Two couples are crowd-sourcing the money to revitalize a local landmark into a community-driven space.
By Matt Skoufalos
When Katherine and Ato Swann brought their toy store, duck duck goose, from Merchantville to Collingswood, the couple was looking to grow a business that would allow them to keep their young kids close at hand during work hours.
Now they’re taking on a project that could give their girls a place to congregate well into their adult years.
Together with Nicole and Mat Eiland of the Merchantville-based Eiland Arts Center, the Swanns are working to transform the dormant train station in their hometown into a coffee shop and art studio that they hope can contribute to the revitalization of its business district.
For Katherine Swann, newly elected to Merchantville borough council, the development of her community as a walkable suburb means cultivating new ideas that will help sustain its sense of place; she sees the train station as a piece of that vision.
“I’m super-committed to Merchanvtille, the town, seeing it grow,” she said.
“I just know that’s what the town needs, and we’re going to do it.”
Nicole Eiland said she hopes that the station can become a community meeting space where people will “not just come in and purchase something and leave again, but spend time.
“You can see the newest art, enjoy the music; people meet each other and they talk,” Eiland said.
“No matter where they’re from or what they are, you can mingle,” she said. “That’s what Merchantville is. You have everything here.”
The 4,000-square-foot historic structure dates back to the mid-1800’s, and was last used as an office building.
With a little bit of TLC–and a lot of community funding–the couples think they can help create a new hub for the borough.
“We always talked about how great it would be for it to be a café type of thing with outdoor seating,” Katherine Swann said, “and take advantage of that bike path, which I think gets more foot traffic than our downtown.”
The Eilands’ interest in the property coincided with the growth of their arts business, which will occupy the second floor of the station.
The first floor of the building will be renovated to make room for a 50-seat coffee shop and mixed-use performance and retail space; Mat Eiland, a musician, will coordinate its performance schedule.
“You can have a coffee, and a class, or enjoy music, a movie,” Nicole Eiland said.
“The whole community aspect is very important to me,” she said. “I’m excited that we can show all this culture to the people around.
The Station Cafe menu has yet to be determined, Katherine Swann said, but will emphasize organic and local ingredients and include fresh juices and smoothies, crepes, and “a complete mix of whatever we feel like is yummy.
“We don’t want it to be like a typical sandwich place,” she said.
After a month on indiegogo.com, the project has only reached about 20 percent of its $32,500 goal, with funds raised to be used to outfit the cafe and purchase kitchen equipment, Katherine Swann said.
“Whatever we don’t raise, we’ll get a loan for,” she said.
Either way, the project is headed for a mid-March opening.
“We’re going to be working our rear ends off to make that happen,” Katherine Swann said.