Pang Fei Chen easily spends 50 or more hours a week running his restaurant and car wash in the Promenade Shopping Center, Exeter Township.
"I put everything, my life, into the plaza," he said in a phone interview Thursday, July 30.
Chen owns Best China Chef and Stop Wash and Go, both in the Promenade.
Chen said he started the restaurant 21 years ago as a young man and invested in the car wash several years ago.
After more than two decades in the Promenade, Chen must find a new home for his businesses. He and the other tenants of the plaza have been given 30 days to leave the township-owned property.
“The township had no choice but to take the unfortunate step of notifying the tenants that they would need to vacate the property,” Laurie Getz, director of communications and community engagement for Exeter, said in a news release.
According to the statement, released July 28, the township is unable to continue leasing the property due to its inability to renew the insurance on the deteriorating shopping center.
"I feel we were lied to," Chen said. "We were told we would not be kicked out."
Chen said he and the owners of about five other businesses in the plaza met with Exeter officials in November soon after the township bought the largely vacant Promenade for $2.5 million in October.
As part of the purchase, Exeter assumed the preexisting month-to-month lease agreements for six businesses: MotoPhoto, Riviera Pizza, Best China Chef, Holiday Hair, Hollywood Cleaners and the Stop Wash and Go car wash, Getz wrote.
Monroe Muffler, another business on the property at 3925 Perkiomen Ave., holds a lease agreement that will expire in 2021, she said.
"We are not planning to close," said Sherry Matherson, owner of MotoPhoto. "We are planning to move."
Mattherson said she opened the print, calendar, card and gift shop in the Promenade 23 years ago and hopes to find space to lease nearby.
"The outpouring of concern and helpfulness my customers are offering is amazing," she said.
Mattherson said her phone has been ringing almost nonstop with calls from loyal customers offering to help look for a new location or pitch in with the move.
"I have a list of places to look at," she said, "but 30 days is just not enough time."
Chen agreed. He cannot find a new location and have it outfitted for business in such a short time, he said.
The restaurant's appliances were custom built into the existing kitchen and would be nearly impossible to move, he said. Chen anticipates it would take him at least three months to set up a new restaurant and kitchen and that does not include the time he would need to find and lease a new space.
"That's not right; that's cruelty, what they are doing to us," he said.
The township values the evicted businesses and admires their success and longevity despite adverse conditions, Jeff Bartlett, township manager said in the news release.
“We are regretful that we cannot safely continue to accommodate the tenants at the Promenade Shopping Center as we had planned,” Bartlett said in the release. “We have been in touch with the businesses and plan to take action to help ease the transition however possible, and are working to connect them with the right people to hopefully find them another home within our township.”
The Promenade suffered a decline in commercial traffic after its anchor store, Giant Foods, moved to the Commons at 4655 Perkiomen Ave. in 2008.
Largely vacant for more than a decade, the plaza had deteriorated substantially by the time the township acquired it, Getz said, noting the purchase was made in lieu of foreclosure.
“It (the shopping center) plays a vital role in the township’s concept for a revitalized Perkiomen Avenue and includes the proposed relocation of municipal facilities to the site,” Getz said
Plans include relocating township offices, including fire and ambulance services, and police and highway departments, to the nearly 18-acre property in the Reiffton section of Exeter.
Consideration also will be given to the inclusion of a community recreation center on the property, Getz said.
The existing municipal facilities have been outgrown and will be sold to defray the cost of a new complex, she said.
Exeter’s supervisors at a meeting Monday, July 27, approved an agreement with KCBA Architects, Center Valley, Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County, to provide design services for a municipal complex.
Getz said KCBA will conduct a study of Exeter’s existing facilities and the Promenade site and propose options.
The public’s input will be sought through the process, she said. The dates and times of public meetings will be announced in advance on the township’s website and at regular meetings of the supervisors.