For more than four decades, the North 22nd Street Merchants Association has dedicated its services to businesses along the corridor that stretches from Lehigh Avenue to Allegheny Avenue along 22nd Street.
Since the 1970s, economic struggles have left many empty storefronts along the corridor. Within recent years, however, many new businesses have popped up with the help of the Merchants Association. Willie Seward, a real estate broker and longtime business owner on the block, said that filling the vacancies has really improved the area.
“When I first came here, we had a lot of vacancies,” he said. “Now just about everything on the block is occupied. We had our ups and downs, but it’s up now.”
Paul King, who has recently taken over as president of the Merchants Association, has worked hard with his fellow members and merchants to continue improvement. With many of the vacancies filled, the association has begun focusing on making the esthetics of the business corridor appealing to returning and new customers.
King said they have been working closely with the Philadelphia Commercial Development Corp., which will assist the association with funding to fix sidewalks and the outside appearances of the storefronts. For King, an optician who has been in business for 30 years, the façade of the business corridor is a key ingredient to success.
“People are attracted to nice atmospheres,” King said. “It makes them want to keep coming back.”
In addition to creating a beautiful atmosphere, the Merchants Association also wants to create one that is safe and family friendly. It works closely with the block’s business owners and the Philadelphia police to keep down the crime in the area. King said their efforts are paying off.
“When I first moved here in 1990, we had more break-ins and more instances of violence. We still have it but it’s not like it used to be,” said King, whose business, Tru-Site Eric Holt Optical, stands on the corner of 22nd Street and Somerset.
“We addressed it and came together. [The police] beefed up the security,” he said. “They had beat cops walking the corridor and bicycle cops patrolling the area. That and the removal of some negative entities in the area help to change things a great deal.”
It’s the camaraderie of the community that allows the efforts of the association to have a good outcome. Longtime business owners proudly show their membership with stickers of the Merchants Association’s name on their store windows or doors.
There are some challenges that the association faces when it comes to working with the merchants. Unless there are problems, not many can make it to the meetings. If they did attend, it would mean business owners would have to close up shop early, an option that could be costly.
Because of this, the association works hard to keep everyone in the business corridor informed. Association Vice President Alvin Little and journalist Thera Milling play a major role in meeting with all of the business owners to keep them informed or take their questions or concerns. Overall, the association wants cohesiveness because it helps address issues from a collective standpoint, which is why some members like Little dedicate so much time to directly communicating with the merchants.
“A number of us are proactive, not reactive, and that’s what we find you have to be,” Little said.
King said familiarity is one of the merchants’ greatest assets. He explained how people who have since moved out of the neighborhood still come back to support their favorite places. Dave’s Meat Market has been there for over three decades and business is still strong.
“Certain times of the day, if you want to get a sandwich from Dave’s, you can forget about it. The line is out the door,” King said.
“The prices are right and the products are good,” explained Seward, who believes that is why customers are so loyal to the area.
Last year, the Merchants Association held its annual community celebration. Little said it was one of the biggest yet. Residents were invited to partake of free food and fun, and the event gave them a chance to check out different stores along the corridor.
“It’s a successful way to market your business,” Little said.
King hopes that they can continue to advertise the business corridor in creative new ways. He said their next plan is to put an archway on Lehigh, signifying the start of the business corridor. As one of the oldest corridors in Philadelphia, King said the businesses on 22nd Street have more good years ahead of them.
“It’s historical, and people have been shopping here for decades. They will continue to shop here,” King said.
Photos by Joe Coufal
Video by Joe Coufal and Latifah Laws
Story by Latifah Laws