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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bridgeport, PA - breeding local business

If you've ever driven through Bridgeport on your way to King of Prussia or points south using Dekalb St, you would have noticed a few things.

Bridgeport is sprucing up. Has been for years now. Revitalization has been happening right in front of everyone's faces and it looks to be moving along very well. The city planners weren't going to wait around for a promise from one big developer and hope it happened. Nope, they got straight to it with deals and incentives for new business to come in, and look what has happened. A Bridgeport that looks better and better every day, has new shops, new buildings, new places to live, and the stores and locations that have been synonymous with Bridgeport are thriving more than ever.

Is Bridgeport the new Manayunk? The answer is not yet. But they are getting there sooner than later. What exactly does that mean anyway? Well, if you are from the area you know Manayunk to be this quiet little strip of space along the river close to Philadelphia that got a huge lift and media push when some folks started cleaning up the location and adding new stores. Soon enough it was a restaurant mecca with little boutique shops and markets where people came from all over to spend the day shopping, walking along the river and soaking up some treats provided by the towns merchants.

Bridgeport is heading that way as well. An uplift of traffic to a town is a boon for it's local business. It's kinda like an internet site. Get the right key words out there and have your site land on the first page of any Google search and your sales are bound to go through the roof. have a quaint little town, provide new and exciting stores with great restaurants and eateries, a beautiful setting, maybe some history, and one thing that sparks the interest of the media to promote it via a news piece, and you have a success story like Manayunk.

Manayunk wasn't always the Manayunk you young folk think it was. Manayunk was a dump. Nothing there. Until Core States bank (remember that???) started sponsoring the bike race that just so happened to run through the little town of Manayunk. Someone realized that there was some opportunity there to start promoting business on that little strip of Main St. Fast Forward and there you have it.

So what puts Bridgeport into that category? What opportunity do they have that may catapult them into Manayunk status (Let me pause here. I can hear the mumbles right now from the competitive attitudes out there, "what does Manayunk have on us??...Don't kid yourself, Manayunk is now more of a brand than it is a place to live, eat, or shop)? What does, or what can Bridgeport do to Brand themselves?

Obviously the River is a good start. People love water, and the Schuylkill River is a beautiful stretch of it. If Norristown and Bridgeport could get their heads together I can't imagine what could possibly happen.

The difference Bridgeport has is their community. A community of people that live there for the community. They hold Feasts, own businesses, belong to the fire halls. The geography makes it a little unique as well. Kind of placed in a little valley that gets passed by traffic via the Dannehower Bridge. Yet, they still prosper. Iconic businesses such as the Bridgeport Ribhouse, Frosty Falls, Suzy-Jo Donuts, and Chics Tavern. These are places that have all gone to the ropes to promote not only their own businesses but the community as well.

But what events could be used to attract media interest to show that Bridgeport, from time to time, gets a whole bunch of people trekking through their little village? Chew on that. I might have some answers myself but let's move on for now.

The next couple of posts will be looking at some of those businesses in Bridgeport. Doing the piece on Brubakers got me thinking about this little gem of a town. So leave your comments on which businesses from Bridgeport you'd like to see have the spot light on them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


20 years ago Brubaker's Screen Printing opened their doors in Bridgport, PA. Today they instill the same care to customer service, quality of work, and overall commitment to the community as they did when they first opened.

Residing at 3 E 4th st. in Bridgeport, Brubaker's has come to be a community staple. "We have our book of corporate customers, contractors, restaurants and bars, and we make sure they get what they need when they need it", said Bob Doll, proprietor and general manager since 2000.

Brubaker's handles all jobs from screen printing, to embroidery to advertising specialties such as mugs, pencils, and calendars. "We do all the art work in house and we've always been successful in meeting our customers needs".

They take care of their own as well. Brubakers has done all the shirts for the Mt. Carmel Feast, the Sacred Heart Feast, as well as the apparel for county workers, local police forces, and numerous amounts of sports teams.

"We've focused on being green as well", said Bob. Not having any idea of how a screen printer could focus on the environment, I asked... "Lately there has been an upswing in materials that we use and sell for our products. The textile industry has focused on sustainable and recyclable products such as the materials they use to actually make the shirts. We also use a greener ink that is biodegradable and is made without toxic chemicals.", he explained.

