The changing face of the Ville

When students came back to Swarthmore after the summer, a new Swarthmore village greeted them. The town is now dotted with empty buildings as several businesses either collapsed or changed locations. Although each store closed for different reasons, Borough President Tom Huestis observed, “there are more vacancies at one time than I remember for a long time.”

Several stores closed for reasons personal to the owners, according to Kathy Gerner, president of Swarthmore Town Center Inc, which is a non-profit organization focused on improving the business district. The owners of Kerri’s Kandies, a candy store, and Da Vinci’s, a café near Dunkin Donuts, closed their Ville stores to reopen in locations nearer to their homes. Cricket Way, the antique shop, closed down because the owner found that trading antiques online was more profitable.

However, Booksource, a bookstore, and the Village Restaurant both closed down because they were struggling financially. The restaurant had been open for almost thirty years. It was also a local favorite, particularly attracting senior Borough residents. Despite the loyalty of its customers, the restaurant was unable to remain competitive as the demographics of the town changed, said Scott Richardson, owner of Occasionally Yours, a sandwich and catering shop on Park Avenue.

The barren storefront of The Village Restaurant.

“The Village Restaurant was there, but it had a niche it filled for older generation,” he said. “As they moved out, they had less customers, and it wasn’t the type of menu that a younger group of people would want.”

While a handful of stores have failed, many others are seeing significant growth; in the last year, the Co-Op profits rose between 8-10%, Dunkin Donuts rose 11%, and Occasionally Yours rose 28%.

Potential tenants have already been found for all but one of the empty spaces. Since the new business will help redefine the downtown, the borough has been seeking specific types of landlords.

“What we don’t want is a lot of service providers, such as insurance offices,” said Huestis. “They don’t generate a lot of foot-traffic and economic activity. Some of that is fine, but what we’ve been trying to do is keep it retail that is interesting and appropriate to the town.”

The key for a business is to match the town’s environment, which Richardson describes as “artsy and educated”. One successful example is the new Creative Living Room, which provides creative art classes, including music, dance, drama, art, Spanish, according to its website. The borough seemed receptive to the space, according to Mayor Eck Gerner.

“I attended their opening on Saturday afternoon and it was the largest opening I can remember, other than Dunkin Donuts and the Co-Op,” he said.

Evolving as a college town

Swarthmore College students are quickly becoming a focus as potential business clientèle. Commerce in the Ville has felt the sting of the Swarthmore bubble as the campus became self-sufficient with two coffee bars, the bank, and student-run cafes.

“It’s hard to compete with the College, because it’s so convenient,” said Gerner, president of the Swarthmore Town Center. “Unless you’re coming down for dinner or Dunkin Donuts, there’s a lot for you on campus, so you don’t need to come to town.”

That was not always the case. Before the Franklin Mint Credit Union opened on campus in 1992, students used visit the PNC bank downtown. Gerner recalled often seeing a long line of students waiting outside of the bank.

Several businesses are recognizing the need to attract college students. Co-Op General Manager Gerry Greway said, “What [businesses] need to say is, this is a college town. [We need] a collection of stores that actually meet both needs of parents visiting and people who live nearby.” Greway particularly noted the absence of a “hip coffee shop,” that seems emblematic of a “college town.”

The Co-op has launched student-friendly initiatives of its own, such as offering a selection of gourmet cheeses and more prepared food. It hopes to offer free wireless soon. “We’re in the embryo stages of connecting with students in the college. I consider them an important part of the community,” said Greway.

The main problem is bridging the gap between students’ and residents’ needs.

“Nothing is open late at night because many of us own our businesses, and we can’t stay till late,” said Richardson.

Among prospective student-friendly business ideas, Richardson quickly ruled out a nightclub, or similar types of establishments.

“What would kids come down for?” asked Gerner. The Town Center aims to reach out to students to answer this elusive question. It also wants to introduce students to the resources already available. While it maybe a virtue to have small, specialty stores in Swarthmore, the stores risk falling into obscurity.

Two students, Otis Comorau ‘10 and Carl Shapiro ‘10, expressed a desire for a used bookstore downtown, not realizing that Booksource used to sell old and rare books. Another choice was a bridge club, a resource the Dew Drop Inn already has on Mondays, but at an inconvenient time for students.

