Can coffee and pastries bring new scent of success to struggling sliver of Germantown Ave.?

 A look inside the building that will soon house High Point Cafe's wholesale bakery/roastery. (Bas Slabbers)

A look inside the building that will soon house High Point Cafe's wholesale bakery/roastery. (Bas Slabbers)

Coffee and pastries are becoming an economic engine in Mt. Airy.

The opening early next year of a High Point Café wholesale bakery/roastery and a second location for Little Jimmie’s Bakery Café just down the street are milestones in a long-struggling stretch of Germantown Avenue.

Both properties are owned by Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA), the community organization working to revive the commercial corridor, as well as improve housing and spark development.

Property history

The new tenant for 6700 Germantown Ave. is a very happy ending to a long saga for that building. The handsome, mid-19th century brick structure originally had been the community post office.

In the 1980s, the nonprofit civic group East Mt. Airy Neighbors occupied the building.

The most recent tenant was Carson Valley Children’s Aid, a child-welfare agency that used the space for 20 years. In 2011, government budget cuts forced the agency to consolidate and shut down its offices there.

The old post office became one of the first properties acquired by MAUSA. However, Carson Valley had subdivided the interior space in a way that made it difficult to repurpose, said Anuj Gupta, MAUSA executive director.

“We had it listed with two different brokers, and there was no interest in it. At best, we were getting offers from childcare providers,” but no larger businesses that could utilize the greater part of the building, Gupta said. “Wingstop was the only viable offer that came along.”

The chicken-wing restaurant franchise was seen as a potential anchor and destination for that stretch of the avenue, a way to bring foot traffic into the neighborhood.

“Other than Little Jimmie’s, after 5 p.m., there is nothing to draw people down here,” Gupta said.

Change of plans

The Wingstop owner was proposing to make a $750,000 investment in a building that had been vacant for three years and was poorly maintained before that.

“I think it would have been a signal for more private capital at this end of Germantown Avenue,” Gupta said.

Not everyone saw it that way. Some neighbors were concerned about parking and traffic issues, waste disposal and late business hours.

But it was the extended timeframe for the business to take over the property that ultimately killed the deal. MAUSA could not afford to wait for the Wingstop owner to meet his loan obligations before opening.

Over the summer, MAUSA announced a new tenant for the property: the wholesale location for one of Mt. Airy’s favorite brands, High Point Café.

High Point had already planned to move into one side and the lower level of 6700 Germantown Ave., with Wingstop occupying the rest of the upper level. Now, High Point will be the only occupant of the upper, main floor.

Timetable details

High Point owner Meg Hagele said she expects the business to move in by early February.

The design process with Metcalfe Architecture and Design has been completed, and she is now getting bids for construction.

“We have raised money from private-equity investors, currently all of whom are customers of ours,” Hagele said. “We are still trying to raise about $100,000 more, but we have met our minimum goal and are able to begin our work in earnest.

“We’re deeply moved by the outpouring of support we have gotten. That’s Mt. Airy for you,” added Hagele, who grew up in the community and said locating her two cafes there was a “no-brainer.”

Business plans

She said she plans to roast coffee and bake pastries in the new space for her cafes as well as other wholesale customers throughout the region. High Point has also joined with Amy Kunkle of now-shuttered Food For All and will create a gluten-free/celiac-safe kitchen at 6700 Germantown.

Hagele boasted that the site will have one of the only “profile” coffee roasters in the region, where other roasters can use the device to try out different roast profiles and coffee samples before committing to larger batch machines.

Cuppings and tastings with roasters and consumers in the meeting space/coffee lab are planned.

The new location, she added, is a perfect spot to service her existing shops on Carpenter Lane and in the Allens Lane Train Station, and is convenient for deliveries to Center City and the near suburbs.

“We are really excited about the aesthetics of the space and are thrilled with the designs we are working with that will maintain as much of the charm of the interior as possible,” Hagele said.

Reactions to the news

The exterior of the old post office remains in excellent condition, and the original stepped entrance to the center of the building facing Germantown Avenue will be restored, said Brad Copeland, MAUSA’s director of real-estate development.

“We think High Point will bring new life” to this area,” Gupta said. “Their product is so high quality, it’s easy to understand why they’re on such a growth trajectory.”

MAUSA will also use the lower-level office space as a business incubator.

“There are a lot of small businesses, or people who are working from home who are trying to grow their businesses and realize at some point they need space outside their house,” Copeland said.

“We have had several business who have come to our building [across the street at 6703 Germantown] who have used an office, expanded and moved out to the corridor,” he continued. “Providing additional space to do that at a reasonable rate is a way that we see businesses growing and staying in Mt. Airy.”

Colonial redevelopment

A few blocks south, another MAUSA property will accommodate the booming interest in fine baked goods and a well-brewed cup.

The late 17th-century building at 6614 Germantown Ave. is still in a mid-construction phase.

Part of the façade has been removed, and it’s easy to see that scaffolding is holding the second floor up. As one of the many contributing buildings to the historic district, the site requires painstaking deconstruction and redevelopment in accordance with the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

It’s believed that the little building with Colonial features was a home for one of the local farms. Neighboring buildings have come and gone and been rebuilt, and the Flemish-styled structure at 6620 Germantown Ave. is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. However, 6614 has been vacant for 15 years.

MAUSA acquired the property as part of a federal grant to restore mixed-use buildings along commercial corridors.

“It was in pretty bad shape,” Copeland said. “A year ago, the whole structure was looking lopsided.

“Now we’re taking off sections of the existing stucco and solidifying the framing. Scaffolding is holding the building up, but once all the structural work is done, we’ll pull this off and it will stand on its own. We’re not too far from that point now.”

The building will have a second-story addition for a one-bedroom apartment. On the ground floor, covering a modest 680 square feet, Little Jimmie’s, the popular bakery and catering business currently at 6669 Germantown Ave., will open its new bakery and café.

Expect the sweet aromas to start wafting onto the avenue by the turn of the new year.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at alanjaffe@mac.com.

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