Brubaker's have prided themselves on being prompt, as well as flexible to the community. They take average orders in the 70 range, but also handle jobs that go into the 1,000's as well as being able to handle orders as small as 20 pieces. "We do a lot of family reunions, parties, and such for personal reasons. It's a good indication of our solid reputation that we get a lot of recommendations when they're looking for shirts", said Damien who prints most of the orders.

Stop in and check out the shop as well. All screen printing is done on premise and you get to see how it's done. With a staff of only three, they always get the job done with the best quality results. "It's why we're successful. Of course there are bigger places, but we've built a solid reputation in the area and they always come back. I think that's an indication of the type of job we do.", stated Doll.

So if you are an established business looking for shirts for employees, or are a start up who needs help designing a logo and apparel, or even just looking to participate in a local fund raiser and need a "team" shirt, give these guys a shout. As many others can attest to, you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some clarification!

Since I posted the Battle of the Bakery idea, I have had some emails about the bakery's providing more sweet stuff. Like cakes and such. I guess I should have been more direct!

Both Corropolese and Conshy Bakery are purveyors of the wonderful tomato pie! Both also are very famous for their breads, rolls, and specialty cookies and things of that sorts. Both are Italian Deli's as well.

So, when deciding on who you would like to nominate - for this contest, think along the lines of Italian bakery's providing the likes of sandwich rolls, breads, and other specialties as well.

We'll get to the sweet shops later!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Battle of the Bakery's

With the summer well underway, the 4th of July fast approaching, and if you're life is anything like mine, Christmas being right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to debate the local bakery's.

Where I reside, there are two specific bakery's vying for top spot. Each has their own following based mainly on their longevity, the family tradition, and of course their locale.

The two I am referring to are Corropolese and the Conshy bakery. Both have created their own little niche within their communities as well as area wide.

What I want to accomplish is finding out what other bakery's there are in and around the area and then have a little bit of a contest. This blog hits a wide area, so I want to give the readers from outside the Norristown and Conshohocken areas a chance to nominate their local favorite.

So, leave a comment or send an email. I will be heading out to each location to interview the employees, take pictures, list their histories, their specialties, and even speak to consumers on site to get their advice.

After each bakery is reviewed, I'll do a final post with my opinions on the best bakery's and move forward from there with reader opinions. If you know of a bakery/ deli in your area that you think should be nominated, speak up!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DIggin' Deep - Part II

In the previous post I spoke about the effects that big box stores and national chains have on the local economy. Conclusions have been made by academia in the past that show how bringing Mass Merchandisers into the local community can actually be bad for the local economy. Of course, numbers and facts can be spun either way depending on which side of the fence you are on, so let's look at the other side. That is, how supporting local businesses effect the community.

First and foremost let's look at the economic impact. Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community. The tax base they create through sales, employment, and real estate taxes go directly back into the community. Small business never gets any sweetheart deals from local government. Locally owned businesses also create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.

Locally owned business also impacts the over all feel and support of the communities well-being. When was the last time you saw Target Store #345 take the field against Pizza Mia in the Plymouth Township little league? Local ownership also ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.

What I also find intriguing that I think escapes most is the uniqueness or individuality that a community keeps, or even gains when local businesses are the focal point.

For this I have specific proof. If you look at New Hope, PA, or Manayunk, Skippack, or even downtown Phoenixville, all three of these town centers prosper. They do so as almost an attraction. These places are visited mostly on the weekends by thousands of suburbanites as almost a Theme Park. The thing they all have in common? 100% small business and local businesses occupy all four centers.

Now, New Hope is near Peddlers Village, and there are a few outlets there, but for the most part, it's the local businesses that support these "attractions". People flock to these things on the weekends and during the weeks in the summers when kids are off. They are peppered with restaurants and bars, and local clothing shops, candles shops, and book stores.

Why do you think these places are successful? What makes them the attractions that they have become? Is it the feel people get when shopping in a place that offers more of a community feel? You might not realize it but it's the answer I get every time I pose the question.