Comorau’s final request was a Mambo club.

Published in The Daily Gazette: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2008/09/10/ville-changes/

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Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Summer Blues

Anyone missed me? I figured a summer update was in need even though this blog is not currently sponsored by  Admissions anymore.

School is out, and summer is in. After about two weeks of languishing, I started my internship at Delphi Corp, which is very different and very interesting. Admittedly, I wake up earlier than I did at school (I start at 8 in the morning) and I  end later. In school, all the “work” we do is purely academic. Academics become all-consuming; all my energy and time is spent on researching and writing papers or studying. I forgot that “real life” isn’t like college: hours melding together in front of the computer screen, trying to exceed the professor’s expectations about an esoteric academic topic. (You form expectations of yourself when you see the meticulous 100 page papers of upperclassmen honors students.) Thankfully, I’ve suspended that for the summer and the pressure has decreased.

“Real world” is more about collaboration of colleagues and a working through series of tasks. Ultimately it can culminate into a paper or a product design, etc. The deadlines are stringent, but there aren’t other countless obligations vying for your attention. It’s summer. At the end of the day, I can go home and spend time with friends instead of doing  homework or going to meetings. The first day, I told my mentor that I could finish the report over the weekend. She laughed at me and said she didn’t want me to do work outside of the office. It was pleasantly bewildering albeit slightly embarrassing.

I’ve also finally integrated myself back into mainstream pop culture, which includes shopping, watching TV and movies, and reading for pleasure! I remember that my hall-mates last year created a list of books that they wanted to read over the summer. While I hadn’t thought about it extensively (need to finish Lolita), I discovered an array of new books that have come out, including A Thousand Splendid Suns, the sequel to The Kite Runner. I’m back to being a “normal” kid. But one difference is that I pay more attention that small details that I used to simply accept. My mom’s kind of annoyed that I keep trying to engage in her arguments or discussions about things I read in the news, or dissect the literary aspects of movies. But for the most part, I’m trying to let my brain idle. It’s summer.

Published in: on July 19, 2007 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Until later…

12 hours later, after turning in my last final, I am back home. Keys turned in, room cleared out. My goodbyes, “have a good summer, see you in 3 months,” said. No one can deny that they love Swat, but it’s nice to be home again.

For the time being, I shall say, “have a fantabulous summer” to you guys; I hope you have enjoyed this cyber-journey through my second semester of freshman year. See you in three months, especially if you are in the class of 11 : )

Yours truly,

Ramya

Published in: on May 19, 2007 at 2:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Swatgasm

I know my last entry was all about how finals week has been monotonous and endless. Well, today I think I had multiple swatgasms that made me realise why I love it here. It was a good reminder.

After all of us turned in our spiritual autobiographies for my freshman religion seminar, we collectively decided to share them with each other even though they were all very personal. Some emailed them to the class, but I met two girls for lunch to share our “meaning of life”. It was two hours and twenty minutes of swatgasmic conversation about religious institutions, the history and culture of slavery explained through African dance, public education system, communities and individuals and how those relate to colonization and varying ideas of democracy, etc. And of course, the literal spiritual journey of our respective lives. Each of them brought many thought-provoking perspectives. It was interesting because Lisa sees the world through poli-sci lenses, Kaitlin through socanth, and I through economics. I don’t think we would have conversed like this if we were at some other school…it was a wonderful bonding time outside of class.

Yeah, Lisa! : )

…back to this paper, blergh.

Published in: on May 17, 2007 at 2:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Finals Week & First Collection Pictures

The reading period before final week is meant to be for us to study hard before the onslaught of testing begins. Reading week begins the day classes end (two Fridays ago) and go until the day before exams start (last Thursday: my econ exam at 9 am!!) To help us relax before, in-between and after our studying, the school gives us a weekend of fun events and various study breaks through the week.

Willets Carnival
There was a popcorn and cotton-candy machine, an inflatable obstacle course, a dunk tank, lots of food and happy people. That evening, they also showed movies on Parrish beach.

SAC Study Breaks
SAC, our Students Activities Committee, held daily study breaks with the left over money from the Fun Fund. It was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. They gave free pizza, donuts and muffins, sushi, fresh fruit, chocolate, cheese, and sparkling drinks, Coldstone ice cream and Rita’s water ice. (My friend adds “happiness and joy”.)

