It would be impossible to list each business that has contributed to the vitality of downtown West Chester; there are, after all, over 600 businesses that call downtown home, each one adding the character of our community in their own unique way.
But there is a short list of shops, restaurants, and even professional businesses that have defined downtown as we know it today. Each has its own contribution to the history and hospitality that we’ve come to enjoy, and more than a few have an impressive longevity that demonstrates how a business can adapt to trends without losing their sense of place. It’s an incomplete list, to be sure, but certainly a good place to start.
IRON HILL BREWERY& RESTAURANT – 3 W GAY ST
Casual, upscale and distinctive, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant is often credited with the downtown renaissance that’s become the hallmark of the West Chester’s 21st century revival.
Opened in 1998 by owners Kevin Finn, Mark Edelson, and Kevin Davies at the site of the old Woolworth’s store, Iron Hill became known for their New American cuisine and award-winning, handcrafted ales and lagers, brewed just feet away from customers.
But it was by no means without challenges. “It was scary,” said Kevin Finn in a 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer article. It was a feeling shared by Kevin Davies, Finn’s partner, who said, “I was afraid we would go bankrupt.” Instead, Iron Hill has become an anchor for the dining scene in downtown.
Coincidentally, the brewery takes its name from their first location near the site of a Revolutionary War battle out-side of Newark. Today, the West Chester location sits where the first school house, built in 1760, provided education for the children of early settlers. In 1777, it too became part of the revolution when a field hospital took over the school during the Battle of the Brandywine. It’s said that soldiers are buried there.
JANE CHALFANT /KIKI BOUTIQUE – 123 N HIGH ST
When Jane Chalfant first opened their doors in the fall of 1933—yes, 1933—they never imagined the type of impact they would have, not just on the women’s fashion industry, but also on the small (and soon to be booming) borough of West Chester.
For the ensuing eight decades, Jane Chalfant (which later became known as Jane Chalfant | Kiki Boutique) has been providing women with the latest fashion trends, accessories, and jewelry for any outing or occasion.
Their knowledgeable staff provides top-notch customer service to each and every customer, as well as some of the best fashion advice around. By traveling to trade-shows and different cities around the world, the current owners of Jane Chalfant, Kiki & Pat Comerford, have been able to change with the times and the ever-changing fashion industry. Expert alterations are available off premises, and don’t forget to ask about the free parking located right out back!
FAIRMAN’S – 43 W GAY ST
After a successful start in Delaware County, Fairman’s Skate Shop chose the corner of Church & Chestnut Streets for their second location in 1988. Moving just one block to the corner of Gay & Church Streets in 2000 established the “board sports lifestyle” store as a key retail destination and anchor of the rap-idly growing downtown.
Fairman’s has also sponsored generations of talented skaters trying to work their way into the upper echelons of the sport. For a time, Fairman’s was in the national spotlight when a young member of it’s team, Bam Margera, catapulted to stardom.
Fairman’s continues to thrive under new ownership, committed to serving the skateboarding community as well as customers who just want to wear popular clothing and footwear brands. Next time you visit, take a close look at the authentic “history wall” inside the front door. It tells the intriguing story of how the business began and grew.
KALY CLOTHING – 37 W GAY ST
What once stood as one of just a few retail shops downtown in the late 1980’s has since become a staple for the West Chester community and visitors alike. Kaly Clothing was first opened by Holly Brown in 1988 and later passed down to her daughter and current owner Polly Zobel.
Although the store has gone through a number of changes over the years, the goal at Kaly has always stayed the same: to cater to the local community. It’s about finding clothes and items for your life that you will love and can wear time and time again—and about feeling good about wearing.
When you shop at Kaly, you will find a wonderful selection of clothes, accessories, and gift items, most of which are sustainable, organic, handmade, fair-trade, or made in the USA. Yes, it’s possible to be responsible and on-trend.
TAYLOR’S MUSIC STORE AND STUDIOS – 116 W GAY
West Chester’s oldest retail store is Taylor’s Music Store and Studios. It is, in fact, celebrating 90 years of serving as the center for musical instruments and music education in Chester County. Offering everything from guitar picks to grand pianos, music lessons to sound support systems, it also features full-service departments for instrument repair, rental and sales.When John I.
Taylor opened the store, the country was headed into the Great Depression. You read that correctly: Great Depression—Taylor’s opened in 1929 right as the stock market was crashing. But John survived by operating just a small, one-room store.
As he became established in the community, Taylor’s grew into a shop serving every musical need for both families and schools. Eventually the store grew to eight times its original size.Today, owners Tom Buglio and Len Doyle have expanded the store to 25 teaching studios educating more than 350 students per week. There’s even audio-visual recording studios on-site and a recital room.
Elle Steinman and Dave Fairman contributed to this article.
Photos by: Courtney Potts