Tacony and Holmesburg are neighboring communities that are seeking a better future for their residents. Their missions are similar but their focuses are different. Tacony is taking a business first approach while Holmesburg is looking to take advantage of its sense of history. Both neighborhoods understand that they must work in collaboration to make their goals a reality as they try to stand as pillars of Northeast Philadelphia.
Tacony Commercial Revitalization
Tacony, like many other small working-class neighborhoods, is looking to bounce back from the economic recession that hampered business back in 2008. Tacony’s leadership sees the economic potential of the neighborhood as a vital piece for returning it back to relevance in Northeast Philadelphia.
The commercial future of Tacony lies on Torresdale Avenue. The area is the main business corridor of the neighborhood and it has felt the full blow of the economic downturn a few years ago. Tacony Corridor Manager Alex Balloon said he understands businesses on Torresdale Avenue have not fully bounced back.
“We went from about 107 retailers in our Tacony area to 77,” Balloon said. This drop in businesses has left a number of abandoned storefronts in the area which is crippling the businesses still in the area based on the concept of co-tenancy.
“If I’m a baker and I’m next to a butcher, we can both sell to the same customer,” Balloon explained. “If I’m next to a vacant building, I don’t have the opportunity to pick up that extra sale from someone who might be shopping at another store.”
The issues for Tacony’s business corridor go beyond business that are no longer there. The businesses that still call the area home are facing problems with connecting to customers in the neighborhood. Balloon said the changing demographics in the neighborhood is an obstacle that some business owners have yet to navigate.
Many of the businesses along Torresdale Avenue are long-standing specialty shops that operate a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business model. This model is proving obsolete considering the younger families are moving into the neighborhood. Balloon admitted that an older shopper may be fine with such hours but for working families with young children, it simply will not work. “I’m working with those business owners to help them improve their business and to look for ways we can help grow business here in Tacony,” Balloon said.
The effort to strengthen the neighborhood’s business is an initiative called the Tacony Revitalization Project. One of the business owners that Balloon is working closely with is Mark Whited, the owner of Bull’s Eye Darts Supplies located on Torresdale Avenue. Whited brought his business to Tacony four years ago after opening in Frankford in 1997. Whited said location is a key factor for why he chose to move his business to Torresdale Avenue.
“This is a great place to do business,” Whited said. “It’s convenient to Center City. It’s close to I-95 and New Jersey so it’s easy to get to.”
Whited’s business is one of the businesses taking part in the revitalization project. He said he hopes the efforts will lead to improved business for himself as well as his fellow business owners. “If we improve the storefronts, maybe people will take a little more pride in the neighborhood,” Whited said. “Everyone seems to be excited about it and everyone seems to be cooperating and pulling together to make this thing work.”
Tacony Hoagie Trail
- Denofa’s Deli: 6946 Torresdale Ave.
- Fink’s Hoagies: 4633 Princeton Ave.
- Jack’s Place: 7167 Hegerman St.
Balloon cited design, counseling and promotion as the key elements to the plan. Small business counseling is available through this effort and the neighborhood is seeking to enhance promotion through initiatives like ShopTacony.com and tThe Hoagie Trail, which is a collaborative advertising campaign featuring three of Tacony’s best sandwich shops. This advertising led to a front page article in The Daily News.
The Hoagie Trail is one example of the attitude of current business owners in Tacony. The main objective is not competition. It is for all businesses to work together to strengthen Torresdale Avenue.
Tacony Revitalizing Community Through History and Culture
Tacony’s main corridor is experiencing a facelift in terms of business improvement, but there is also a community side to the story. These areas are not being ignored as Tacony’s leadership works to get business back on track.
Tacony Civic Association Vice President Joseph Sannutti pointed to the seldom referenced historical side of Tacony. “We have a historical side to Tacony,” Sannutti said. “We are in the process of placing plates on the historical homes while reaching out to the people who live in this area to let them know about the history of our neighborhood.”
Sannutti said he believes the key to revitalizing the community is to bring the residents together. “We’re trying to bring people together to have value for our neighborhood,” Sannutti said. The vice president also pointed to the goal of fostering a community that asks what the leadership can do for them and what they can do for Tacony.
Soundslide: Tacony Debuts First Friday Art Festival
Artist Joe Sannutti is the nephew of Tacony Civic Association Vice President Joseph Sannutti.
Holmesburg Looking Forward by Connecting to the Past
While Tacony has taken a business first approach to revitalizing the community, Holmesburg wants to reconnect with its past. The Pennypack Park area at Frankford and Solly avenues is a scenic destination in need of some attention in terms of beautification. The Holmesburg Bridge runs through this area of the park. The bridge, despite being named a historical site last year, has not been enough to get the full potential out of this area.
If you venture down to this area of the park, you will not see it filled, even on the nicest of days. Inaccessible walking areas, a currently locked parking lot and trash are a few of the current problems the park faces.
Holmesburg Civic Association President Rich Frizelll said he wants to see this area reach its full potential. “One of [the Holmesburg Civic Association’s] main focuses is reclaiming this park,” Frizell said. He also said he sees a ton of potential in the park and touched on the fact that individuals from out of town often come in and talk about how beautiful the area could be if properly tended to.
One obstacle to the aesthetic beauty of the area is a large rail that runs across the intersection of Frankford and Solly avenues and through the park. The rail is owned by Conrail, a freight corporation that operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The rail is rusted and unpainted which detracts from the area’s image. Holmesburg and Conrail had some contention regarding the bridge and the responsibility of painting it. Frizell is happy that a resolution has finally been reached, but it only came after persistence.
The Holmesburg Civic Association, with the help of Congressman Robert Brady. D-Pa., has made inroads with Conrail leadership. “[Congressman Brady] has got Conrail to agree to allow us to paint the bridge,” Frizell said. “They’re going to waive all the fees, registrations and insurance.” Conrail has agreed to let Holmesburg paint the rail if they can find the resources. “They’ve finally loosened up,” Frizell said.
Frizell said he holds a deep affection for the park that sits just three blocks away from his Holmesburg home. Frizell has made it a personal mission to make sure Holmesburg gets the help it needs to save its park.
What is Conrail?
Conrail is a company that provides freight services to customers and operates in Detroit, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many Northeast Philadelphia residents and business owners are familiar with the company and its track which runs through parts of Tacony and Holmesburg. Conrail began operating in 1976.