Entertainment
A few Swat bands played in Worth courtyard…all of Saturday. On Friday, a few of the dance classes preformed, and I think there were a few plays being preformed. On Monday and Tuesday there was Rhythm-n-Motion a performance as well as Jamboree. Graduating members of SASS (an Intercultural Group) held a grill party on Parrish beach. And people decided to sing folk songs for hours in Parrish Parlors. It was supposed to be relaxing?

There was something for everyone…really.

And then…

FINALS HIT

It’s been a long two weeks since we have nothing else to do but study and write papers. The days are endless without any study breaks. It’s been strange to lose the everyday structure that grounded us through the school year. On one hand, it’s liberating to wake up to your own schedule, but it’s hard to pull yourself into work-mode. Except when I do, I can’t stop. Yesterday, I edited my paper from 9 am to 5:30 pm (it was due at 6 pm); I was revising a revised draft! With papers you can always find more to add or revise. With studying for exams, you can never attain certainty that you have studied enough. It’s the universal trauma of academia.

I’m envious of those people who got to leave last week. But the seniors are leaving forever…so I’m glad I get to spend these last few days with them. Same goes for my Swatties.

I’ll update you on whether I am still alive by Friday.

Meanwhile, below are a few pictures from first collection.

n4102583_30280987_6565.jpgOh, Tiffany!

n4102583_30280986_62831.jpgClass of ’10 : )

Published in: on May 16, 2007 at 1:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Almost Sophomores?

Belated entry below, my apologizes. Finals have been eating away at my free time.

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The freshman class of 2010 were cheated out of a true first collection in the amphitheater in the fall because it was raining. One of our classmates, Lisa, arranged a re-doing of first collection in the amphitheater. We all sat in the dark listening to Jim Larimore’s speech (which sounded like a commencement speech for sophomores) and 16 feet sing the alma mater. And when we all had our candles lit, it became infinitely more magical. Especially when you look around and realise you know almost everyone in one fashion or the other; they aren’t strangers but people you’ve had “moments” with. Intimate or not.

I like the comfort of being at the bottom of the hierarchy. We’re kind of babied and spoiled by the upperclassmen who are always there to give us advice. Now, we have to be knowledgeable ones for the incoming freshman. Sophomores rule the school. It’s all the sophomores who have the leading roles in all the organizations. For example, the co-presidents of all the intercultural groups are sophomores. The managing editor of The Phoenix will be a sophomore and same for the editors of the section. I am going to be the lead editor of Ourstory since the seniors are graduating the junior wants to relieve herself of the work.

We shoulder the responsibilities. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that we can gain all this experience early. Nothing is as easy as it seems. We get to shape the school. On the other hand, it requires putting a lot of time. I’m terribly excited that I can be one of the hands to mold the school for the future.

But for right now…let me finish my 2 papers and 1 take home exam :/

Published in: on May 13, 2007 at 12:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Humanities vs. Sciences and Home

Although Swarthmore is a small, unified liberal arts college, humanities students (I’m grouping social science into this) gain a very different Swarthmore experience than natural science students. The academic buildings they live in (science center and martin), the people they associate with, the activities they participate in, the homework load, the goals they have in mind. My philosophy professor made a comment on philosophy that sparked deep reflection in me. He said that knowledge is intended to shape who we are as people. If that’s true, the people that humanities students become are entirely different than the people sciences shape students to be, even though both can intersect.

Another comment made my philosophy teacher helped us appreciate the value of the humanities. Although modern education is intended to foster progress, technological, moral, economic, political, the college experience helps us become better humans. Humanities courses force you to question and re-examine personal traditional beliefs. For example, in my religion class, we were given a reading assignment called the “religion of the market” which investigated the capitalistic market system by analogizing it to religion. It made a compelling argument that forced me to think about why I believe what I believe. No, we’re not communist anarchist at Swarthmore. Far from it. But I feel like these humanities classes help me think more intelligently in my every day life. It stretches my willingness to broaden my horizons, to borrow a cliche. While I have been growing personally or “spiritually” as we say in my religion class, I have managed to still be academic. Kierkegaard, Simone Weil, Martin Buber (in religion), Aristotle, Descartes, Dewey (in philosophy), are serious, challenging academic readings. These classes allow me to straddle both worlds of humanities (being a human) and academia.

