Hunting Park: Bodegas and Bodyshops Revive The Economy of North 5th Street

Specks of sawdust shimmered in the sunlight as the shrill of power tools echoed throughout the skeleton of a body shop.

The sight is no longer uncommon along the 5th Street Corridor of North Philadelphia, between Luzerne and Wyoming streets, but rather serves as evidence to the recent economic influx of Hunting Park.

Marz Parrilla works on building his new auto shop on 5th & Annsbury.

“I’ve been seeing 5th Street getting more colorful, more trees on the sidewalk, and local business getting more alive,” said Marz Parrilla, new business owner of Marz Auto Central which is the subject of the construction.  “That gave me the incentive and motivation to stay on 5th Street.” 

Through the community economic development through Esperanza, an agency established in 1986 to empower the Hispanic community, Marz Auto Central, located on 5th and Annsbury, is one of nearly 200 enterprises burgeoning the community into a business hub.

“From the moment Esperanza located here (Hunting Park), they began looking around and seeing what they could do to serve the surrounding community, and specifically the 5th Street Corridor,” said Phillip Dawson, Esperanza’s senior director of housing and economic development.

In the 1990s, the agency established its headquarters in Hunting Park amidst the region’s economic plummet when factories folded and businesses went bankrupt.

Marz Auto Central undergoes construction along the 5th Street Corridor.

“The program was needed because of the blight…it didn’t look like a business corridor,” said Monica Parrilla, president of the Hunting Park Business Association and co-owner of Marz Auto Central. “But structurally, it had a lot of potential.” 

After receiving funding from the city through HUD in 2008, the Commercial Corridor Management Program propelled into action. The development includes facets under the Hunting Park Neighborhood Strategic Plan 2022, a comprehensive project launched in 2012 set to transform the area’s socioeconomic status.

Accompanied by their offshoot initiative, the Hunting Park Business Association (HPBA), Esperanza’s efforts since 2012 have led to the opening of 200 small businesses along 3.6 miles of corridor in Hunting Park and Feltonville, the reduction of commercial vacancy by half, the addition of over 60 jobs, and the decrease of crime in six out of nine major categories since the association works in tandem with the 25th Police District.

“Networking is the thread of who we are and what we do…,” Monica Parrilla said. “(The program) is definitely effective. It’s moving our little piece of the city forward.”

And while vendors flourish with new businesses or practice old trades inherited in homelands, a lacuna persists between policy and productivity.

Comprehending dense finance legislations can be challenging for even fluent English-speakers. However, considering that Hispanics compose 65% of the area’s population (according to the 2010 US Census, this impediment is exacerbated.

Data courtesy of Phillip Dawson and the 25th Police District.

“We have a small phenomenon where a large number of businesses, particularly bodegas, hair salons, and barber shops, who are predominantly of Dominican descent, open up all over Hunting Park within the neighborhood and along the business corridor with no government assistance,” said Danilo Burgos, director of constituent services for Councilman Allan Domb and former business owner in Hunting Park.

To effectively pinpoint and close this gap, Esperanza initiated the HPBA, assisting novice and potential owners on subjects like grants, taxes, permits, and licenses. Since 2012, the coalition has gained the membership of 36 businesses. As owners communicate their obstacles with HPBA, the board can better express concerns to the city.   

Over the past decade, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents the city’s 7th District, has successfully proposed and passed legislations to alleviate financial burdens that have fallen on small businesses.

In March of 2013, she reformed the Use and Occupancy tax through an amendment that eliminated the first $2,000 of the liability for each commercial and industrial property, causing 9,000 businesses to pay nothing or very little the following tax year.

Marz Auto Central stocks up on tires before the business’ grand opening.

Under her reform of the Business Income and Receipt Tax (BIRT), in tax year 2015, there was an exemption of the first $75,000 in gross receipts and a share of net income. This exemption increased to $100,000 in tax year 2016. 

“(There’s a) lack of knowledge by the city and revenue department – they’re more punitive than educational,” Burgos said. “…The more a government educates their citizens, the better off government will be, because we will have less violations.”

This includes providing information on new legislations like the Nuisance Business Bill, which Mayor Kenney signed in June of 2016.

Under this law, businesses can be cited for nuisances on their property. Businesses that receive three citations in 60 days or seven in 12 months must configure an abatement plan with the Philadelphia Police Department and the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Businesses that do not abide by this decree can receive fines or risk closure.

Ergo, the mere clarity of these municipal issues can salvage a business.

“There is a need for constant education. There’s a lot of businesses that open up without a proper business plan and not having thought about the economics of how their business is going to work,” Dawson said. “Unfortunately, that’s something that leads to a lot of business, which might otherwise have a good shot of making it, prematurely die out. That’s something that’s harmful to everybody involved and to the community.”  



Text, images and video by Grace Maiorano.

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