Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prince Street Cafe major downtown draw

By Cliff B. Lewis

In late 2005, Keith and Crystal Weaver; Dave and Carol Witmer; Kevin and Valentina Weaver; and Ed and Joan McManness all put their heads together: "We all had a very common vision," Crystal Weaver explains, "and that was to provide a place where people could come hang out and not feel like they just needed to move along…. We wanted a place that was well-done, that felt like someone had put some time, energy, and quality into it."

Ever since the Prince Street Cafe's opening in August of 2006, this vision has been tremendously successful. People often ask Weaver if business has dropped in the current recession, but the fact is the Café just experienced its busiest winter yet: "It's been on the incline ever since we moved in. I don’t think we’ve leveled off. I keep thinking, 'By now the hype should be over and it should level off…' But things haven’t slowed down yet."

Another early purpose for the Cafe was to bring more people Downtown, "for people outside the city to come in and start to feel comfortable in the city and feel safe in it." Weaver, who was raised on a farm in Centerville, said that most of the people she grew up with were afraid to come Downtown. Today, Weaver estimates that her Lancaster City business receives more than half of its traffic from people outside city limits.

According to Marshall Snively, Deputy Director of the James Street Improvement District (which includes the Downtown Investment District), the city has collected a younger, more "hip" crowd in recent years. The pattern cannot be directly traced to the arrival of the Prince Street Café, but the Café's success is certainly emblematic of the trend.

For Lancaster's city-goers and city-dwellers, the Prince Street Cafe provides a winning combination of quality and affordability. It isn't the quintessential "Ritz," but it isn't a hole-in-the-wall, either. Although the concept of affordable quality appears obvious enough, Weaver believes this is something that the city could use more of: "I think there’s a need for a place that is mid-range—nice, but not really expensive."

It took eight owners and a great idea to start up Lancaster City's Prince Street Cafe—a business that now stands as a parable to how a strong vision can go a long way when enough people put their heads and wallets together. And, after all, isn't that what cities are all about?

The Café is located at 15 N. Prince St and is open from 6:30am to 11pm on Monday through Thursday, and perpetually from 6:30am Friday to 3:30pm Sunday.