For a science students, the focus of some sciences classes are far more concrete; especially engineering. Part of this may be that some students want to get pre-med requirements out of the way, early, so freshman and sophomores take more academically concrete natural sciences courses. It’s usually, Bio 1, Bio 2 and Orgo 1, Orgo 2 and so on. Each are lab courses, of course. It’s pretty intense. Another similar major is computer science, where classes, beginning classes at least, are very focused on developing skills and concrete knowledge. Thus, in these beginning years, my Swat experience diverges from other science students’ experience.

Even in religion, there are other courses that are more academic. Such courses focus on more political/historical contexts. And there are many science classes which focus on more human aspects, like Bioethics, Philosophy of Science…I’m sure there are more. I guess in the end you can get what you look for. Some people just don’t appreciate it enough.

Summary: TAKE HUMANITIES/SOCIAL SCIENCE CLASSES.

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I came back this morning from a family friend’s house, where I spent the night. It made me realise how much more relaxed I am away from Swat. I could eat “mindfully”, without worrying about finals at every moment. In college, no matter which one, you never get a break from being a student; it’s a 24/7 thing. Away, I felt more completely human. Now I am back, and I am carrying back that feeling with me to Swat.

Published in: on May 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

May Day!

DISCLAIMER: This is the second post in one day, so you should read the one below as well.

May Day! It was the day for accepted students to turn in their deposits to Swat. If you were one of those people and read this blog, leave a comment! I’m so excited to meet all the new freshies.

Also, Swarthmore Labor Rights and Swarthmore Immigrant Rights (SIR) collaborated to campaign for immigrants rights through letter-writing and marching in Kennett Square, a borough west of Swarthmore, with mushroom pickers. The only reason I know is because I wrote an article on it. If any of this interests you then click!

Published in: on May 4, 2007 at 12:27 am  Comments (4)  

Twin Passions

It seems that many Swarthmore students straddle the subject areas of humanities/social sciences and “hard” sciences. For example, one of my hallmates is a biology major who is deeply invested in political science. The liberal artsyness of this college allows students to involve both in their life; biology and religion, economics and math, physics and english/political science. Other than a double major, students can have a special major where they find a specific connection between the two subject areas. Then there are people like me who might have been interested in the natural sciences and then realised that we prefer the humanities. I’m still exploring.

With music, I realised that many students are at least interested in it even if they aren’t academically invested. There are numerous “academic” musical and dance groups. And then there are some bands, like Earl Grey and the Tea Bags. It’s often a surprise to discover that someone had a secret talent for music or/and dance. Other times, familiarity is welcoming. For example, I went to an orchestra concert last weekend and I knew almost every musician in it, either by sight/name or personally.

If musical/dance groups don’t appeal to you and you don’t want to work for a double major, there are more than enough non-academic opportunities to satisfy you. One of the members of the Phoenix staff is a biology major who is also a WA, writing associates. Interesting, no?

It’s nice to know that “conflicts” between intense interests don’t necessarily have to be resolved by choosing one or the other. Oh, lovely Swat in full bloom. (Literally too.)

Published in: on May 4, 2007 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Swat Fun

As the end of the year comes around (the end of my first year in college), events have been tripping over each other for space in the days. Lectures, panels, large-scale cultural group meetings, performance arts events, fun stuff, all in short spaces. Last weekend my friends and I went to Philadelphia for wonderful Thai food (non-sharples delight) and a concert. Unfortunately we missed
1 Dance classes putting on a performance
1 Play
1 Jazz Concert Recital
1 Party
at least.

This week is the last week of classes. My religion seminar was held outside near the President’s House (yes, he lives on campus) under a cherry blossom tree near a lilac tree. Aside from intense discussion, we ended the course by meditating for a while. The campus is celebrating by having a Willets carnival tomorrow, movies on Parrish beach complete with popcorn and cotton candy, music, food, parties, etc.

Seriously, we do work. I have 1 15 page spiritual autobiography to write, 1 3 hr english exam to prepare for, 1 3 hr stat exam and a philosophy paper or exam. It’s not as bad as my roommate who has 4 papers, 1 exam, 1 presentation and 1 lab report to write. Let the misery poker begin. Cheers to the end of the year!

Published in: on May 3, 2007 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment