Former Acme store crumbles into history
NEWTOWN – A heavy metal wrecking ball symbolically struck the side of the former Acme store on Sycamore Street Saturday morning sending a wave of excitement rippling through a crowd numbering more than 500 people.
The excitement turned to a loud cheer as Newtown Township Supervisor Mike Gallagher, working the controls of the demolition equipment, sent the wrecking ball slamming into the building a second time, this time bashing a hole into the cinder block wall.
Moments after the symbolic strike, the real wrecking crew from DeNucci Excavating moved into place with a demolition excavator and began ripping down the building. Twisted beams of metal crashed to the ground sending clouds of dust drifting through the early fall air.
“Clean up in aisle four,”someone shouted jokingly as people, many of them wearing plastic yellow commemorative hard hats, stood behind a protective fence, capturing the moment with photographs and video.
A group of former store employees watched as the once thriving neighborhood store where they spent years working disappeared from the landscape and into the pages of Newtown history.
Among them was Lisa Schlechter, who worked at the store for 22 years before moving to the new Acme store in the Newtown Shopping Center.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling. We’re seeing a lot of memories go away,” said Schlechter.
“This was an icon in Newtown for many years,” she said, “and we have a lot of memories. A lot of us became really close friends here. It’s like a second family. It was a little neighborhood store. Everybody knew everybody. But it was time for it to go,” she said.
The demolition will make way for The Promenade, a two building mixed use retail and luxury apartment redevelopment project that promises to breathe new life into WhH 6yFDPRUH 6WUHHW FRUULGRU DnG WR IuOfiOO the vision of a pedestrian-friendly downtown street.
“I apologize it took this long,” the project’s managing partner, Jim Worthington, told the crowd. “You guys have been great. The township has been phenomenal. They’ve done everything they could to get this thing going. And I’m happy as heck to be able to knock it down. I’m tired of looking at it. I’m sure you’re tired of looking at it.”
Worthington anticipates breaking ground on The Promenade next spring with completion scheduled for around this time next year. It will include two free-standing buildings, a one story retail structure next to the Historic Presbyterian Church at the south end of the property and a larger, three story structure on the north side with sidewalk retail and 26 luxury apartments on the VHFRnG DnG WhLUG flRRUV.
“This building (the former Acme) has served this community for so long and so well, but it’s about time,” said U.S. Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who was DPRnJ WhH SuEOLF RIfiFLDOV DnG EuVLnHVV leaders who were invited to speak at the Demolition Party thrown by Worthington.
“Good things come to those who wait and this community has waited a long time and a very good thing is about to happen,” he said. “They call it genWULfiFDWLRn DnG FRPPunLWy planning. It means they’re going to take something old and make it new again. And no community deserves that more than Sycamore Street, Newtown and Bucks County. We’re looking forward to great things here.”
Gesturing toward the dilapidated building nearby, State Rep. Steve Santarsiero joked with the crowd. “What’s the big deal? You guys don’t like this? I don’t get it,” he said, to laughter from the gathering.
“This is a moment to reflHFW Rn WhH SDVW, EuW DOVR WR think about the good things that are coming in the fu- ture,” said Santarsiero. “Once this is gone and the Promenade is here it’s really going to make a difference to Sycamore Street and to the economic health of our community.”
Shawn Ward, president of the Sycamore Street Association, described the moment as “truly historic” for Newtown Township and for Sycamore Street and the continuation of a long path that began nearly two decades ago with a new vision for the street – a town center corridor that will bring new life and vitality to the street.
In 2001, Ward said Newtown Township assumed the lease of the Acme site when the grocery store moved to its present location in the township. A year and a half later, the township partnered with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority to acquire the site for redevelopment.
Over the ensuing years, numerous ideas were put forward for the site, including a community center, a skate park, a public parking garage and at one point the Frost Watson Lumberyard considered moving to the street.
After numerous meetings, Ward said the Acme sisioning Committee developed a nine point recommendation plan, including tearing down the building, cleaning up the site, protecting the Historic Presbyterian Church, creating a mixed-use development, having a blend of architectural styles typi- cal of the 18th and 19th centuries, creating a signature-type of attraction and creating a streetscape by having the building moved forward to the sidewalk.
In 2004, Ward said the committee conVLGHUHG fiYH SURSRVDOV IRU WhH GHYHORSPHnW of the property, including a chain bookstore. One of the developers, he said, even proposed building a mini-ice skating rink in front similar to Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Shortly after awarding the site to Elliott Building Group and its proposal for The Promenade, a mixed use retail and residential development, Elliott declared bankruptcy. That’s when McGrath Homes stepped in and purchased the site and continued with the plan. Just their luck, said Ward, the economy soured.
“But today, we see patience, energy and SHUVLVWHnFH SUHYDLO. TRGDy, wH finDOOy VHH the blemish on Sycamore Street removed once and for all,” he said.
“Today, developer Jim Worthington and his team present us with a great development that protects the Historic Presbyterian Church, it gives us a mixed use development, it gives us the desired architectural style we wanted and it will provide us with the single attraction in the street front Promenade,” said Ward.
Speaking on behalf of the 250-member Newtown Business Association, president Mick Petrucci welcomed the demolition and praised developer Jim Worthington and his team for making a difference by ripping down an eyesore and moving forward with a plan that will enhance the township’s business community.
0LNH GDOODJhHU, whR FhDLUV WhH fiYHmember Newtown Township Board of Supervisors, said the demolition of the Acme LV WhH fiUVW RI D hDnGIuO WR FRPH WhLV yHDU DV the board moves forward on a promise to clean up three township eyesores.
In addition to the former Acme, an overgrown dilapidated building at the entrance to the Newtown Swim Club on the YardleyNewtown Road is slated for demolition this yHDU WR PDNH wDy IRU D GHnWDO RIfiFH DnG a cluster of boarded up buildings at Durham and Eagle roads will be torn down to accommodate The Birches, a new assisted living facility.
“But nothing is more exciting to the board of supervisors than to see this building coming down today,” said Gallagher. “We’re really excited about what Sycamore Street is going to become once this project is done,” he said.
A demolition excavator takes the first chuck out of the building.