“. . . an unfurling of neighborly connection . . .”

By Luke Zubrod

The outside view of the space that is being transformed into Star & Lantern. (Tim Sarac, photo)

As green buds begin to assure that a long winter is behind us and with vaccines now broadly available, Square Roots Collective is abuzz with anticipation as we prepare for two upcoming launches on Birch Street. On April 23, after a winter hiatus, The Creamery is slated to reopen with a number of exciting changes. Our family, located just a few blocks away, is looking forward to reconnecting with friends and neighbors on the expansive Creamery grounds—to enjoying a space built for community life after a dormant year. We are also looking forward to shaking off the cobwebs of school- and work-from-home and to enjoying elements, like a shuffleboard, added just as COVID was poised to crescendo. Among the changes you’ll notice upon arrival is that a new event space, called “The Retreat,” has replaced the Chop Shop axe-throwing venue. The Retreat is an imaginative indoor camping space where small groups can enjoy delicious food and drinks with private gaming experiences including darts, corn hole, and a regulation length shuffleboard table. As COVID is reined in via expanded vaccine eligibility and as people begin to return to work, we see this space as perfectly suited to team events or other such gatherings in a world remembering the joys of being together again.

Not long following the reopening will be the launch of a new speakeasy to be called Star & Lantern, which will be located in the old boiler room in the bowels of The Creamery. The essence of the project is a high-quality cocktail bar that tells the story of the Underground Railroad. It’s an incredible setting with high ceilings, beautiful original stone walls from 1902, and the original boiler they used for the condensed milk canning process back in the early 1900s. The entire theme of the place, from the art on the walls to the names of the cocktails and the stories in the menus, will all be positioned to encourage curiosity around the history of the Underground Railroad. For example, the cocktail menu honors the work of Tom Bullock, a formerly enslaved man who, in 1917, published one of the first cocktail books in America.

Work in progress as the space that will become Star & Lantern is readied for construction. (Tim Sarac, photo)

Star & Lantern is a collaborative initiative between Square Roots Collective, whose mission is to “advance the community of Kennett Square so all residents can thrive” and Voices Underground, whose mission is “Racial healing through storytelling.” Voices Underground is itself a collaboration between Square Roots Collective and Lincoln University, whose president, Dr. Brenda Allen, is a member of the organization’s board. Our hope with Star & Lantern is to expose people to the power of the stories of the Underground Railroad in order to understand how we got to the racial divide in our country and to shift attitudes such that people of different racial and national backgrounds lean toward each other rather than away from each other. The Star & Lantern’s grand opening is anticipated to be June 17th, as part of Chester County’s multi-day Juneteenth Festival, “Journeying Toward Freedom.”

These two launches—The Creamery and Star & Lantern—hint at the purposes of Square Roots Collective. Each is aimed at nurturing social cohesion and, ultimately, trust within a wonderfully diverse community. Each celebrates history and local art, emphasizing our area’s unique sense of place. And each aims to be self-sustaining and consequential in creating economic uplift for community members. The whole of these ambitions can be seen when panning back to consider the broader array of our initiatives. These initiatives are almost always done in collaboration with other community partners. For example, the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network (SCCON) is a collaboration with Kennett Area Community Service and the United Way of Southern Chester County, among others. It is focused on addressing poverty in holistic and collaborative ways. The Kennett Trails Alliance is a multi-municipal effort aimed at connecting the community to each other and to the area’s beautiful natural assets via the Kennett Greenway, a planned 14-mile trail loop around and through Kennett. Importantly, the Greenway is focused on enabling equitable access for everyone in our community regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic standing.

The original boilers in the room that the Star & Lantern will occupy. (Tim Sarac, photo)

We see these projects and the community they are intended to strengthen through the metaphor of a strong and beautiful fabric woven from many threads. Each project attempts to weave different threads into the fabric of community life:

  • Relational Thread: When relationships are strong both within and across racial and socioeconomic lines, a community is more resilient. We seek to create more opportunities to weave these relationships, to pull people and organizations together in order to strengthen the community fabric.
  • Placemaking Thread: Our common sense of belonging is enhanced when the distinctive elements of our area—including art, history, and our beautiful landscapes and preserves—are more deeply woven into community life.
  • Economic Thread: A sustainable community must be economically strong and provide opportunities for everybody to take part in the life of the community. Our projects endeavor to weave the economic success of our community into opportunities, especially for those who have not typically had access to economic self-reliance.

Returning to the moment—to a new season, to an unfurling of neighborly connection—we are looking forward to welcoming you again to Birch Street. If you see my family playing shuffleboard or sitting around a firepit at The Creamery, please say hello—it will be delightful to see you again.

Luke Zubrod leads operations at Square Roots Collective and, together with his wife Jessica and three kids, is a longtime Borough resident. You’ll often see Luke and Jessica walking Borough streets with their dog Sully.