The point is that the creation of these places have proven that we, as consumers, and members of the community itself, crave this type of experience. We yearn for the feel of community. We want the closeness and the reciprocating support that we give and get, realizing that all of our efforts are being funneled right back into the community.

The benefits of a thriving local economy are many, and obvious. For it is the community that feeds that local business that in turn supports that community. In today's climate, I would think that most would agree that community is needed more than ever.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Diggin' Deep - Part I

When I first started this blog I was thinking along the lines of helping to promote not only specific businesses within our community, but to try and make the case as to why it's important for us as consumers to patronize those local businesses.

I started to do some research and I found some really good resources out there with specific facts pointing to the degradation of local business and as well as a lot of opinion.

National chains continue to displace the small local businesses and they would have you believe that it is symptomatic of our own loss of community.  That may be true in some areas around the country.  It may even be true of some areas in our own community.  With larger corporations who are head-quartered in Montgomery County that tend to hire from outside of the area, bringing in talent from other divisions from out of state, or hiring new graduates from Universities all over the country, they certainly don't help with providing a stable community feel.

These people don't have a sense of community outside of the work place (because they aren't from here), and with the median tenure of all waged and salary employees (according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute) at 4.9 years, they never get a chance to lay down roots.

Local politicians are often lured by the political gain that bringing in a chain store can provide.  On the surface they will point to the new employment benefits and tax revenues that the new store will provide to the community.  Sometimes they will offer public funds or tax rebates to do so, but they will often ignore the greater costs in doing so.  Those costs include new road development, safety measures, and the fact that the jobs that are actually being created are lower paying part time jobs eventually displacing higher paying full time jobs from the business that is now going to have to slim down or even close up shop with not being able to compete with the new national chain.

Barnstable, Massachusetts performed it's own study to asses the local impact of national chains and concluded that it actually cost the tax payers more money providing those services and tax breaks to even get the chains in than would return to the community.

Of course there is then the question of where does the money come from to support these big chains?  According to the American Independent Business Alliance, a 1995 study of new Walmart stores across the country by Iowa State professor Kenneth Stone showed that 84% of Walmart's sales simply shifted dollars away from existing local businesses.  This included existing chain stores as well. 

He did yet another study on Home Improvement Stores in 2001 and concluded, "Is it fair to give taxpayers' money to big corporations that will then use it to help put existing firms out of business?"  Another  issue with Home Improvement Stores specifically is that they develop whole shopping centers that attract other chains to gain as much market share from the community as they can, therefore bolstering their profit margins. 

These larger stores have also focused on real estate.  In fact it could be said that Walmart, Home Depot, and even Wawa are now more interested in their real estate business than in providing 2x4's or coffee.  Not only are they making it hard for the local business to compete, they are buying up community land.   It's important to understand how vicious a cycle this can be.  When empty land is purchased it provides much needed real estate taxes to the township which were never realized before.  So it's understandable for a community politician to think that this can only be a good thing. But at what costs to the community?  How are those added tax revenues being used?  Are they going to the schools?

I don't want you to think that I am making a political statement here, nor am I suggesting that these national big box stores are the devil.  After all, we do live in a capitalist country.  One that I subscribe to and enjoy.  Anyone can start their own business, anyone can grow it to their abilities.  Survival of the fittest, and all that stuff.  What I am doing is laying the ground work to show WHY local business is the most important thing to focus on in our economic climate today.

In the next installment of this series I will be posting some facts pointed to small business.  What it does, what it creates, how it effects the community, and why it is important to understand those aspects and what effects the life of a local business has on the community it resides in.  

Monday, June 7, 2010


As I was combing through Facebook this morning I saw a status update from the fan page of Norristown Businesses/ Events.  The question was, who has the best water ice?  Buddy's was a favorite in my youth.  Marcy's also was a good one, but long since forgotten (Water Mellon was the best!).  Of course these are Norristown Specific so if you have your own local favorite, post them here in comments.

It's funny how many memories something as simple as water ice brings back.  Via Veneto was also listed as a possibility and that brought me to the basis of this post.

I wrote in a previous post how Via Veneto has the best Sicilian pie around.  Because it was a pizza post I left out the part of their business that has allowed that family to flourish.  That is their water ice.  So much so that the water ice division has their own website.

