While the largest celebration on Mifflin Street this October was the tenth anniversary of the South Philadelphia Tap Room, the festivities truly highlighted the tenth anniversary of Newbold as a thriving section of Point Breeze. Beginning with Longacre Property Management Group‘s redevelopment of the area in 2003, owner John Longacre has successfully redefined a pocket west of Broad Street.
The 1500 block of Mifflin Street—the heart of Newbold—in particular has seen a radical change with the popularity of both the Tap Room and Ultimo Coffee, which have become staples of the neighborhood’s identity.
Buu Tu, who has lived in his family’s house on the 1500 block of Mifflin Street for the last fifteen years, said the area’s reputation and safety has greatly improved with the success of the two businesses.
“The right type of customers started coming down here,” said Tu. “It’s gotten a lot nicer.”
Aaron Ultimo, owner of Ultimo Coffee and Brew, opened his store in 2009 at 15th and Mifflin streets to tremendous success. The Daily Meal recognized Ultimo as the best coffee shop in the country in 2012.
“One of the reasons we were asked to come here was to facilitate growth of community,” Ultimo said. “Before we were here, this was a vacant lot – a vacant dark corner.”
Ultimo said the business relationship with Longacre, who is the landlord of the building and originally presented the idea of combining a coffee shop and bottle shop, has been pleasant. The two have worked toward creating a more desirable neighborhood.
Of his presence as the main proprietor in the area, Longacre, a ’97 Temple University alumnus, expressed his dedication to civic engagement in Philadelphia, particularly focusing on areas suffering from underdevelopment.
“After a loss of 700,000 people, it’s going to have to be a private sector-led effort,” Longacre said. “I mean, the city is not going to be able to do everything. They’re just not. And there’s not enough subsidy in the world to kind of reinvent these neighborhoods—revitalize them—with a government.”
Longacre elaborated his feelings about how businesses in the area were boosting not only the economic health of the neighborhood but also the vital needs a community needs to function.
“What happens is, in the long run, these communities become underserved,” Longacre said. “They have to leave the neighborhood to procure the goods and services in other neighborhoods and that’s just not right.”
Longacre has expanded his real estate interests to housing developments as well. LPMG broke ground with its latest project, reNewbold, at 16th and Moore streets, just days before the Tap Room’s anniversary festivities kicked off. The project will include 16 rowhomes, two condos and retail space.
Former residents and current neighbors alike flocked to the Tap Room’s celebration over the weekend of October 18th through the 20th to check out the bar’s events featuring select drafts and a brand new menu. George “Veck” McCartin, a freelance sound mixer whose office was located on the block for over two decades, returned to the area to spend time with old friends and see the neighborhood in its present state.
“There are a lot of people who’ve invested in the area who want to see it called something else,” McCartin said. “ The neighborhood’s part of Point Breeze. There’s nothing different from that. You could put enough money up to your publicist, I’m sure they can get it put on the map as any number of things that you want to call it.”
The name “Newbold” is a tribute to the original name of South Hicks Street, where the Tap Room now sits as a key landmark of the neighborhood.
“I kind of dislike the area coming up, that it’s known that people might have money,” McCartin said. “Starting about six or seven years ago, there was a serious rise in crime, which made me know the neighborhood was finally ‘making it’ because nobody would come down here before to rob someone because nobody thought anyone had any money.”
Current residents on the block had little to say about a crime problem rising in the area. The biggest complaint is about parking issues as a result of the businesses. In spite of that, neighbors agreed that the block’s sense of community was improved with gathering spots and events hosted by the two businesses cradling the block.
April Marinelli, a teacher who has lived on the block for three years, said she appreciates the quiet atmosphere where she can relax.
“There’s places you can go, like the coffee shop and the Tap Room, if you do want to get out and enjoy a few things,” Marinelli said. “But for the most part, it’s relaxed, not too chaotic. The only concern I have is parking.”