The Brewerytown section of Philadelphia has had its highs and lows but right now, it’s on the rise.
Businesses are moving in and plans are being made for the part of the city that was once left in the dust. Entrepreneurs and development planners alike are devising their own ways to bring the Brewerytown section back to life.
What do all of these plans have in common?
Upon the industry boom in Philadelphia, the city corridor from the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River to 25th Street, up to Cecil B. Moore and down to Parrish Avenue was built up with factories and large industries for brewing. When Prohibition and a number of other factors hit the city in the 20th century, these industrial buildings became vacant, and consequently so did the surrounding neighborhood.
For decades, Brewerytown and its center commercial strip on Girard Avenue were rundown, poverty-stricken and poorly valued.
About 10 years ago, improvements began in the neighborhood but after the recession’s end, the revitalization of Brewerytown really took off. What was once considered a blighted area of empty storefronts and abandon homes is now being replaced by affordable businesses and homes.
One thing that has not been lost its value, however, is the sense of community. This is what those involved in Brewerytown’s progress believe is the key to success. How they preserve and create community, is what separates these small and large institutions.
Meg Hagele, the owner of High Point Café, which is opening a new branch on Girard near 28th Street, believes bringing the neighborhood back to local businesses is what can build this community.
“I think that is what’s a really exciting opportunity for these kinds of commercial corridors that have sort of gone fallow over the last 40 or 50 years,” said Hagele. “As people have gotten busier and as neighborhoods changed, there is excitement in bringing people back and serving the community that we’re in.”
Hagele stated the community is what makes her local business.
“For me, that’s what it’s about,” she said. “For me, the people that walk in the door are why we’re here.”
High Point Café is not the only business to move to Girard. Shifty Tacos, Philly Salvage, a brew pub and a new record store have made (or will soon make) their way to the area as well.
Not all local businesses have found luck in recent years. Mugshots Coffeehouse previously occupied the High Point location but left due to a lack of foot traffic on the street.
“It was marginally profitable,” said Angela Vendetti of Mugshots. “With new competition and sales down 20 percent from the year before, I wasn’t seeing evidence of revitalization in the form of increased foot traffic from our target demographic.”
Foot traffic and nearby residential consumer are crucial to any commercial strip. With MM Partners and Westrum Development Company’s plans to continue building in the area, these two factors should increase in time for the businesses now coming in to be more successful.
The first to take action in Brewerytown was Westrum Development Company with the development of Brewerytown Square, which gave homes in the area to more than one hundred people.
“Our focus has always been in the first-time to moderate-priced homes that are affordable but not affordable housing,” said John Westrum, CEO of Westrum Development Company.
Westrum says now that the recession is over, they are about to spend close to $10 million over 18 months. Part of the plan is to build multi-family rental units.
“New residents are coming who will demand that type of a product,” Westrum said.
There are now more reputable businesses and greater diversity in Brewerytown than there was in 2004 due to small investors and developers stepping in, Westrum said.
One of them, MM Partners, a community focused, smaller development company, aims to find businesses that the entire neighborhood can enjoy.
“Who doesn’t like three tacos for five dollars?” asked Aaron Smith, a partner of MM Partners. “Or a thing of soup or any kind of meal for five or six bucks? That’s really our goal: to make sure everyone can utilize West Girard Avenue. It’s a beautiful commercial strip.”
Westrum agreed that the area is not only beautiful but perfectly situated in the city.
“The Brewerytown area is significantly undervalued from other parts of the city based on its proximity,” said Westrum. “When the momentum changes, it will have incredible growth potential in value.”
Another goal of MM Partners to preserve the great neighborhood foundation that already exists in Brewerytown.
“We would really prefer to see the people who have lived here for a long time to stay here,” said Smith. “We don’t want to change the community at all. We want to preserve the community.”