2000, community leaders decided it was time to set their own destiny for West Chester. The decade before saw the borough with a shrinking population, commercial property values in the tank, and a crime rate higher than the national average. All this in a county that finished the same decade with a growth rate of 15%, making Chester County the fastest growing, and by many measures, the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania. What happened? In the second half of the 20th century, West Chester had up to five department stores, two theaters, and four hotels that acted as so-called anchor businesses. Most of these businesses were part of national corporate chains and the locally owned shops and restaurants depended on them to create customer traffic. The inherent economic problem with the chains is that, while their strength is in creating customer traffic, the shopping dollars spent at the chain does not stay within the community on the same level as with locally-owned businesses. According to the National Main Street Center, for every $100 spent in a corporate big-box retailer, such as Wal-Mart, only $10 remains in the community to be recycled back into the local economy. This compares to $100 spent in a locally-owned business where $60 of that makes its way back into the community, thus compounding its impact and creating an economic value of $250. Penn State calls this the Multiplier Effect. After the first transaction takes place at a local business, there can be up to ten more transactions before the effect of the original transaction is completely exhausted. This effect is particularly evident in communities that have, at least in part, a tourism component to their economy. One example is to compare the community of Gresham, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, which is regarded as having the largest local economy in that state, primarily because of the big-box retailers, car dealerships and strip malls along a massive boulevard. When I visited on a consulting gig a couple of decades ago, I noticed that the area may be generating lots of big ticket sales, but there is not a sense that one would want to live there.
“Our meeting and event space also inspires creativity and productivity,” says Chad Williams. He is a co-founder and partner of the parent company align5 that opened align.Space in the F&M Building at the corner of Market & High.
I was able to compare it to Baker City, in rural eastern Oregon, which is considered among the economically poorest communities in that state. But because it’s located near the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center — not
huge, but it’s something — the tourist dollars that were spent there, stayed there. The result is that Baker City has every appearance of a charming small town with a high livability quotient. So basically, it's a matter of the capture and leakage of dollars spent within a community. Downtown West Chester stakeholders recognized this at the start of the millennium, and they focused on sustainability as part of the strategy to create a new economy for downtown. They
APRIL 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough