Conshohocken Lost a gem
I was saddened to hear the news that Chuck Hemcher Sr. had passed away on January 7. When the news of his death reached the frame shop I wasn’t shocked as much as I was saddened. Over the next 24 hours I thought about Chuck trying to put him in some type of category in my mind, you know like, “Well he was a man with integrity,” “He was a man with character,” ”He was an honest man,” “He was a hardworking man,” He was a good husband and good father.” Chuck was all the things mentioned but the best I could come up with was “He was a different kind of man.”
There are four things I’ll remember about Chuck the rest of my life, the first thing I’ll remember was he was kind. I’m not sure I ever met anyone as giving as Chuck Hemcher Sr., and that kindness clearly rubbed off to other members of his family. If anything was needed by any member of the community he didn’t question it, he granted it, whatever they asked for or whatever they needed. He never looked for a camera or a way to stand-up or stand-out because he donated something no matter how big or how small, I know this because I worked for a newspaper for more than 25 years and I often approached him saying Chuck how about a photo of you presenting the check or presenting the food, he never said yes or no or offered an explanation, when asked, a head shake was all I ever got, it was a clear NO.
The second thing I’ll remember is his visits to the frame shop. He would often pop-in early in the morning just to hang-out and chat, you-know, How’s it going,” “How’s business,” How’s the family,” and so-on. We would talk a lot about baseball, he loved baseball. He’d often have a story or two to share and out the door he’d go. I enjoyed those early morning visits.
The third thing I admired about Chuck was he took a chance on the community. I’m not sure how many people will truly understand this but Chuck Hemcher and Jim Flanagan came into town around the same time in the early 1980’s. Chuck purchased the former O’Donnell’s Bar, (The Brown Derby) and Jim Flanagan purchased the former Downtown Bar a few doors down on Fayette Street. Both men were dumping bucket-loads of money into their new investments in an effort to up-grade the establishments.
At that time all the abandoned buildings were gone but the lower end of town was more than 25 acres of nothing, from First Avenue down to the bridge and along Hector and Elm Streets it looked like a waste-land. There were no office buildings at that time, no other buildings just open land. To make matters worse they were talking about building a new bridge that would take two-to-three years which meant no traffic at all on lower Fayette Street.
Hemcher and Flanagan were not deterred. Together they started a movement to up-grade the 100 block of Fayette Street. They sought permission from the borough to paint all the tall street light posts that had been rusted for some years, they provided large American Flags on all the telephone poles and light poles in the lower end, they purchased large sidewalk flower pots and hanging flower pots, they purchased well needed curbside benches, and rehabbed the exterior of their buildings.
To this day I remember thinking “What the hell are they doing,” the street was beautiful but there was no-one in the lower end to see it. They Blew-Up the bridge in 1985 and for the next two years the 100 block of Fayette Street was like a ghost town.
But Chuck was a dreamer and he had a vision of Lower Fayette Street, I remember dropping off a an envelope of photographs with soap box photos, pictures of borough hall and Mary Wood Parkhouse and other local photos because he was going to have an artist paint a mural on the interior walls of the restaurant. With 25 vacant acres in the lower end Chuck started telling me about how lower Fayette Street would be a destination spot for all the main liners, people from Villanova and Gladwyne would all come to Conshohocken if the borough did it right, Conshohocken’s downtown would be a hot-spot with a great night-life. It turns out that what Chuck talked about 40 years ago is a reality today.
As far as I’m concerned every successful business in the lower end of OUR town are clearly standing on the shoulders of Jim Flanagan and Chuck Hemcher.
The fourth thing was he never talked bad about anyone, I never remember him being angry about the way things were being done, he never got angry with people, he believed that everyone was trying their best. I can very much remember in our conversations him telling me about someone who betrayed or said something negative about him or the restaurant and as a friend would say “That SOB” and Chuck would immediately respond “Hey, I’m not worried about it, they didn’t mean anything or he didn’t mean anything by-it” and just move on. Chuck welcomed everyone with open friendly arms.
Like I said in the beginning Chuck was a different kind of man, he was a dreamer, a visionary, a kind and good man, a man of the community and a man I wish I had a little more time with, yea, I’m gonna miss him.
Then I think about what he left us, he left us with a downtown to be proud of, he took an old steel mill corner bar and turned it into the center piece of our borough. He left us with family members who are as giving as he was and I’m sure when he passed perhaps the last thing he thought about was how proud he was of his children.
Next time you go out to dinner or to have a drink at the Conshohocken Boathouse or the Great American Pub, perhaps you’ll see these establishments in a different light. They were built by dreamers and visionaries and their spirit carries on through their families.
Drink up boys and girls, and have one for Chuck!