A Diverse Cast of Small Business Owners Expand & Improve West Chester’s Cultural Landscape story & photos by Jesse Piersol artist spotlights by Ryan Wasser
rom restaurants to salons, antique stores to funeral homes, West Chester’s diverse business owners breathe life into our vibrant downtown. But their influence in the community stretches far beyond what they purvey in their brickand-mortar spaces.
The Antique Shop, 11 N. Church St. Tucked within The Antique Shop’s dense array of sparkling Heisey glass, gold-rimmed crystal, and shelves of brightly colored Fiesta dinnerware is Alice Thomas. She and her business partner, Betty Jean Newsome, have been selling antiques here on Church Street since 2003, but their business venture started out almost 30 years ago, with a
stand in the Smithbridge Antique Mall. It is difficult to tell from the shop’s formidable inventory that antiques have not been Alice’s sole occupation in life. After working for 10 years as a licensed practical nurse, she spent 35 years as a case worker at Henderson High School, chaperoning games and field trips. During this time, she worked tirelessly alongside her mentor, Dr. W.T.M. Johnson, to champion integration in the community. “This was in the 50s and 60s,” she recounts. “I was the younger member. He’d pick me up for meetings and we’d march at banks and at the schools for integration. We had a lot of problems back then.” In 1973, Alice formed Henderson’s Black Student Union, the first of its kind in the area. “We formed it to let our kids know that they could compete. That they could take challenging class-
es and not just the basic classes.” Facing discrimination in everything from cheerleading to the band, academics, and social events, “Our kids decided they wanted to host functions and go to colleges,” she relates. “So we went to museums. We took bus trips to visit colleges—Howard, Kutztown, Temple— schools they’d never visit otherwise. The point was to give them exposure. Our kids were challengers. When there were things out there, they’d compete, and that was our thrust.” Alice would recruit members of the community to help with scholarships. “I’d go into all the banks, the churches, and appeal to people to get scholarships for our kids. I was a believer. If I decided to do something, I did it.” At 86, a single job is still not enough challenge for Alice. She’s currently penning a biography about her husband of 60 years, the late Charles A. Thomas, a phar-
JANUARY 2017 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough