As a young dancer, I had a career ending injury. Weekly visits to a top doc could not fix my situation. While I attended those lengthy appointments in Philly, I’d get teased for things like my fascination with the obituary section of Dance Magazine and the fact that I was from Phoenixville.
“Phoenix, Arizona?” a fellow patient asked.
“No, Phoenixville,” I said.
“I love Phoenix,” that same patient responded.
“She said, Phoenixville,” the medical assistant clarified. She followed with something like, “no one has heard of it. Very different than Phoenix.”
And they shared a chuckle at my expense.
I went back to reading, then. That is what I did.
When injury permanently sidelined me, at fifteen, dad asked me to take a drive with him. Drive: code for pep talk. We drove along Phoenixville’s main street: Bridge Street. He played Doo-wop. Maybe he also longed for a more hopeful time.
He said, “we are checking town.”
He pointed out the – then – shutdown Colonial movie theater where the Blob had been filmed. He pointed out the half-dozen places he’d worked.
He pointed out shops that his own father had owned during the ’50s and ’60s; soda fountains. One soda fountain’d close. Another soon reopened. The family business eventually moved a few streets down – off the main street – after hard times. I went into that triangular space a few years back. They were selling – appropriately – vintage furniture.
Our origins credit iron and steel production.
By the nineties, most Phoenixville storefronts were abandoned.
Town colors were gray and grayer, except if you were a fan of high school baseball – in which case you wore purple with pride.
I saw a very different Phoenixville than my father. It embodied my own internal dystopia, another thing I’d have to overcome if I wanted to make something of myself.
First chance I had, I did leave town. It came in the form of a letter of admission to a place more people may have heard of than Phoenix, Arizona. One word: Harvard.
Harvard exists in a lesser known community (as vibrant and equally full of schooling) – Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was everything I’d hoped to inhabit: eclectic, diverse, energetic, intellectual, dressed in indie books, vintage fashion, bustling cafes by day and novel bars by night.
I said I’d never move back home.
Then, life happens. And love clarifies where we belong rather than a place in which to come of age.
Here I am.
I fell in love with Phoenixville, this time around. Or maybe it was my original imprint of love. Maybe the way my dad had painted a vision, and I recalled in heart, Phoenixville – this go around – seemed to heal both personal and community loss via transformation as an artist’s haven.
“It’s bohemian balmy,” a classy friend, passing through, once referred to my beloved Artisan’s Cafe.
Phoenixville. One word.
Forty-five minutes west of Philly, minutes beyond the Main Line, and minutes enough to be all I’d hoped to raise a family: eclectic, diverse, energetic, intellectual, dressed in indie books, vintage fashion, bustling cafes by day and novel bars by night.
This is my town.
You will rise
The phoenix from the flame
You will learn
You will rise
Being what you are
There is no other Troy
For you to burn
Troy, Sinead O’Connor
I had a dream last night. An explosion set fire to buildings starting down around Bluebird Distilling, and I was unsure if the bookstore – a few blocks up, would be spared.
For me, the businesses that shot me out of bed, concerned for and motivated to write this post, are precious to me; like high schoolers might have felt about Nathan Honig’s soda fountain in the ’50s. I’ll never get to set foot inside his creation, but walking among the establishments at the corner of Prospect and Gay, I feel his presence, still.
I feel his presence, here, and I better understand how and what I value. Acknowledged roots generate creative ideas.
My engagement with Phoenixville – now – however, involves deliberate, independent thought:
The Farmers Market, with its family-friendly hospitality and easiest access to kale that does not require salad dressing drench.
Reads & Co, indie enough to house favorite books – and even my own. After our visits, my daughter begs to return, especially to resume her flight inside her reading rocket ship.
Nectar Yoga Studio, where my gritty guru – Kate Goodyear – (conveniently, also, my favorite muscle toning diva) – operates one of the most soulful places on Earth.
Refinery, with fashion sense way out of my league, except for the fact that the owner makes everyone feel like someone special and seen.
Vecchia, ah – sweet Neapolitan-style pizza, or vvvrrreeal thing, as Nathan Honig’s Czech accent would’ve revealed. Pizza by this creator and owner – Frank Nattle – is one of the best things to come from the local high school baseball team legacy (if you ask me).
Soltane whipped foam, in the shape of a heart, atop both my daughter’s hot cocoa and my latte. We drink our beverages and share an owl cookie after our monthly jaunt to the library.
Steel City Coffeehouse yes, my original jaunt into town, as a bohemian-wanna-be-artist-teen, and one of the original and strongest offerings to creatives drawn to authentic music and coffee. It’s also hosted some of my favorite off-beat artists over the years, including Jeffrey Gaines and Kevin Manning. The current owners continue to blossom this wildflower.
Then, of course, pragmatically speaking – there’s the local bank – Phoenix Federal, where my immigrant, refugee grandparents could set-up an account for me when I was a toddler. I bank there today, after trying out bigger brands, coming home to honest, reliable, and friendly.
Along the canals, bar crawling for my partner’s birthday, and shopping with a complimentary champagne for holiday treasures…
I have wandered, fulfilled.
I have wandered along these streets. I have wandered much further.
I think of the statement, now, “not all who wander are lost.” That does embody my spirit. Maybe it’s a Phoenixville thing – born of steel, transformed by art and food; wanderers. This moment in time, yet a blip, slight against this town’s eternal lifeline.
I developed a metaphor this week, for anxious clients. I described the tides of the current pandemic like bubbles of a bubble bath, moving from dense, fresh spigot then spreading out – before evaporating. For now, we sit in the bath. We aim to protect what is most sacred: our flesh. We reaffirm priorities. We pause. But, as bubbles dissipate, as they have in eastern parts of the world, so will we be fortunate to move forward, once again…
When it is time, move along the streets of Phoenixville. Watch us rise, once again, like our patron saint.
In the comments section or your own upcoming creative endeavors, I invite celebrations of home. Celebrate the shops, shopkeepers, vibes, and originality that makes your home and YOU, the best you can be. Keep their spirit alive now, and get ready to boogie with them, again, soon.