2019-03-17 01:18:45

With 21 new businesses opening in Bristol Borough’s commercial district, community members are pulling together to make the renaissance a lasting one.

A steady stream of customers and the financial security that comes with it is the goal for any small business.

But the owners of Angelina’s Bakeshop in Bristol Borough always wanted something more.

Posted inside the front window of the store in the 300 block of Mill Street is a small wooden sign that reads “Friends & Family Gather Here.”

It describes the community hub that Angela Aversano and Sergio Cargitlado hoped their shop, which features a spacious dining area and offers a full breakfast menu, would eventually become.

And in less than six months since opening, they say, it already has. And it’s thanks to the warm welcome from residents and fellow business owners.

“We wanted to be more than just a bakery with a counter,” said Cargitlado while sitting next to Aversano, his fiancee, on Thursday afternoon. “We wanted it to be a place where people can sit and relax and talk with friends. We love it here. We love the people.”

If you happen to catch them inside cleaning up after closing, just knock on the door and they’ll gladly open up if any baked goods are left on the shelves, said Aversano.

“I just can’t stand to let someone down,” she added.

Angelina’s Bakeshop was one of four recent local business success stories highlighted Thursday by Raising the Bar, a nonprofit focused on promoting Bristol Borough’s commercial district, during a panel discussion at the Centre for the Arts in partnership with Bucks County Community College.

“There are 21 new business that have opened in the last three years. For a street this compact, that’s dramatic. So we want to tout that,” said Bill Pezza, chair of Raising the Bar.

It was just more than two years ago when Bristol Borough was thrust into the spotlight by winning a nationwide Small Business Revolution contest and featured on a video series produced by Deluxe Corp. Raising the Bar spearheaded an aggressive campaign to muster online votes which led to the riverfront borough beating out more than 3,500 other towns.

Now the community is working toward making that luster a lasting one.

To that end, Pezza said Raising the Bar is posting video interviews with each new business owner to its Facebook group which has more than 6,000 members and offering training and advice to help businesses become successful over the long haul.

The efforts appear to be paying dividends.

A district once blighted by seemingly more vacant than occupied storefronts has in the last few years whittled that number down to just four, with two of those likely to be filled soon, says Pezza.

Cargitlado on Thursday walked outside the bakeshop’s front door and pointed across the street to the future home of his next project, Robert’s Steak and Seafood House, which he hopes to open sometime next year.

Just a few doors down from the bakeshop is Khaleesi Dress Boutique, which opened in December and is operated by Aversano’s sister Maria Storch, a Philadelphia native now living in Middletown. She said business has been thriving.

A bit further down on Mill Street is Akia Japanese Fusion, a restaurant that Cargitlado jokingly reminds its co-owner Yuki Chen “will drive him broke” because his fiancee eats there all the time.

Cindy’s Cafe, located just across from the boutique, is named after the late wife of Steve Demshick, who died of lung cancer about one year ago. He opened the Key West-themed eatery seven weeks ago in her memory, as the couple had planned to retire together in Florida.

The owners of all four businesses on Thursday’s panel felt confident in long-term success, but some said challenges remain.

According to Aversano, some people enter the bakeshop and say they weren’t even sure if they had opened yet.

Keeping the public informed and up to date can be problematic with so much change, Pezza admits, and that is something he says the community can overcome together through word of mouth and social media. 

Raising the Bar encourages business owners to put an emphasis on curb appeal, lighting, courtesy, customer service and using social media as a marketing tool, he added.

During Thursday’s gathering, Pezza noted the borough has benefited by about $250,000 (including a match contribution from local businesses) in funding from highly sought after state facade grants.

Raising the Bar is pushing for partnership through joint advertising among businesses like a recent billboard ad purchased by Angelina’s Bakeshop and restaurant Itri Wood Fired.

“By themselves it would have been too expensive, but chipping in together made it possible,” Pezza said.

There’s a healthy competition, but Aversano says everyone on Mill Street is united.

“Everyone looks out for each other,” she said, adding that empty storefronts help no one while boosting business is good for everyone.

Raising the Bar board member Mycle Gorman took advantage of Thursday’s warm weather to plant some flowers in the pots outside his Mill Street company Design Works.

Gorman, who also owns Spice & Co. down the street, was quick to praise the newcomers to the borough, noting that he helped the bakery with its front facade.

“I grew up in South Philly, and Bristol is really starting to feel like that same kind of community,” he said. “I always thought it had this potential. It was a diamond in the rough.”



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