SummerFest: Ambler’s Roots Are In The Railroad

AMBLER, Pa. (CBS)–Just like many of the suburbs of Philadelphia, Ambler’s roots are in the railroad.

A robust train stop helped to make Ambler a profitable destination in the late 1800s.

And though the town has been through its ups and downs the people of Ambler will tell you, it’s the only place to live.

Well known pharmaceutical firm, Keasbey & Mattison decided to relocate their headquarters from Philadelphia. When they arrived they discovered that the land was perfect for asbestos production.

The town boomed until the factory folded.

“I got drafted in the Army in 1964 for Vietnam, I got out in 66′ and when I came back, the town wasn’t the same,” said Sal Pasceri, borough council president.

Malls moved in during the 1970s and small business moved out.

“When I was little the town had two grocery stores and a Woolworths, and a furniture store, and a clothing store and the movies,” said Elizabeth Wahl  Kunzier, Main Street manager in Ambler. “We had everything, and then slowly but surely the mall took everything away and everything started to close down.”

But it wasn’t the end for Ambler.

“When the Ambler theater came back, they were able to get grant money for them and they really were the anchor. They started it all,” said Kunzier.

That money came from the Main Street Program funded by the government and helped bring the factory town back to its feet.

“That program is the one that really turned the town around,” Pasceri  said. “They got the movie theater back, we got all kinds of restaurants. Now you go to downtown Ambler on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and you think you’re down the shore. I mean–it’s booming!”

As new businesses continue to find a home in here they’re keeping tradition alive in the small town.

“We got paint, hardware, electrical, plumbing, lawn fertilizers, gutter, concrete,” said Tyler, who’s family owns Deck’s Hardware since 1908. “Ambler is a very close knit community. Kinda, everybody knows everybody.”

MEETING YOUR SKATING NEEDS

There are seven parks located throughout the town of Ambler, including an outdoor skate park!

The skate scene in Ambler has been on a roll since the 80’s, where home base has always been the Ambler Skate Shop! The place where local kids like Sean and Mike grew up and now, being the shops new owners, feel the responsibility to keep it going!

“We didn’t do it for the purpose of making a dollar we did it because it was the right thing to do,” said co-owner Sean Khathavong.

Sure they have all your skating needs, including in house designed apparel and cool boards splattered with the unofficial mayor of Ambler, Shopcat!

But they’re doing more than selling you things. They’re making a difference.

“The youth are excited about it and take ownership about the shop and they like Shopcat like it’s their own cat, so it’s cool because I feel like we are setting a standard for the next generation like these guys can achieve this then more,” said Sean and Mike.

AMBLER THEATER FULL OF HISTORY

Many of us enjoy going to the movies in the summer and catching a film on the big screen.

You can still do that right here at the Ambler Theater and there’s plenty of history, too.

The theater was built in 1928, but fell into disrepair by 2001 when some businessmen bought the theater.

At that time, Bernadette Dougherty worked on downtown economic development for the town of Ambler.

“They sold the theater to Ambler Theater Inc. where we are now,” said Dougherty. “And then began the journey of fixing up a 1928 building with all its problems and all its potential.”

As theater co-director Chris collier showed CBS’s Jessica Dean, there were layers of paint that had peeled away decades before and holes in the ceiling.

“I always like to joke when it rained outside, it rained inside and the theater just really looked bad,” he said.

The theater underwent a Hollywood makeover and now she shines just as brightly as before.

Three beautiful theaters, including one with the original curtains, show first run and classic films.

THE BARBER SHIP IS A COMMUNITY STAPLE

If you know Ambler, you know Ambler Barber Shop. It’s a community staple that has been around for generations thanks to the Votta family.

Vincent Votta’s father Anthony, an Italian immigrant, came to the U.S. in 1949. In ’78 they moved into their current location and the family has been serving customers ever since.

“The people that work here are great. It’s a great family atmosphere, everybody’s basically related. It’s a fun environment,” said Dr. Mark Strang, a resident and local dentist.

Over the last year one thing has been missing Anthony. He fell, and was forced to retire, but his legacy lives on.

“It is family. When dad was here, I heard the stories of Italy and the things he did in coming over here,” said Martin Brown.

 

More from Brandon Longo
Comments

One Comment

  1. Great reporting! Thank you for doing such a great showcasing Ambler. You did your research and in depth investigation. Ambler is a great town! Ambler Borough, Ambler Main Street and the local non-profit, civic and services organizations have done a remarkable job revitalizing the community.

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