Over the years, Hamid Chaudhry has made it his mission to purchase and turn around businesses in Berks County.
Dairy Queen locations in Kenhorst and Exeter Township, the Lukoil gas station in West Reading, the Wyomissing Family Restaurant & Bakery and the Shillington Farmers Market are among the success stories for the businessman.
Chaudhry recently announced a new project. He has purchased the site of a former Sheetz convenience store and gas station at 6600 Perkiomen Ave. in Exeter Township for $750,000. Wyomissing-based NAI Keystone Commercial & Industrial LLC handled the sale.
"I take it and spit-shine it," Chaudhry said in a phone interview. "Every single property I've owned. I work with old stuff."
Sheetz left the parcel in 2019, moving the location about 4 miles west down Perkiomen Avenue to a newly constructed store at the site of the former Bowl-O-Rama in the heart of Exeter's retail district.
The former Sheetz, which had been at the corner of Perkiomen and Sunset Manor Drive in the outskirts of Baumstown for 20 years, has been stripped of its gas pumps and only the building remains.
Chaudhry says he was surprised to get the 2.67-acre, square-shaped corner lot for that price.
"I'm blessed to get it at $750,000," he said.
Even though the site is a few miles away from the township's retail center, township Manager Jeff Bartlett was pleased someone is going to redevelop it.
"Any time a vacant commercial parcel is developed it is helpful for the township," Bartlett said. "Although this is not in the heavy retail center, it is still along a corridor that has good highway access and traffic visibility."
Chaudhry said rumors of sinkholes on the property likely kept other potential buyers away. However, he had the property, which was once a landfill for sanitation company J.P. Mascaro & Sons, inspected and no sinkholes were found.
"I don’t have a long history with the township but my understanding is that much of the sinkhole issue is rumor," Bartlett said. "Portions of that area were filled many years ago and settlement occurred, but that was more likely due to poor compaction of the fill versus actual sinkholes. Portions of Exeter Township are prone to sinkhole formation so it is possible a sinkhole can develop, but the property owner appears to have done his due diligence regarding the property."
The misconception about the parcel worked to Chaudhry's advantage.
"The rumors of sinkholes are just big time rumors," Chaudhry said. "It got to a point where no one would touch it with a 10-foot pole. The reports showed no sinkholes and I practiced due diligence and paid between $3,000 and $4,000 for those reports. It's an old dumping ground for Masacro, a landfill. Everyone's loss is my gain."
What to do with it
Chaudhry announced his purchase on social media over the weekend and asked for opinions on what he should build on it.
Suggestions ranged from a bowling alley, to various chain restaurants, to a high-end supermarket such as Trader Joe's.
As for Chaudhry's preferences, he said he wants a business the whole community can rally around. He also said his current businesses are used for charitable endeavors, such as Socks for Seniors at the Wyomissing Family Restaurant and a Gov. Mifflin School District apparel sales stand run by students at the Shillington Farmers Market. He wants the same for the new business.
"All of my properties have had community aspects," he said.
Chaudhry said he has two main ideas for the property:
- A "bed and breakfast-style motel with a diner."
- A larger version of the Shillington Farmers Market that will feature ghost kitchens and a community area.
The possible hotel wouldn't be a franchise of a national chain, Chaudhry said, adding the stretch of Route 422 between Pottstown and Exeter needs classy lodgings. The accommodations would feature suite-style rooms.
Chaudhry offered more details on his vision of a possible market, which would be in a 25,000 square-foot building. It would feature 10 ghost kitchens — essentially a restaurant without dining space — for food stands, along with about 20 shops. Part of the design would feature a mezzanine as a food court that could also be used for community events.
"It would be a different version of the Shillington Farmers Market," he said. "Things are moving online; the retail world is changing."
The market would appeal to Exeter's diverse population that ranges from suburbanites to Pennsylvania Dutch folks, and feature operating hours through the weekend.
"It would make the community happy," Chaudhry said. He added that rents would be affordable and he prefers local businesses: "Neighbors selling to neighbors."
When will it happen?
A decision on what will happen to the property will be made later in the spring and construction could begin in August.
"We need to figure some things out and move some dirt to make sure there are no other issues," Chaudhry said.
As for future projects beyond this one, Chaudhry says he's in a good place in his life and plans to spread his business acumen to others.
"At this point I'm blessed," Chaudhry said. "I don't have to do anything I don't want to. I'm too old to run my own stand, there's too much mileage on me. I'd like to be a guide, a consultant."