Northeast: Frankford Avenue Then and Now

Stephen Kanoff, owner of Morry's Dinettes, shares his feelings towards the new businesses that have opened up on Frankford Avenue.

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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.

Stephen Kanoff, owner of Morry's Dinettes, shares his feelings towards the new businesses that have opened up on Frankford Avenue.

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.

Many new types of busineses have moved onto Frankford Avenue over the past couple decades.

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.

Kelli Smelser, an employee at Penn Hardware, explains the changes she has seen on Frankford Avenue over the last 15 years.

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.

5 Comments

  1. This is not just a Mayfair issue; is an everywhere issue.

    There are vacant stores EVERYWHERE in the USA. All of the stuff that is gone is gone because times have changed. Video on demand, movie megaplexes showing the same movie on multiple screens with a variety of start times, on line shopping where you find what you want without leaving your chair… things are different now.

    The past wasn’t really all that great. Going to 5 or more stores trying to find a pair of shoes or a shirt you like in your size, having only two start times per day for a movie, etc.

    The challenge in Mayfair, and just about every other old school Main Street, is to find what works now in the 21st Century.

    We should be asking “what should come next?”

  2. My Grandparents owned a beauty salon (Sam’s Beauty Shop) on Frankford Avenue at Vista Street in the 1950’s.Their salon was on the second floor & downstairs was Anna’Womens Apparel;selling upscale merchandise. As a teenager; I often spent time at the salon. I loved to walk THE AVENUE;as we called it, window shoppping, going to Moe’s deli,sometimes eating at the Woolworth’s counter. There were so many really nice stores! I remember them being bright & the pavements clean.It certainly is’nt like that now.
    My brother Steve (Morry Dinette’s owner)& our brother Stuart used to take the bus from Feltonville to see a movie at the Mayfair or the Merben.It was safe then for children to do that!! One theater is gone, it would be a shame for the other to disappear with all the other good things I remember about Mayfair.
    It’s a shame that area can’t be revived. Sherry Kanoff Barris

  3. It seems like there’s a major restructuring occurring all over select parts of the city. I grew up in Kensington, and watched a lot of the stores I hung out at as a kid turn over. Kelly’s Korner was great. It was Wal Mart before there ever was such a thing. Now it’s some kind of school. When I was in high school, I made friends that lived in Mayfair. Apparently, most of the places we hung out at are gone. Victims of the economy, or a desire for change. It makes me sad, and I do not consider that “progress.” I remember the Devon. Two dollar movie, and four dollar popcorn. I wish some of these places had gotten declared as monuments to prevent their destruction. While it’s true finding out they’re demolishing all of your childhood haunts is depressing; as long as you remember something it’s never truly gone.

  4. Yes, i lived Tyson Ave. Went to Lincoln, Sylvestor Stallone’s locker was the next section down! Used to hang out at Phillies restaurant on Frankford Ave. Shopped at Fleets. Went to the dances in the area. What a change.All the great stores.Have to mention Vassalo’s deli. What memories and now everything is gone.Many of my friends from the area have passed also. But still a great city. The main thing is the fond memories of that era are locked into my mind and that cannot be changed!!

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