Main Liner Q&A: Lower Merion Township Retail Coordinator Heidi Tirjan

You can call it a comeback. New shops and restaurants are cropping up along Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr just in time for the holidays.

Lancaster Avenue is in the midst of a retail renaissance, and the hub of all the hubbub is Bryn Mawr, where a surplus of upscale shops and restaurants has recently opened, including Isabella Sparrow, Ella’s Grove, Main Point Books, Finders Keepers, Zazen Nail Spa, Fraschetta Restaurant and several others. Credit the improving economy, expansion of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute—and Heidi Tirjan, retail recruiter for Lower Merion Township.

MLT: Describe your job.
HT: I look for independent and regional retailers and restaurants to complement the personality of each town. The business has to fit with the existing businesses and be attractive to residents. The retailer and property owner make a deal, then I come back and do tenant coordination, which involves working with the township to make sure the correct paperwork is filed.

MLT: Is your background in retail?
HT: Not exactly. My first job was as a textile designer for Milliken & Company in New York City. I was there for 10 years, eventually as product and design director for the finished-fabrics division. After that, I was the brand manager for Eagle’s Eye, then I was director of design and marketing at Tighe Industries, a dancewear company. My work incorporated trend forecasting, so we could design fabrics for fashion, furniture and other markets. That serves me in my current job because I need to identify good retailers.

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MLT: Bryn Mawr is making a comeback. Why now?
HT: The recession and economic downturn spurred entrepreneurialism. Hard times can be challenging, but they also spark creativity. Now that the banks are starting to lend, retailers are starting to develop their ideas. Property owners have also started to invest in their properties. It’s easier for a retailer to go into a renovated space than a dilapidated one.

MLT: Is the lack of parking a deterrent for prospective retailers and restaurateurs?
HT: There’s parking in Bryn Mawr and Ardmore. Ardmore has 313 metered curb spaces, 368 spaces in metered parking lots, and 273 spaces in permit parking lots. Bryn Mawr has 168 metered curb spaces, 323 metered lots, and 183 spaces in permit parking lots. 

MLT: Visitors don’t usually have permits to park in township lots.
HT: No. But residents do, and they use those lots, which frees up other spaces. Residents are also patrons of stores and restaurants in those towns.

MLT: Do those Ardmore numbers include the metered spaces in Suburban Square?
HT: Yes. 

MLT: What happens if One Ardmore Place, the proposed Dranoff property, gets township approval and construction eliminates the Cricket Avenue lot’s 175 spaces for 18 months?
HT: The township and the Dranoff team will compensate for that [lack of] parking.

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MLT: Does Ardmore really need the Dranoff property? Why not fill the retail vacancies that exist?
HT: There are only five vacancies in downtown Ardmore and four in Bryn Mawr. If you see something that’s vacant, a lease may have been signed. I believe that adding more retail would be a great thing. I look forward to working with the Dranoff team to accomplish that. 

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!