoy their outside patio seating. Stop by for live entertainment, Wed–Sat, in the bar area along with their signature martinis and cocktails.

Restaurant 51 Tap & Spirit
30 N. Church St. 484-887-8004;

Roots Cafe
133 E. Gay St. 610-455-0100;

Saloon 151 Whiskey Bar & Grill
151 W Gay St. 610-701-8489;
Saloon 151’s menu features slow cooked meats, hand cut fries, mix and match craft beers to go, and, of course, an extensive whiskey and craft beer list. The interior is pure country and they have daily Happy Hour specials. They also have a new bar for private events, great live music inside and on the patio and slushies. Open daily, 11 am to 2 am. 

The Social
117 E. Gay St. 610-738-3948;

Spence Cafe
131 N. High St. 610-918-1272; Spence.Cafe

38 E. Gay St. 610-738-8244;