Maplewood Mall may look a little different to Germantown residents. The quiet shopping center is open for business as usual, but its external makeup is changing. The large willow tree has been cut down, and several construction workers walk throughout the property.
As residents reminisce about their previous historic shopping center, few wonder what the new design will bring to the property.
Reconstruction broke on Maplewood Mall last week. Renny Molenaar has been a resident of Germantown for 16 years and can view the shops from his window. He is excited about the change but describes it as bittersweet.
“If you’ve been around, all the trees have come down so it’s really painful,” Molenaar said. “But at the same time is the kind of thing that as long as they follow through they have potential.”
The project is within its beginning stages. Matty Wysong, the city planner for Northwest Philadelphia, said there will be active communication with residents as the renovation progresses.
The renovations include replacing the mall’s central water vein and removing several other trees. Next year the walkway will have a pedestrian lights, new sidewalk, public art, re-bricked center walkway, bicycle racks, trash cans and trees will be replanted and accompanied with various plants. No parking spots will be gained or lost, and Wysong said reconstruction should not disrupt the neighborhood.
He is confident in the design but said he understands Germantown residents relationship with the mall’s traditional appearance.
“I think a lot of people have grown to love it the way it is now, a quaint, little beautiful block,” Wysong said. “And I think people are worried about if we drastically alter that it’s going to lose that quaintness.”
However, Wysong said the design is an excellent middle-ground for the shopping center. The design team and stakeholder community members have held several private meetings to discuss the final design.
“I think it’s close enough and far away enough from the existing design,” Wysong said. “It’s a good compromise, like somewhere in the middle.”
On this same block is Albert Ciment, owner of Maplewood Nutrition and Dietary Food Shop. The nutrition store was established in 1963, and has not left Maplewood Mall.
“I love it,” Ciment said about the designs released from the city.
Maplewood Mall’s infrastructure has drastically changed over the years. Ciment says there have been numerous lawsuits on the mall due to shoppers falling over uneven bricks.
“So everyone wants a new, you know, brand new looking place,” Ciment said. “I’m sure it’s going to make Germantown look nicer, it’s probably going to be the nicest street in the city.”
What to expect
Although several Germantown residents are happy to receive renovations, there remains one question. What will the new improvements bring?
Ciment hopes the reconstruction will allow Germantown to have another green space to counteract other areas.
“The fact that it brightens up the area, cleans up the area a little bit,” Ciment said. “So you can have a garden spot here, and you can have a trash heap over there.”
For Clarice Thomas, the Maplewood Mall renovations are not new. But after a previous renovation, Thomas said Maplewood Mall became a secluded area.
“It was as if there was an effort to try to make this like an exclusive little shopping center,” Thomas said. “But then they made it harder for the people that were coming there to shop to get to them because they didn’t want you parking on the street.”
The future design plans to re-brick the Maplewood Mall, but there will also be a plaza opening at the intersection of Greene Street and Germantown Avenue. Wysong said this space can be utilized for outdoor events and will be a seated area for residents.
Philadelphia-based artist Jennie Shanker is leading the art project for the renovations, and it includes the community’s input. Shanker is designing a Tile Mosaic seated area while paying homage to Germantown memories and residents.
Colorful tiles will surround the benches, and they will resemble wooden planks. Several tiles will have a silhouette of a community member in the knot of the plank, the visible imperfections in the wood grain that are circular and darker than the surrounding area.
“I think there’s something about having to look and find and identify people, that takes more time,” Shanker said. “And that’s almost more rewarding once you find yourself or somebody that you know.”
Additionally, the tiles will have text representing Germantown history. Memories include parks, locally owned businesses or organizations.
Also a few tiles will be solely designed from Germantown artists. The artist will select an important community member, and will place their portrait and make in an entire tile.
Shanker is still collecting silhouettes, memories and looking for Germantown artists for the project.
The benches will be the last installment for the renovation in 2020.
On-Site Field Inspector Juan Sandoval will be answering questions for community members from Monday through Friday at 54 Maplewood Mall, and at Germantown United CDC on Germantown Avenue.