In 1976, the very first scoop of water ice was presented to friends and the the two brothers, Domenico and Natale, along with their cousin Vito knew they had something special.

Today, they sell their product all over the country in malls, stadiums, amusement parks, coliseums, golf courses, marina's, and the list goes on.  For more than 30 years they have manufactured, packaged and shipped from their production facility in West Norriton, PA.

The product is sold locally in numerous pizza shops, restaurants and deli's.  They also produce a private label product which is sold in supermarkets across the country.

This is truly a success story of how a local pizza shop seized an opportunity based on their passion and expertise.  With the success they had locally, they knew that with the right business model, they would be able to distribute their product on a much larger scale.  With 5 wholesale distributors, Via Veneto water ice isn't only available to us locals!

The water ice business has been very good to the family and yet, you can still see the Brothers working at the pizza shop.  Located on Markley St. in Norristown, they still stay true to their roots.   Regardless of your choice for the best water ice, I think it's clear that the most successful is Via Veneto's!  If you are reading this I can't believe that I would even need to say this, but if you haven't, get out and try this product.  With over 26 flavors you won't be left short of options!  My favorite?  Black Cherry!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Local Business Spotlight!

In the next few weeks this blog will be getting a slight overhaul.  Mainly in appearance but also in functionality where you will be able to request a write up on your favorite business.  You'll also be able to find a write up that has already been done on a specific business, and you will be able to add your own input or review on those business that have already been spotlighted.

While that is going on you, I will be traveling the county finding new businesses to spotlight.  If you know of any that have a specific place in your heart, or a place that you know has been around and really takes pride in their community, leave a comment here or email with your suggestions.  I'll be out and about taking pictures, interviewing the owners and customers as well getting input and feedback about what makes them who they are, their part in shaping the community, and how they have managed to do so.

Feel free to add what you would like to read more about as well.  This is for the community and what will make it a better, stronger, more independent economy.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A person is smart...People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals

I love that line.  Can you name the movie?

I read a Facebook status update yesterday from a friend who was interested in how others could still support BP Oil.  Why not drive the extra 5 minutes or spend the extra $0.10 a gallon please?

One of the comments left was...  People blamed Bush, and now Obama for unemployment in this country while they drive to Walmart.

I thought that was pretty profound actually.  Not really relevant to the original post but insightful nonetheless.  It's also something that goes unnoticed in this country.  It's the same reason why people are still going to BP.  Convenience.

We have ridiculous lives today.  We really do.  We work more, we work harder, we have less kids than previous generations but ten times the amount of activities.  Every second is sucked out of our schedules by exterior forces and we struggle to keep up.  Convenience has become a staple in our lives.  With the pressures to keep up it's almost unavoidable to seek out the easiest and quickest way, and that is what drives our decision making when it comes to purchases more than anything else.

The country, and world for that matter, is now more than ever in a crisis.  Thought the banks going under and broke were an issue?  How about entire governments?  Who's next?  What's next?  For most it doesn't seem to matter too much as long as their bills are being paid, their kids are being fed, and being able to pay for college is starting to look a little more palatable.

I look back to something my grandmother told me a while back.  When there is a big hole, start with little tiny stitches from one corner.  Start by making it strongest in the little spot first, then work your way out from there.  Now, she was talking about a tear in my football jersey, but old people suffering from a little senility often offer the best advice.

We as people can't affect the global situation ourselves.   We're dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.  As a person, we are able to start within our own communities.  Participating, getting involved, supporting local businesses and therefore the local economy.  That is how we will, as people, be able to effect change that will have immediate impact on OUR lives.

Local business leaders have always taken on that challenge.  I've had debates about who are leaders are within the communities.  The obvious answer is the elected officials.  Those who affect policy, etc.  I will tell you that while I appreciate those who are in office, I view the local business men and women as much better leaders.  Not one that I have spoken to or have interviewed for this blog have denied their responsibility to the community.  They all understand their role in driving the overall growth of each local area, not just in economics but by helping schools, churches, and community centers.

These people are doing their parts.  We should do ours by supporting them.  For it is within the local communities where we must start to take control back for the sake of our future.