Vergil Austin has run his barbershop on Maplewood Mall for more than two decades, but he says the historic street finally has gotten a “facelift that was well overdue.”

The city recently completed a $3.3 million upgrade to the street in the Germantown neighborhood that revamped the narrow, deteriorating street and sidewalks, improved lighting and more.

While inside his Clipperz Unisex Hair Salon on Friday eating lunch, Austin had high hopes that the improvements would draw more foot traffic and businesses to the area, and help store owners bounce back from a significant drop in business due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before, it was sort of a hidden gem,” Austin said. “If you looked down the mall before [the improvements], you’d see a lot of trees and stuff that’s hidden. But now when you look down the mall, it’s wide open.”

The improvements to Maplewood Mall, which began in late 2019, were the first in more than 30 years, according to the city.

Crews widened the road and replaced the cobblestone street with bricks, added bricked loading zones and removed large trees that obscured businesses. The formerly bricked sidewalks are now concrete and the squat, green pillars that lined the roadway were replaced.

The project also included new trees, bike racks, seating, landscaping and trash cans, according to the city. Below the street level, crews replaced a water main. The project was completed at the end of 2020.

Candace Smith, who has operated Asayah Loc Nurturing & Styling on the mall for more than seven years, approved of the project’s new lighting, benches and more.

Before the improvements, the roadway looked “so rundown nobody wanted to come down the block,” she said.

While shampooing a client’s hair, Smith said she believed the improvements would help build a community among the business owners.

“We want to come together and create a community,” she said.

In addition to the improvements to Maplewood Mall, the city recently completed a $735,000 project at the nearby plaza at West Chelten Avenue and Greene Street, which included new bus shelters and access points to Vernon Park, according to the city.

“Improving the mall and the plaza are two key steps to revitalizing Central Germantown,” said Emaleigh Doley, executive director of Germantown United CDC, in a released statement from the city about the improvements. “The intention of these spaces is to serve existing residents, business owners and workers. These projects address the need for safe and welcoming outdoor spaces for all.”

Kiya McNeil said the upgrades to Maplewood Mall were among the driving forces behind her decision to locate her restaurant there last year. She opened Bistro on the Mall in August.

While sitting in her restaurant’s dining room among a handful of diners, McNeil said business owners were planning to host new events on the upgraded mall this year, including a customer appreciation day in August.

“People are just starting to come back,” McNeil said. “It is a rebirth.”

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