Takin’ a Stroll Down the Frankford Commercial Corridor
By Stacey Mosley
A little over a week ago, Young Involved Philadelphia held the first of what will be a three-part series of Commercial Corridor Tours. With the help of Joanna Winchester from the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, we got an intimate look into some of the businesses along Frankford and Girard that are really helping the neighborhood make a strong comeback.
Each of the businesses – in their own way – focuses on community, which serves as the tying thread for each company’s mission, connecting them to the neighborhood and creating employee culture. The neighborhood’s nascent transformation was already apparent from the front steps of our starting spot, Johnny Brenda’s: Two of the three other corner properties had permits in the windows, heralding new development. By this time next year, Winchester said, this intersection will be completely different.
Our first stop was Adorn, a jewelry and accessories boutique owned by Sarah Lewis, who designs many of her wares. Gems and jewels, scarves and chains seem to hang from everything, surrounding you when you walk into her shop. Being immersed in delightful objects, it did not come as a surprise to hear that Lewis stays immersed in the community development aspect of the corridor: she established reciprocal relationships with companies like Lola Bean, where purchases at one location can get you a discount at the other.
Not far down the block, we stopped in front of Jinxed, where the charismatic owner, Mike Opalack, joined us and escorted us inside. Jinxed sells used, yet decidedly still awesome, furniture and other home goods –who knew I’d want a stunt wrecking ball so badly? Though standing in one of three physical retail locations, Opalack told us about the significant impact of having a community of over 15,000 Instagram followers, with items flying off the “shelves” within minutes, if hours. (I have since started following Jinxed on Instagram and have come to discover many wonderful things I never knew I wanted, but now suddenly and desperately need.) He also shared a little about the new developments underway just on the other side of the brick wall where La Colombe will be producing both coffee and fine spirits.
Further up Frankford Avenue, we arrived at Blue Cadet, a design studio that takes great pride in pulling from the great pool of talent coming out of the many art schools in close proximity. Their love for Philly was almost as awe-inspiring as their gorgeously renovated office space, which sourced many reclaimed materials via Philly’s Provenance Mill Works. With only twenty-some employees and room for fifty, they are positioned to grow in a big way, according to Senior Producer Aaron Miller. You can check out their space at the Design Philadelphia Preview Event on October 8th this fall.
We next wound our way southeast through the neighborhood, until we finally reached wood-paneled Lloyd Whiskey Bar on Girard Avenue where we met Lloyd himself, along with his son, Scott, who also helps run the bar. Lloyd spoke of his deep roots in the neighborhood, working at the nearby school for much of his career before retiring and deciding to open up a bar. He emphasized the importance of having a good school system, something that Philadelphia struggles with deeply, and how it has a huge effect on the businesses and livability of an area.
As we made our way back west on Girard, we passed many older establishments, pizza places and vacant storefronts, spotted here and there, along with newer restaurants like Sketchburger and MilkCrate records. Crossing the street, we entered Yikes, one of the first female owned technology companies in Philadelphia. A slideshow of friendly images of employees who seemed as close as family members scrolled across a big screen as co-owner Jodie Saueraker spoke of the history of the building, and the ambitious LEED platinum certification it has received. The company’s values in fun and environmental consciousness were evident wherever you turned, even in the basement where a gaming system was set up for employees to challenge themselves during breaks.
Coming full circle, literally, the tour ended with cool beverages and a final talk by the very cool owner of Johnny Brenda’s himself, Paul Kimport. With decades of time and investment in the area, Paul, who also owns Standard Tap, talked about how important it is to know your neighbors, and to really understand the needs of a neighborhood when setting up a business. There’s still quite a bit of vacancy to be filled along Frankford and Girard, but it’s not just a matter of filling the physical space, its about filling a void in the market: What do we need more of? What compliments what’s already here? How much of it do we need? And who better to learn from than the neighbors.
That respect for the neighborhood was palpable everywhere on the tour, and was described best by Jinxed’s Opalack, who said that the development we have seen in recent years has not been quick, but it won’t fleeting. People are invested in the growth of the neighborhood, emotionally, as well as financially.
@StaceyMosley is a data nut who loves Philadelphia and its many great citizens.