Philadelphia to Bucks County; back to Philly then back to Bucks again. That’s the path Bob McGowan has taken.
In November 2017, he became the chief operating officer for Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, the shopping and dining destination Earl Jamison and Sheila Jamison modeled on shopping villages like Carmel, Calif., back in 1962. They purchased 6 acres in the area known as Hentown and built 14 shops around former chicken coops. They owned Bountiful Acres, the landscaping and garden business in Holicong on Route 202 and brought their garden expertise with them. One of the attractions of the village over the years has been its gardens that change with the seasons.
As Peddler’s Village took shape, Bob McGowan one of nine children, moved with his family to Bucks County. He attended Archbishop Wood High School and studied hotel management at Penn State. With his brother as brewmaster, they opened the Buckingham Mountain Brewery on Route 202 in Lahaska.
The brothers sold the brewery, complete with brewing vats, for the Porterhouse restaurant, which continues today doing business in the shadow of Buckingham Mountain. The restaurant moved the shiny stainlesss steel vats out a few years ago.
“I didn’t know how good I had it,” McGowan said during lunch at Earl’s restaurant in the village this spring. That’s because his next jobs were in or near Center City over 30 years. He’s been sales and marketing manager and general manager at the Double Tree inns in Plymouth Meeting and downtown, the Marriott group and IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group).
McGowan figures he spent a hundred hours a week driving into the city and home, in Buckingham Township.
“It’s really nice to come back,” he said. “You can walk around here. You can’t do that at the malls.” McGowan remembers visiting Peddler’s Village with his children. His daughter is headed for Notre Dame this year and his son is a student at the University of North Carolina.
“A lot is the same here,” McGowan said, “ and a lot has changed. There’s tremendous professionalism here.” He said the village is keeping the old – like the Cookery Ware Shop – but making some things new.
He sees Peddler’s Village driving the local economy – about 300 employees plus the merchants are the engine. “These are jobs for young people,” he said, “good, sustaining jobs.”
McGowan looks into the village’s future and envisions the region’s premier entertainment spot. Crowds already pour into Peddler’s Village for its 14 festivals and the newer wine strolls.
He’s trying different things – like comedy nights and dinner shows in the pub like “Crime of Thrones.”
“We’re bringing back the food trucks, at least three more this year,” McGowan said. “Families can come with the dog and the kids and walk around the village on summer nights.” It’s not formal entertainment but a way to be outside on balmy evenings.
The first food truck event of the season is 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 13, on Carousel Lane outside Giggleberry Square, the children’s fun place.
The village has four restaurants under its own direction, Buttonwood Grill, Earl’s, Hart’s Tavern and the Cock’n Bull, and there’s variety of food and drink vendor establishments – Free Will Brewing Company, Nina’s Ice Cream, Chaddsford Winery, Hewn Spirits distillery, Moku Bowls, Saxby’s coffee shop and the Lucky Cupcake Bakery.
“You can feel like a kid in a candy store here,” McGowan said. “You can people watch and listen to music, and you don’t have to spend a dime.”
The village, for many years focusing on generating its tourist business in nearby metropolitan areas, is turning its sights to local visitors, emphasizing the family attractions. The village is also focusing on business events, offering its 66-room Gonden Plough Inn for conference stays. The vision includes enhanced lighting in addition to the million spectacular Christmas lights, an entertainment deck on the main green and shuttle bus service between Lahaska, New Hope and Doylestown.
The Buttonwood Grill, once the Spotted Hog, is in for a complete makeover. It will close in January for several months and reopen later next year.
Most of the more than 60 shops are locally owned and half are owned by women. McGowan feels that that kind of ownership can help attract local shoppers. A board of directors manages the village with Donna Jamison, daughter of the founders, as chair, and Kevin xxxxx, Bucks County Commissioner Rob Loughery, Michael Murphy and Francine Walish as members.
They lead a business that has grown and prospered for almost 60 years and is planning to stay for many more.