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Beaver, Pennsylvania: an almost perfect town

On March 15, 2008

Beaver, Pennsylvania – sitting tidily between Rochester and Industry – resides in a zip code very close to Bill Bryson’s “perfect” town but still in the same metaphorical state as Garrison Keillor’s slightly off kilter Lake Woebegone.  It is a friendly, enjoyable, seemingly prosperous burg but one wonders how it maintains its momentum in the face of the challenges and downturns that have beset its faltering nearby neighbors.

We didn’t go to Pennsylvania looking for Beaver but were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled across it (go ahead, get it out of your system now).  Having spent the evening in the inhospitable, down on its luck town of Industry, Beaver couldn’t have been more unexpected.  We landed there looking for a place to eat breakfast that didn’t have smorgasbord or Mac in its name (although let me say that the invention of the MacMuffin is a landmark in breakfast history).  So there we were on Third Street in Beaver, only miles away from Industry but seemingly in another world.  Breakfast was had at

Cafe Kolache

which although busy on this Saturday morning provided fast, efficient service.  Kolache was brought to Pennsylvania by the Czechs; it’s a sweet bread filled with any number of fillings and perfect for just about any meal.  We were surprised when without prompting the man behind the counter offered us “one day less fresh” kolache for half off.  Now I’m not a consumer that has any problem with day old bakery goods, particularly when they were visible in the counter and looked no less delicious for their one day’s wear.  I come from a long line of frozen bread eaters, so day old is like straight out of the oven to me.  The kolache plus juice and coffee made for a filling breakfast and we enjoyed it at a table by the window that gave us a view of the street.

Our first visit to Beaver was in the early fall and a craft festival was going on at the town square just down the street, so we meandered that direction looking in store windows as we walked.  Nary a chain store was in sight and each of the storefronts we peered into seemed to reveal a healthy, generally family oriented business.  As I recall there was only one empty store on our entire stroll.

With Halloween only a few days away, Christmas fast approaching and football season in full swing, the crafts had readily recognizable themes.  Very few of the stalls appeared to occupied by professional fair vendors but rather locals with genuine articles for sale.  My favorite stand though was the one that sold large cups of sweet ice tea for a dollar and that included a refill.  I was tickled to find this treat in PA as I thought it belonged solely to the southern states.  When I moved to California several years back I hadn’t realized it was a regional drink and have had to content myself with the occasional glass found at soul food restaurants as I cannot get the hang of making it myself.  (Yes, I know, pour the hot tea over a whole lot of sugar but I am congenitally handicapped when faced with even the simplest kitchen task.)

Diversity was the only thing I found lacking in our stroll around town, with the exception of the Troy Polamalu bowling pin dolls in the line-up at a crafts fair vendor, I didn’t see a face of color all day; which isn’t to say that Beaver isn’t a diverse community but its ethnic mix wasn’t readily apparent on this particular afternoon.  Still, every place we went we were met with smiles and hospitality, nowhere more so than at the Beaver Healthmart Pharmacy (okay, that’s kind of a chain but it didn’t have the look or feel of a chain) at 457 Third Street.  For some reason that morning we were talking about our blood pressure (Must be a feature of age, I don’t recall being too interested in my blood pressure ten years ago.  Lord only knows what is next, my sainted father spent the last ten years of his life inordinately concerned with his and everyone else’s bowel habits.  Constipation was his true foe.)

A sign in the window announced free BP screenings that day so it became the one and only store that we actually entered other than Cafe Kolache (another sign of impending age I guess, a morning made sweeter by half price breakfast and free blood pressure screenings).  After being assured that our BP left us well in range of living through the day, we attempted to find something we needed to buy – the readings having been so professionally and cheerfully delivered we hated to leave empty handed.  Unable to come up with anything we needed, we offered the pharmacist a ten for his services.  He demurred, slightly embarrassed so the conversation quickly turned to a good place to eat that evening.  Wooden Angel was his quick reply and later that evening we discovered that his recommendation was as spot on as his BP readings.

So taken were we with the Beaver community that once back in the car we wandered through its residential neighborhoods looking for open houses to visit.  We found a rather disappointing, overpriced condo building on the north side of the street but virtually nothing on the south side.  (There was one exquisite, enormous Victorian for sale a couple of streets up from the Ohio river but the low six figure asking price would probably have only been the beginning of the investment needed to rehab it.)  The homes overlooking the river looked like their residents had been there awhile and were in no hurry to move.  Who could blame them with the mature trees, large lots and easy access to the river?  We made several turns through the area but found nothing open to visit.

On our last swing through one of the mid-priced looking neighborhoods though we did find an incredible treasure.  At the corner of Van  Street and Lake Street a tree gnome –

As you can see by the fact that he is rooted in snow, the gnome was such a hit that we searched it out on our return trip.  Can you imagine how many times this corner has been photographed?

I offer two views so you can see how it sets on the corner of the street and also see the detail and expression of his face.  For my money, this tree adds about $10,000 dollars to the value of the property; if you’re ever in Beaver, remember he lives on the corner of Van and Lake.

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