The smoke filtered through the cold night air as the crowd, bundled in mittens and winter coats, watched a gigantic bird made of wood burn slowly to the ground. Every year the Firebird Festival takes place in Phoenixville, PA, celebrating the beauty that comes out of rebirth, whether physical or figurative. Hidden in the ashes of the great Phoenix are hundreds of little clay birds, which are then sold, the profits funding other arts events in the small town outside of Philadelphia. Phoenixville began as a an ironworks; our claim to fame is that Phoenix Steel was used in the Eiffel Tower. After major setbacks, including the destruction of the steel mill several times, the town became very successful. Around the turn of the century, Phoenixville's social life was growing too. The Colonial Theatre, which was built in 1903, displayed an ornate wooden interior complete with velvet seats and a red curtain. Phoenixville experienced a severe economic downturn in the 1970s and by 1995, when my parents bought our house, even the Colonial Theatre had been closed for a decade and most of the stores had peeling paint, odd and out-dated merchandise, and few customers.
But the Phoenix rose from its ashes again. In 1996 the Colonial Theatre reopened and today Bridge Street is one of the hottest places to start a small business. One of my favorite spots is called “Soltane Breads and Spreads”. It serves up all-natural bread, pastries, and coffee and is staffed by students from Camp Hill Soltane, a post-secondary school for young adults with special needs. The staff is always extremely friendly and the other customers are happy to chat you up while you wait in line. Another place you won't want to miss is the Phoenix Village Art Center. It has open studio nights where you can meet artists and see artwork that ranges from fiber art to photography. The best time to visit Phoenixville is during the summer on the first Friday of the month when all the shops throw open their doors with special hours, discounts, and events. Phoenixville may go through tough times again, but I know that out of its ashes will rise a strong community who will reignite its bright flame.
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