Coatesville Dreaming

Categories: Press Release


Born in steel, the city is reemerging as an entertainment, restaurant and retail center

Downtown Coatesville

Written by: Edwin Malet

Jan. 29, 2024- Going west on Lincoln Avenue, past Downingtown, past Thorndale and Caln, past a very, very long commercial strip, is downtown Coatesville. Darlene Jenkin-Walls of the Chester County Economic Development Council says there’s a lot happening here. A railway station is being rebuilt. Construction of a sports complex has begun. Restaurants, retail … it’s just getting started.

Since 2019, over 30 businesses — for example, Máquina, a coffee roaster; John Belli, a custom furniture maker; The Stem’s End, a floral arrangement company; and CZ Woodworking, specializing in handcrafted, custom-made furniture — have taken residence in the Midway Arts building at 139 East Chestnut Street. The fivestory space is already filled. According to Amber Little-Turner, Executive Director of the 2nd Century Alliance, the building has “a consistent waitlist.”

Midway Arts building

On Lincoln Avenue, The Record Kitchen + Bar and The Iron Eagle Bar & Grille, have been open and operating since last year. Several small retail businesses — Looker Books, West Branch Herbs & Tea, The Butter Pecan Café, Stingy Brims, Mimi’s Favorite Things and Closet Babe — are incubating at the Made in Coatesville Market. Others — Steel City Brewing, 30 Prime Seafood & Chophouse, Andrea’s Jazz Café — are still under construction and scheduled to open this year.

In short, though some of Coatesville’s future still remains a dream — for instance, a performing arts center at the Gateway Project is still seeking partners — after years of positive forecasts and promises, downtown Coatesville appears to be gathering steam. What’s there is already worth a visit. And as things continue to develop, another visit. It is, after all, Chester County’s only city.

Some History

Although its earliest days held substantial promise, Coatesville’s future hadn’t always appeared bright. It’s a born-again story.
In the 19th century, the city’s future was tied to the expanding steel and railroad industries. Coatesville’s Lukens Steel Company had become one of the largest steel companies in the United States. At its zenith, during World War II, it employed about 6,000 steelworkers.

Lukens Steel Company

Beginning in the 1830s, the railroad business grew alongside Coatesville’s steel mill. By 1868, a two-story depot — Italianate architecture, arcaded passageways, ornamental brickwork — was built in Coatesville.

Through the mid-20th century, Coatesville was a bustling city. Sears Roebuck, Woolworth’s, a national bank, four grand hotels, the mansions of the Lukens, Hustons, Gibbons, Pennocks and others who derived their fortunes from steel dotted the landscape. A large YMCA was built at the town center. The High Bridge crossed the Brandywine River. Just north of downtown, people swam, rowed and canoed at Kurtz Dam (known as Boathouse Row) on the west branch of Brandywine Creek. It seemed idyllic.

Business in Coatesville, however, declined in the last quarter of the 20th century. While Chester County as a whole was experiencing tremendous growth and prosperity, Coatesville, along with the steel industry generally, was languishing. Employment at the steel mill was down to 600, a tenth of its peak. The train station fell into disuse. Retail declined. Commercial vacancies went up.


Multi-Sports Complex

It was not until 1999 when the Coatesville Redevelopment Authority was created that the city’s commercial trajectory began to change. By 2010, polo player Crosby Wood of New Heritage Properties, native of Unionville, had begun plans for what would become the National Sports and Events Center. Eventually, David Chauner, a two-time Olympian cyclist and graduate of Harriton High School, became involved. So did local politicians.

Coatesville Train Station

As currently planned, the Center will be a 245,000-square-foot facility with 2,500 seats, a velodrome track (for bicycle track racing), a floor for concerts, conventions and sports events, a virtual gaming center, and a bar and bistro. Completion is expected by the end of this year.

In 2021, in concert with the Center, ground was broken on a new, modern Coatesville railway station. The redevelopment plan today calls for retail space. Jenkins- Walls says there will be food kiosks as well, along with improved platform access, canopies, lighting and elevators.

Interest had grown. And other businesses have begun to scout Coatesville’s streets and buildings.

New Restaurants

The Iron Eagle on Lincoln Bar & Grille

With plans announced for the train station and sports center, Coatesville’s downtown began to take shape. In the last five years, restaurants, retail and other commercial enterprises have sprung to life.

