Frankford Avenue in Mayfair may be the heart of Northeast Philadelphia, but area employees said the street has undergone a dramatic transformation over the years.
The Frankford Avenue business district, between Harbison and Solly avenues, has transformed from a bustling entertainment and retail mecca, during the 1950s through much of the 1990s, into a place where nail salons, restaurants, bars and vacant buildings abound.
Joe Veneziale, owner of Giggles Gifts on Frankford and Bleigh avenues, said he is troubled by the changes he’s seen on the street over the years.
“There’s no retail on the street anymore,” he said. “30-35-40 years ago, there was nothing but retail stores on the avenue. You could get anything you wanted.”
Ed Lloyd, long-time owner of Lloyd Sixsmith sporting goods on Frankford Avenue near Sheffield Street, said he has noticed similar changes over the years. Where there used to be clothing and shoe stores, there are now nail salons and doctor’s offices, he said.
Cash for gold stores also flourish on the street today.
Morry’s Dinettes owner Stephen Kanoff has worked in the area for 48 years and started to notice these places moving in about a year and a half ago, during the heart of the recession.
Despite the nail salons and doctor’s offices on nearly every block of Frankford Avenue and the abundance of bars, restaurants, eateries, chain dollar stores and cash for gold places crowding the street, vacant buildings exist throughout the area.
Many stores began to leave Frankford Avenue in the 1980s and early 1990s and Loyd said he blamed the malls for driving businesses out.
Besides the departure of retail, Frankford Avenue also used to offer more entertainment said Kelli Smelser, an employee of Penn Hardware, on Frankford and Bleigh avenues. She’s lived in neighboring Tacony for more than 15 years.
Smelser said she remembers when Concord Roller Rink, on Princeton and Frankford avenues, was around. The venue shut down in 1985 and is now a public storage facility.
There were also four movie theaters on Frankford Avenue that have since closed.
The Mayfair Theatre, on Cottman and Frankford avenues, closed in 1985 and is now a bank. The Holme Theatre, on Frankford Avenue near Welsh Road, closed in 1951, and the Merben Theater, on Frankford Avenue near Wellington Street, closed in 1977 and is now a parking lot. The Devon Theater, at Frankford Avenue and Sterling Street, became the Devon Theater for the Performing Arts in 2009, but has since closed due to financial troubles.
Although many of Frankford Avenue’s businesses have come and gone over the years, there are a few fixtures that have stood the test of time.
The Mayfair Diner has been a Frankford Avenue landmark since 1932. Other long-time retail fixtures include Sixsmith sporting goods, here since 1949, Penn Hardware, founded in 1977 and Henry of Mayfair clock shop and Stein florists, both on the street since 1948.