Growth spurt

MELISSA YERKOV / WIRE PHOTO
Local residents walk down S. York Road in Hatboro last week. In the past two years, the borough’s commercial
occupancy increased from 76 percent to 98.5 percent.

By Ted Bordelon

Wire Managing Editor

If you’ve passed through Hatboro lately, you might notice it’s a bit more… busy.

No, it’s not just the typical gridlock at Byberry and S. York roads — it’s an explosion of business activity in the area that you might not have noticed if you weren’t looking for it.

In the past two years, the borough’s commercial occupancy rate shot up to 98.5 percent from 76 percent.

Why?

“The effort is a collaborative integration of all the community organizations, the government and Main Street Hatboro,” Steve Barth, marketing consultant for Main Street Hatboro, said.

Barth has worked for Main Street Hatboro, a nonprofit volunteer organization created in 1995 that aims to revitalize the downtown area of the borough, since 2011. The organization has been integral to bringing businesses to Hatboro, as was noted in the borough’s summer newsletter.

Barth said he viewed his role as that of a “concierge.”

“My role was helping small businesses negotiate leases and work on business plans,” Barth said. “I helped to connect the dots for people.”

Barth said that the portion of S. York Road that runs through Hatboro, which is nearly a mile long, was prime real estate for potential businesses, and that it was simply the matter of coordinating their decisions to open up shop in the borough.

“It’s really about bringing new investment to the community,” Barth said. “The borders in the community are small so you can really touch all of the businesses.”

He noted that upon joining Main Street Hatboro, there were “entire blocks that had been vacant for two to six years,” and that his main priority was securing leases with new and expanding businesses.

“It’s hard to affect the national economy but it’s easy to affect the local economy,” Barth said.

Local business owners praised Barth and Main Street Hatboro, and noted that the organization was a significant factor when deciding to open their doors in the borough.

“We talked with a couple of the different townships and boroughs of the area and they were the most acceptable of us doing business in their area,” Paul Mulhern, co-owner of Crooked Eye Brewery said. “They’ve been unbelievably cooperative.”

Mulhern operates the microbrewery with his brother-in-law and son, and it will be fully operational this fall. He noted that he feels like his business is part of a larger revitalization in Hatboro.

“A lot of people are feeling the same way,” Mulhern said. “They’re trying to revitalize it into a little New Hope or a little Peddler’s Village and it’s nice to be on the ground floor of that.”

John Bunce, CEO of Alencon Systems, a developer of utility scale power inverters for wind and solar farms, echoed Mulhern’s sentiments.

“I get the sense that a lot of growth is happening outside of the city,” Bunce said. “I always think, ‘If I were in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, it would be a nightmare to get something like a permit.’”

Main Street Hatboro assisted Bunce when Alencon Systems was determining an adequate location for its headquarters.

Old World Sausage Factory recently relocated to Hatboro from Warminster in July, and owner Gary Chase said that Main Street Hatboro and the local government were “very helpful” in piecing together the logistics of the move.

“It seems to have an energy that it’s re-growing now,” Chase said. “It feels like it’s the hub of a lot of new businesses.”

Barth said that there was no specific formula for the increase in commercial occupancy in the borough, but he said that his work with Main Street Hatboro will benefit the borough, particularly in terms of residential real estate value.

“Having a vibrant downtown is something that benefits the entire community,” Barth said.