Last year, the Iron Eagle on Lincoln Bar & Grille opened in the former building of the Coatesville Cultural Society. The kitchen is headed by Cameron Hugendubler, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, offering a menu that blends old and new worlds. It features a host of Asian-inspired starters — togarashi pork belly, bahn mi spring rolls, Korean BBQ quesadilla — but combines them with dishes such as spiced Southern fried chicken, a soft-shell crab po’boy or “Three Jacks Mac” — a macaroni and cheese dish made with cavatappi and three kinds of cheeses. The bar selection is superb as well, especially at the daily Happy Hour, 4 to 5:30.

The Record Kitchen + Bar

Across the street, in the building that housed the Coatesville Record — the city newspaper from 1908 to 1974 — the Record Kitchen + Bar has also opened, headed by Chef Arthur Cavaliere. The restaurant offers appetizers — spicy bang bang shrimp or wings are outstanding — wood-fired pizzas, fresh-baked sandwiches, local beer, wine, cocktails and a kids’ menu. Happy Hour is on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. You can’t go wrong!

Opening Soon

Steel City Brewing

Though not open yet, the old YMCA building at 132 East Lincoln Highway is about to become a brewpub, Steel City Brewing. Chef Phil Ferro, restaurateur with more than 25 years’ experience and responsible for Chadds Ford Tavern, Kings Tavern and other eateries in the area, will open Steel City Brewing in the spring. Besides brewing onsite and supporting a beer hall with dartboards and pool tables on the first floor, Steel City will also feature a restaurant on its upper level.

Down the block, Ferro will also open a steakhouse, 30 Prime Seafood and Chophouse, at the old Coatesville Bank Building, scheduled for this year. In the same building will be an event space and an express buffet at lunch.

Meanwhile, at 236 East Lincoln, Bridget Dudley and Dennis Dantzler are planning to open the 55-seat Andrea’s Jazz Café, perhaps as early as this spring. It will offer live entertainment — jazz, blues, country. Since 2020, investing their own money and time, the two entrepreneurs have worked on the façade and now the interior. According to Dudley, they are “really committed.”

Still Dreaming

Looker Books

Retail too is getting off the ground. Much of the activity is at the Made in Coatesville Market, located at 228 East Lincoln. Looker Books is in front. Dana Looker operates the store. It’s small, only temporary, she says, until she finds a bigger space.

At West Branch Herbs & Tea, Sarah York offers more than 60 kinds of tea and herbal teas — everything from Darjeeling to Earl Grey — plus a host of bulk herbs, local honey and a variety of tea-making accessories. She also offers several kinds of bath salts.

Made in Coatesville Market

Jamoca Harkins is the proprietor of the Butter Pecan Café, opened last year. Her shelves are stocked with sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and other Southern-style desserts, which she has been making for her church. Her favorite, she says, is butter pecan ice cream, which she also sells in her shop.

Standing tall at Made in Coatesville is Fred Sharpe, representing Stingy Brims Hat Company. He’s been selling hats — fedoras, caps, Stetsons, Kangols, other brands and styles — for 15 years. Some of them, he says, cost $1,000. He’ll order those. On display are hats for $140, $60, $35 or less. His “dream store” has a “nice selection of hats, comfortable leather chairs, a nice coffee bar where you can get a refreshing drink, take your time, shop and enjoy yourself.”


Coatesville may be still a work in progress. But progress is visible and real. The train station, the sports center, the restaurants, the retail stores, maybe a performance venue … They’re all coming together. Dreams, it seems, are coming true.

Bone Up on Your Steel History

The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum is a project of the Graystone Society, which is dedicated to promoting an understanding of the iron and steel industries.

National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum

Located at the Lukens Executive Office Building, in the vicinity of the steel mill, the museum’s collection includes a 1911 locomotive, a sonarsphere (used in submarines to detect sound), original art — about 5,000 pieces — from industrial artist Klaus Grutzka, and films, drawings and photos of significance to the steel industry.

This is also where you’ll learn about Rebecca Lukens, the first female industrialist, and other heroes of our industrial heritage. Additional excursions allow visitors inside two historic ironmasters’ homes: Terracina (1850) and Graystone Mansion (1889). The third ironmasters’ home, Brandywine Mansion (1739), is under reconstruction and not open for tours.

Gen. adm. $15; additonal tours $5. 50 S. First St., Coatesville.