As the sound of screeching metal grew louder, inhabitants flocked to the corner of 28th Street and West Girard Avenue. They did a quick wave and the trolley halted, allowing eager passengers to hop on the moving express.
That was about the only action on a recent day on the 2800 block of West Girard. Besides customers scurrying in and out of the coffee shop and diner, the street remained empty until commuters returned home.
Years ago, buildings such as The Hat Shop, Chopstick and Fork Diner, and Beauty Shop were part of a busy commercial area. Today, however, there are at least seven vacant buildings.
Still, the block’s diversity of businesses still makes it popular with residents. It boasts an array of facilities including a diner, a state representative’s office, coffee shop, daycare, hat shop and even a vet clinic.
In one day, a visitor could grab breakfast, get their pet treated, choose an outfit for that evening, and speak to their representative just by strolling down one block of West Girard.
The first building at the corner is the Chopstick and Fork Diner, known for its extremely cheap prices and fast turnaround. The diner has its own attitude with an old school boombox playing music and a mural of pictures of some regular customers enjoying their food.
“I get coffee there whenever I’m waiting for the trolley,” said Raquel Mattson, a frequent customer. “[I am] here every morning.”
Right next door is Rainbow, a teen and young adult clothing store that opened in 2008.
“I like retail so I’m here. The area isn’t too bad, we never really had serious problems,” said Deanne Williams, a retail clerk. “Plus the diversity [is vast].”
In competition with the diner, High Point Café – one of the newest shops to emerge on the block – opened just four months ago.
“Although the winter was rough, we were open every day,” said barista Martina Plag. “People still came.”
It’s the third location for the café, which has two other stores in Mount Airy. It sells various types of coffee, tea and pastries and has attracted quite a crowd. If business keeps booming, a fourth store could open.
The block also features small food shops such as Ry Brew, Butter’s Soul Food To Go and Nonstop Deli.
Besides food, the block is also a popular spot for hair shops. It has a hat shop, hair salon, hair-weaving salon and a store for hair products.
Fanta African Hair Braiding, an intimate salon that opened in 2002, has only a few chairs. Braider Birenam Atefeibu said she’s only briefly worked on the block, but has already seen improvements in the community.
“Since I came here I have actually noticed the neighborhood has changed a little bit because we just got some new coffee shops which are awesome,” said Atefeibu. “The people are actually really nice around here.”
Up the block is another hair products store. The Beauty Shop, which has been around for eight years, sells specialized shampoos, weaves, wigs and hair tools.
Anerea Matthews has worked in the store for the past two years and sees it as one of the most popular in the neighborhoods of Brewerytown and Fairmount.
“We have never had any serious problems,” Matthews said. “This block is a great area for diversity.”
Just like other facilities, the store hopes to be a part of the neighborhood for long time. Many vendors commented how often stores can come and go due to the lack of crowds throughout the day.
Evelyn Rosa, an employee for state Rep. Michelle F. Brownlee, grew up in this area. The office has been at 28th Street and West Girard for almost 35 years, though Brownlee herself was only elected in 2010.
Rosa said she’s seen many changes on the block.
“There used to be a hat shop at the corner. Most prominent church-going people go there,” Rosa said. “It’s kind of an institution.”
Although many stores have seen better days, the area still holds promise: A new beer school plans to open this year.
Rosa recognized that and sees a bright future for Brewerytown as the summer begins. She knows many stores will remain open because of the history of the area and the diversity it brings.
“I’ve been going to the Blue Jay all my life,” Rosa said. “I will be eating breakfast there every day since. ”
– Photos, video and text by Amber Curtis and Courtney Marabella