Around Town

Opinion: Message in a bottle to Captain Bob

Bob Gerenser

Bob Gerenser (with red scarf)

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.

Everyone talked of the old days — those fabulous times when shops like Now & Then sold smoking papers and rock star posters to everyone from all over New Jersey to as far west as Harrisburg and points north and south. You could sit on the steps of the church and play your music, but if you made too much noise you got chased away to the bridge, they said. And parking tickets cost $5.

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.

Joel Roberts
Mechanic Street MUGs

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Free Press)

About the author



  • A 1930’s composition doll sat inside a bird cage is not a bound, tortured child. I’m disappointed we couldn’t meet in the middle, Charlie. Not all art is pretty~

  • I’m the newcomer in town, opening a Gothic art gallery with antiques and peculiars in the mix. The Creeper Gallery at 7 West Bridge Street.
    That said, I’ve lived just over the bridge in Titusville for 12 years after 15 years in another small village town, Hopewell Borough. I understand small town life enough with the good and the bad.
    As for New Hope, I grew up as a young girl running my hands up and down the railing that used to be for the liquor store on W. Bridge St.
    I’ve lived through the 3 floods and have seen the changes in New Hope over the past 20+ years. Mostly, ones that make me a little sad and nostalgic for the way things were. Isn’t that par for the course in life.
    A large contributor in our decision to open our gallery in New Hope and not elsewhere, was to help bring back that shock and awe that was once New Hope. That wonderful unique quirkiness that has always been part of the New Hope charm, we felt was lacking since the recession from hell. We know our work grabs attention. Love it or hate it, it causes conversation and that is never a bad thing.
    I also, thought that via my volunteerism with local causes, I wouldn’t feel so much of an outsider coming into such a “big” small town.
    We had our hearts set on West Bridge for many months and for many reason but mainly to help bring life back to a street that seemingly looked shut down all together for over 2 years with the constant signage of:
    Imagine our surprise when we lost our first location 36 hours before signing the lease because of discrimination of our art. A place we had “secured” 4 months in advance and we NEVER even negotiated the rent amount. We were happy to pay asking! Happily, in the end it worked out in our favor.
    Imagine our confusion/frustration when a NHFP reporter gives us a pretty crappy write up and skews the piece to show us in a bad light, and we haven’t even opened our doors yet nor met the man? It wreaked of agenda and we have since learned why.
    Yes, I knew there would be politics. What I naively did not expect was a type of catty’ness from grown educated men who have given off the “there is no room for you here” vibe.
    You want New Hope to prosper? You want a taste of the old days? Well then, let new people in. Let us walk that parade beside you, let us contribute, let us volunteer.
    Don’t judge newbies by what you think you understand, because you just don’t. Not yet anyway.
    Let “us” do what we do. Judge after we have been given a shot at our dream and how about this…judge us by the content of our character!
    I do not begrudge you to earn a living, so do not do it to me, is all I ask of you.
    There is room for EVERYONE to earn in New Hope. I 1000% believe that to be true. So let “us” help you by sending our customers over to your shop and if the mood strikes you, do the same for us.
    I do want to thank Stasia at Love Saves The Day, Joy and Monica at Curious Goods, Brad and Tania at Cryer’s & Jessica the Psychic for all trying to make us feel REALLY welcomed and helping us find our footing after the initial cold reception.
    Happy Selling~

  • I don’t understand (out of the loop up here in upper Bucks) – what on earth happened? Bob has been an integral piece of the New Hope puzzle for so long, and I’m proud to call him my friend. What happened??

  • I gotta say … I hate to see anyone lose their livelihood .. especially one that has some history … but that ice cream store has been a dump for at least the past 20 years .., I’m glad to see someone, anyone, take over that awful, rundown crappy eyesore … you can’t sit back and expect the town to save you just cuz you’ve been a fixture … you’ve got to at least try to keep up with what’s going on around you …

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