Coffee to go: Wired Beans and the switch from Mt. Airy to Germantown

In a tour around his Germantown Avenue-area properties in March, developer Ken Weinstein spent several minutes explaining how the Wired Beans coffee shop in Mt. Airy was a key success for the re-ignition of that stretch of the avenue.

Now, the coffee shop is gone to a new location in Germantown after abruptly closing in Mt. Airy earlier this month.

The storefront at 6734 Germantown Ave. won’t be empty for long, though, as Weinstein has leased the space to a new Southwest-themed offshoot of Little Jimmie’s Cafe, to be called Poquito Jaimes.

Expansion brings contraction

Instead, Wired Beans owner Robert Wheeler is doubling down on Germantown, settling in to a new storefront at the Chelten Plaza shopping center at Chelten and Pulaski avenues.

Wheeler said he closed the Mt. Airy shop because business was down, and because of the challenges of keeping two locations running and properly staffed.

“Because of our history there, I’d want to give it my all,” he said of Mt. Airy, but couldn’t manage it with the demands of a new location.

Arrival is lauded

After the contentious beginnings to developer Pat Burns’ plans for Chelten Plaza, Wired Beans choosing to locate there was seen by many as one positive aspect of a project that struggled to gain community acceptance.

Also, while Mt. Airy has other coffee shops, such as InFusion and High Point Cafe, the Wired Beans in Germantown has a chance to spark a new wave of investment along Chelten Avenue.

“Rob will get traffic that the Mt. Airy location never had access to, and is probably going to be the highlight of Chelten Plaza,” said Yvonne Haskins, the community activist and lawyer who represented protesters who fought the city to block the development.

“It may be that Wired Beans draws more Germantowners and nearby students and East Falls residents to the plaza. That might help the other stores,” Haskins continued. “And, we are certainly excited about Rob being there — it’s a great space in which to have meetings. Rob is a ‘homegrown’ businessman, coming from East Germantown, a really good story on economic development.”

If they brew it, will others come?

At one point, there was discussion among some active Chelten Plaza protesters about boycotting Burns’ shopping center — except for Wired Beans.

Its success is talked about as a bellwether for Germantown’s ability to cultivate and maintain new locally owned businesses along the Chelten Avenue corridor.

“A great cafe can be a destination,” said Emaleigh Doley, who along with her sister Aine is gaining a city-wide reputation for street-level community renewal work on their West Rockland Street block. “Locating Wired Beans on the street side of Chelten Plaza does change the tone of both the shopping center and Chelten Avenue. Spaces that invite people to hang out and socialize will help move Chelten Avenue beyond its status as a place people pass through.”

Perfect timing for landlord

For his part, Weinstein said it was lucky timing that the Mt. Airy space came open even as Jimmie Reed was looking to expand his own business. In Germantown, Wheeler said he feels the community support.

“I love that area,” he said of Mt. Airy on Thursday at the Germantown Wired Beans. “I had some customers there that are so loyal and wanted it to work so badly that they come down here. Drive. Walk. Catch the train. It’s a really good feeling to see them follow me to Germantown.”

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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