It was a muggy, rainy afternoon, but inside Carlette’s Backyard the beers were ice cold and the company was warm and welcoming.
Carlette Brooks, the owner of the bar, was greeted by a customer with a hug and a kiss.
“When you walk in the door you shake every man’s hand and you hug every woman,” Willie Young, 78, said. “I get a kick out of the hugging part.”
Young has been living in the neighborhood since 1996, but has been coming to the area since 1975. He has known Brooks for almost 20 years, he adds.
On April 24, 2008, Brooks bought the bar, then called Victor’s Tavern, from previous owner, Arnold Stern. She had been working there for 17 years as a manager prior to the purchase.
“He had been telling me for years to just save money, save money, save money,” Brooks said. “I saved money and he allowed me to buy the bar.”
With the bar, Brooks aims to make a positive change in the community through fundraisers, donations and simple interaction and involvement with the residents.
Carlette’s Backyard, located on the corner of 57th and Elmwood, lies in a neighborhood that suffers from a high poverty rate. In 2000, it was recorded by NIS Crime Base that 39.6 percent of the adult population’s income is 100 percent below the poverty level.
Brooks, as well as her husband, Kenny Brooks, often help the residents and their customers in any way they can.
“This bar is good to our neighborhood, as far as with the kids, and the neighbors,” Deborah Taylor, a resident of 56th and Elmwood, said. “And as far as me too. They help me out a lot as long as it’s in their means.”
Young has also experienced the Brooks’ generosity.
“I’m legally blind and I live by myself,” Young said. “[If I have a] doctor’s appointment, they make sure I get there. If I need any assistance going to the bank, they take me and bring me back.”
Brooks has placed her attention and energy into events and donations for the children of the community as well. This summer she plans to get permission to block off the street and set up refreshments, games and a moon bounce for the local children, she said.
“I like to do things for the kids,” she added. “There’s nothing for them to do in this area.”
Inspired by her social worker in elementary school working with kids, Brooks wanted to become a social worker too, she said.
While this ambition didn’t come to fruition, working at the bar has allowed her to become an unofficial counselor.
“I’ve seen people come in over the years,” she said. “And you have to listen to everybody’s problems. I know that I’ve helped a lot of people just by talking to them.”
Even when she was young, she would lead neighborhood children on hiking trips on Cobbs Creek, she said.
Previously, Carlette’s Backyard offered free food and refreshments outside the bar to the community for Memorial Day, as well as handed out school supplies to passing children before the school year began, Brooks said.
Last year, Ms. Brooks and Mr. Brooks handed out approximately 300 care packages to children in the community, Young said.
Each package included a pencil, ruler and notebook, as well as pretzels and candy, he added.
This year, Ms. Brooks plans to give out backpacks along with the essential school supplies, she said.
Carlette’s Backyard has donated water, ice and other supplies requested from local houses of worship, Mr. Brooks said.
The bar has also helped neighborhoods beyond the Southwest community, such as victims of Hurricane Katrina, by sending bottled water, he added.
The establishment’s generosity and caring disposition has an endless stretch, touching all those who the owners come in contact with. This feeling of family and kinship is most prominent in the business itself.
“We go on ski trips here,” Leo McDaniel, a frequent customer of Carlette’s Backyard, said. “It’s like one big family.”
They also go camping during the summertime, he added.
Despite a welcoming environment and charitable nature, the bar is not without its share of obstacles.
After being in business for one year, Ms. Brooks was forced to shut it down and install an updated electrical system in order to meet the requirements established by Philadelphia’s Department of Licensing and Inspections.
“When I first started working here they would give you 30 days to correct whatever violation was there,” Ms. Brooks said. “They don’t give you 30 days any more. They close your bar down.”
According to L & I, a business is normally given 30 days to correct the problem, but it depends on what the violation is and who is doing the inspecting on whether the business will be shut down while the violation is corrected.
Recently, 6 ABC covered a story on the violations found in the Philadelphia Police Headquarters, located at 750 Race St., and cited multiple violations that haven’t been corrected in over six months.
Mr. Brooks finds it unfair that the city is not held to the same responsibility as local business owners, he said.
Every day, Ms. Brooks fears being shut down by L & I for some unknown violation, she said, but she continues to offer the best service she can.
“I know I run a nice clear bar, [with] no drugs. I don’t serve underage drinkers,” she added. “I try to watch out for visibly intoxicated people. I try to go by the books.”
The bar also has to worry about neighborhood complaints.
During the Memorial Day block party that Carlette’s Backyard hosted, Greg Moses, a committee person in the community, expressed concern to Ms. Brooks about the music being too loud.
“I asked him to walk down and see where the music was coming from,” Ms. Brooks said. “He found out the music was coming from the block around the corner.”
Before she purchased the bar, neighbors often pointed the finger at the bar for the cause of the problems in the neighborhood, she said.
Since she became the owner, Ms. Brooks has worked hard to combat the concerns of the residents, she added.
“All I want the community to know is if there’s a problem, [and] they come to me, I’ll be more than happy to work with them to solve the problem,” Ms. Brooks said.
The community has benefited in the recent change in ownership of the local bar greatly, and the problems that Ms. Brooks runs into are slowly dissipating through her and Mr. Brooks constant planning to make the bar more visible in the community.
“Both Kenny and Carlette have talked on a number of occasions on how they can have a greater impact on the community,” Charles Askew, an employee of Carlette’s Backyard, said.
Askew is a new addition to the staff of the bar and hopes to make a contribution to the positive impact that Carlette’s Backyard is having on the neighborhood, he said.
“Personally I think this is the textbook model on bars and how they should operate,” Young said. “You can come in here and spend one day, and you will leave here saying every bar should be this way.”