It’s been a tough 10 years on West Mechanic Street.
Having just completed my tenth year in business in this weird little town on the Delaware River, and my twelfth year as a resident, I’d like to share some thoughts.
When I opened Mechanic Street MUGs in 2003, we hadn’t had a flood in almost 50 years. The canal was full of water, but the bridges were rusty and just not what they used to be. Everyone downtown had wells, and when there was a dark cloud over the town, the power went out.
Mechanic Street, as always, was where new businesses went to test their wings. The rents were still low, and the parking meters gave one a full hour for 25 cents and stopped being monitored at five in the afternoon. The Hacienda Hotel, Canal House, Tow Path, Karla’s, Wildflowers and Zoubi restaurants anchored the block for those in search of the best food in town. We were proud to label ourselves the “Tenderloin District of New Hope.” We had two exotic/erotic clothing shops, and two of the finest, most creative and clean tattoo parlors in the Delaware Valley. Tom Lynch and his partner Joe taught me how to do business the West Mechanic Street way — sitting out in front of the store and just taking in the sun and the life that walked by in ever-dwindling numbers.
In these past ten years, a lot has changed. Parking meters now cost you a dollar for an hour, and run until 10 p.m. Parking citations are $25, and fund the town police force. There is new water system that just cost me $10,000 to hook into, and took a whole summer to dig up and install.
We’ve endured three historic floods and a FEMA map change that has caused many residents to get expensive flood insurance. Two of the three bridges over the now-dry canal were rebuilt, and the canal barges disappeared. Over 100 parking spaces on West Mechanic Street were displaced by a nice new housing development, and the old Catholic church on the hill became Borough Hall. Then the recession hit and a new “down” was realized. We all adapted, staying open later, and trying fireworks to bring more people to town. Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream Shop started serving breakfast, and Fred’s opened.
Things on Mechanic Street have pretty much survived all of this and come out as it always does: about the same. We remain the “Tenderloin of New Hope” with three exotic/erotic clothing stores now, a punk rock emporium, the same two tattoo parlors, a store that defies naming and is locally called the “Dead Guy Shop”, my MUG Shop, a new Art Gallery, and still three of the best restaurants in town. There are nice street lamps, and we remain open many a night for those latecomers who like to eat first, then shop. Night Bird returned to West Mechanic Street a few years ago, and just to give us even more respectability, the newly-renovated and invigorated Bucks County Playhouse opened its offices here. Not much else has changed. We still pay $375 every year to run a business here in town, yet the Borough Council pays little notice to this part of the community — after all, businesses don’t get to vote.
But perhaps the biggest change happened just this past week, and not on West Mechanic Street. A New Hope icon literally got tossed out of his home and business. Bob Gerenser and his family have lived and run businesses here in New Hope for decades, and last week, when he was told to leave his home and business, nobody really noticed or said much.
We all know the story, and have strong opinions on what happened and why. That’s not the point. I remember the day in July during my opening summer when Captain Bob walked up West Mechanic Street dressed as General George Washington and on the steps of the newly-opened General Store read out loud to passers-by his own personal copy of the Declaration of Independence. Things like that don’t just happen in every town in America. Bob was a real active member of this community, and we both loved and hated the things he thought and said. But that’s what we do here in New Hope.
I will miss him, and as far as I’m concerned Bob has a free pass to my store — anything you want, Bob, just ask! When we do well in New Hope, we share the wealth, but when we fail and have to close the doors of our hopes, little gets said. So, to Bob I say, “We, the people…will miss you.” Come on up to Mechanic Street anytime you want and pull up a chair.
Mechanic Street MUGs
(The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Free Press)