Nicetown-Tioga: Residents of ‘Quiet’ Block Don’t Mind Recent Changes

As Tony Perry (left) relaxes on his porch after work with a can of Old Milwaukee, his nephew, Shaun Wiggins (right), stops by for a visit.]

During the hot, sunny days of summer in Nicetown-Tioga, Gregory Broughten starts selling water ice outside his home between 11 a.m. and noon each day. Broughten, 57, has lived in the house on the 1400 block of Venango Street since 1982, when he inherited it from his stepfather.

“I like the space. There’s a lot of room in there,” he said, pointing behind him to the six-bedroom, three-bathroom row home where he lives with his daughter, Breonna, who is in sixth grade.

In the last 28 years he’s lived there, he said, “I’ve seen things get worse and get better.”

Gregory Broughten serves up water ice, soft pretzels, bottled water and canned soda for the block, as well as other local community members who happen to pass by his home.

His biggest gripe is with the number of people who have left the block in recent years. Moreover, many remaining block residents do not own their homes, Broughten said, so they do not participate as actively in the neighborhood.

“We only have about five homeowners on the block,” he said.

Broughten also worries about property taxes, which he said are “rising slowly but surely.”

His small water ice stand, which he keeps stocked with soft pretzels, water bottles and cans of soda as well, “developed from me trying to teach my daughter finances, but she kinda don’t want to do it.”

Broughten has been setting up his small shop for the last three seasons.

“It won’t buy you a new car, but it’ll get you a couple bills paid,” he said. “But it’s not a love of mine. I’d rather swing a hammer.”

When he’s not scooping water ice, Broughten works on home-repair projects for his friends and neighbors.

“Some people call me a handyman, though I went to school for maintenance. I was No. 1 in my class,” he said.

In addition to being known on the block for his work as “a handyman,” Broughten serves as a local judge of elections, and when the weather’s right, “I cut the grass,” he said, “keep the place kind of in ship shape.”

What Brought enjoys most about the work he does, is that, “when you finish the project,” he said, “you can stand back and say, ‘Yeah, I did this.’”

But Broughten isn’t the only handyman on the block.

John “J.R.” Carl Smith Jr., 60, completes home projects throughout the area, but he doesn’t carry a business card.

John "J.R." Carl Smith Jr. passes the time on his day off.

“I’m already retired. That check ain’t enough, you know what I mean, gotta make ends meet. That’s the way it is,” Smith said. “I get more jobs by word of mouth than if I got an ad in the paper. The guy I usually deal with knows everybody, practically.”

Smith has lived on the block, at the corner of 15th and Venango streets, for four years but said, “I’ve lived in North Philly all my life.”

“My favorite spot was, I guess it was Gratz Street,” he said, “the 1900 block of Gratz. The neighbors were cool. Like, if they were out there cooking, like a cookout, they’d ask if you wanted anything – real friendly.”

But for Tony Perry, 46, things are a lot different in Nicetown-Tioga than in his hometown of Suffolk, Va.

“I like it a lot. There’s more to do here – partyin’, bars everywhere,” he said. “Me and the boys, we get together, and we shoot pool at night.”

A father of three with one grandchild, Perry said all his children were born in Philadelphia, so he has been traveling back and forth from Virginia for a number of years. Since he’s made the move up north, he noticed how strange his accent can sound to those who have lived in the area all their lives.

“They say I sound funny,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Heck, you sound funny.’”

Perry – who said he visits Broughten’s water ice stand “all the time,” usually ordering cherry – has seen a lot of people on the block pass away.

As Tony Perry (left) relaxes on his porch after work with a can of Old Milwaukee, his nephew, Shaun Wiggins (right), stops by for a visit.

“Other than that, not much changed,” he said. “They’re building up – that makes a big difference.

“That used to be a parking lot,” he added pointing across the street to the new Temple University Medical School building at 3500 N. Broad St.

When the medical school building was first erected last May, local news outlets like the Philadelphia Daily News and campus newspaper The Temple News reported some dissatisfaction from community members, but those on the 1400 block of Venango Street don’t seem to mind the towering 11-story structure.

“It doesn’t bother me one way or the other,” Broughten said, adding that the building has brought more security and more light to the block. “I have to put my shades down at night when I go to sleep.”

For longtime resident Smith, the biggest shift in the neighborhood came when the new medical school completed construction. Smith said he thinks the school has brought more jobs to the neighborhood.

“I mean I guess has something to do with the hospital,” he said. “More nurses, doctors, more maintenance, housekeepers.”

“You got a big building now,” added Smith’s neighbor, William Holston.

“It’s all right,” Holston said of the new Temple School of Medicine building. “They could’ve waited a couple years, though.

Like Smith, Holston has lived in the area all his life.

“It’s a beautiful area,” Holston said, “very nice.”

For most block residents, their concerns are universal – finding work and making ends meet. Broughten, who said he’ll likely never leave North Philadelphia, maintains a positive attitude:

“I can see the neighborhood coming up, and I’ll be right there with it.”

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