York’s Royal Square is on the rise.
Royal Square in York is barely recognizable.
Today, a neighborhood that once was 90 percent vacant now is home to more than 50 properties, 40 entrepreneurs and 25 artists who live, work and thrive in Royal Square. The community bounded by King, Queen, Duke and Princess streets is making a comeback.
“It’s really exciting to think about what’s happening here,” says Stacy McClain (pictured), programs director at The Parliament, an art gallery at 116 East King Street that opened its doors in 2011. “I feel like The Parliament was one of the first places to really bring new life to Royal Square.”
The gallery’s beginnings in 2010 were as creatively infused as they were humble. As the story goes, the residents of what was then a townhouse simply carried the furniture from the first floor into the backyard and instead filled the space with the work of talented friends and acquaintances that otherwise might not have had the opportunity to share their creations.
Alexandra Dwyer was one of those residents. When the makeshift art gallery became popular – packing the little house with sometimes hundreds of visitors in one weekend – Dwyer called her landlord, Josh Hankey, to let him know what was happening.
“We knew that if that many people were showing up that there was a need in the community,” Dwyer said. “It was no longer just something a few of us imagined would be a cool idea.”
The two then started talking about the need to showcase the artistic talent that York County has to offer. Together, they formed The Parliament Arts Organization.
Today Dwyer, Hankey and John McElligott are partners in Royal Square Development, an organization that has helped saturate this small community and other areas of York with opportunity for growth and change.
And they’ve been hard at work to develop the rest of Royal Square, adding a general store called 56 Provisions, opening a craft and vintage boutique called Redeux and constructing the neighborhood’s first restaurants at the former location of Allison’s, an old crime-ridden bar.
As the neighborhood started to change, it was time for The Parliament to grow with it, said McClain, who now manages the daily operations and a lot of the activities that take place in the gallery.
“While it’s a space for artists and entrepreneurs, we also wanted it to be welcoming to people who might not normally visit a gallery. We want art to be accessible to everyone, but not something that’s forced on them.” – Stacy McClain
The Parliament closed its doors after a show in December and construction crews got to work turning the college graduate retreat into an upscale gallery space. Several walls on the first floor were knocked down to allow for a more open flow. By March, The Parliament was back in business, welcoming guests to an art space that offered so much more.
Upstairs is now home to resident artists, including a painter, photographer and videographer; public art classes and activities will be offered later in the year.
While rotating art fills the walls, bright, comfortable, vintage furniture is set out to encourage people to stay, McClain said.
Visitors can lounge on the couch or set their laptop up at the high wooden table that sits in the middle of the space. A tea bar was added in the back, which offers a variety of hot and cold beverages, as well as bubble tea, a thick tapioca-like concoction.
The exposed brick pillars, bright white walls and teal accents bring new life to a space that has always wanted to thrive.
“While it’s a space for artists and entrepreneurs, we also wanted it to be welcoming to people who might not normally visit a gallery,” McClain said. “We want art to be accessible to everyone, but not something that’s forced on them.”
The space now has an almost coffee shop feel, with snack items soon to be added to the drink menu, McClain said.
They also plan to do some construction behind the building, including the addition of a deck that will feature outdoor movies. While there are some old art pieces on display outside, new works could also be added. There is no timeline yet for when that project will be complete.
Hoping to encourage people to see what Royal Square has to offer, the neighborhood is gearing up for the 2015 Royal Square Beer Crawl on Friday, April 17.
While a bar is in the works for Royal Square, there aren’t any restaurants or pubs where people can grab a bite or a brew. So, McClain said, they decided to improvise. Six locations will offer six beers, six appetizers and six activities for guests who participate in the guided tour through the neighborhood.
Drinks are provided by The Beer Ace while food will be brought in from various downtown restaurants, including Baron Von Schwein and The York Pretzel Company.
Activities vary at each location, including “pin the mustache on the hipster” at DiDi and Smiling John’s Barbershop and Salon and watercolor marbling at The Parliament.
The revitalization of Royal Square is about more than each individual business, McClain said. Instead, it’s a community effort to build one another up. While they all have good ideas and provide unique services, they feel they can best succeed by working together.
“We want to give people a sample of what this city can offer,” McClain said. “We want to be part of this community and let people know that Royal Square is an accessible, growing, attractive neighborhood. There’s a lot going on here – and I think that’s pretty exciting.”
The 2015 Royal Square Beer Crawl is 6 to 10 p.m. April 17. Tickets are $30 and include beer samples, appetizers and activities at each stop. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.