Is Conshohocken Poised to Burst its Restaurant Bubble?

One thing Conshohocken has is a lot of is restaurants. It is hard to find something non-edible to buy in Conshohocken, but if you are hungry, you have a lot of choices. Some say too many restaurants exist now, but in the near future Borough Council could approve a project that will greatly increase the number of tables available. Not only that, along with these restaurants would likely come liquor licences and more seats at a bar. Is this what Conshohocken needs to continue its successful redevelopment? Or will adding even more restaurants and liquor licenses negatively impact what currently exists?

As we have reported, there are ongoing hearings in Conshohocken about the creation of a new zoning district, Special Zoning District – 4 (SP-4), that have focused mainly on parking and traffic. What has not been brought up in any significant way are the five restaurants (and any liquor licenses) that will result if the district is approved.

SORA West (the official name of the redevelopment project) is being proposed by Keystone Property Group. If approved, the redevelopment area would be completed in two phases. This would include among the office buildings, hotel and old fire house, four large restaurants in the first phase and an additional smaller restaurant in the second phase:

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That is 29,187 square feet of new restaurant space. To give you a comparison, Bar Lucca is approximately 4,100 square feet, the Conshohocken Cafe is approximately 1,878 square feet and the former Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery in Lafayette Hill is approximately 6,140 square feet.

Based on the Economic Impact Study presented by Keystone Property Group, the redeveloped site would add approximately 2,000 new workers on the site each day compared to what exists now (note we deducted the restaurant and hotel staffs from the number, as they aren’t likely to eat at one of the restaurants). There is also the potential for 200-250 hotel guests each day and anyone coming for a meeting, etc. So we are going to estimate 3,000 people each day.

Can 3,000 people sustain four large restaurants, and one smaller one, on a day-to-day basis? Of course not. Some of those people will bring their lunch or eat elsewhere in town. So the only way for them to be successful is for them to take customers away from the current restaurants and/or bring in new diners. Adding 3,000 people and no new restaurants will however help sustain the restaurants that already exist.

There are currently 21 establishments operating under a liquor license between the bars, restaurants and private clubs in Conshohocken. SORA West being realized will likely increase that number to 25. There has been absolutely no discussion (at least in public) from Borough Council about the desirability of allowing new liquor licences into town.

This is also not an isolated situation on one block. O’Neill Properties’ not-yet-built office building along the river, The Millennial, is also conceived with restaurants with liquor licenses in mind. Its website states that the building will include “Restaurants, pubs, beer garden and more.” With the addition of The Millennial into the mix, the potential for liquor licenses in the Borough could reach 27.

What is potentially happening in Conshohocken with restaurants and liquor licences is not occurring in isolation. Have you read about the giant restaurant bubble they are creating in King of Prussia? There are approximately a dozen restaurants already opened or opening in 2017 that will create an additional 2,000+ seats within a short drive of Conshohocken. These are also not your typical mall area eateries. City restaurants such as Fat Ham and Davio’s have or will be opening outposts just to name two. The Plymouth Meeting Mall is also promising to transform into a restaurant and lifestyle destination.

This issue isn’t necessarily exclusive to redevelopment projects. Another potential concern is that the existing retail and street level office space in Conshohocken is also being converted to new restaurants. For example, Tierra Caliente was most recently a children’s furniture store. The Local Table took the space of a short lived yogurt shop, but that was previously a dry cleaner. The coffee shop ‘feine replaced an interior decorator’s office and Tradestone Cafe replaced a lawyer’s office.

Here is some suggested reading on this topic if you are interested. The first is an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that reports on a commercial real estate study focused on Center City that found 24% of the retail transactions were for restaurants. Everyone seems to want to open a restaurant and it is driving leases. The second is an article from that suggests that there is a restaurant business bubble and it is about to burst.

So there are some important issues involved that go beyond parking and traffic. Will adding more restaurants create a bubble or burst one that potentially already exists?  Do you want Borough Council to publicly address these issues? Let us know in the comments.