This is the first in a two-part series about quality of life issues in Tacony and Holmesburg, and the neighborhoods’ approach to growing stronger together.
With similar missions but different approaches, Tacony and Holmesburg are seeking a better future for their residents. Tacony is taking a business-first approach, while Holmesburg is looking to take advantage of its history.
Both neighborhoods understand that they must work in collaboration to make their goals a reality as they try to stand as pillars of Northeast Philadelphia.
Tacony, like many other small working-class neighborhoods, is looking to bounce back from the economic recession that hampered business back in 2008. Tacony’s leadership sees the economic potential of the neighborhood as a vital piece of revitalizing the neighborhood.
The commercial future of Tacony lies on Torresdale Avenue. Tacony Corridor Manager Alex Balloon said he understands that businesses on Torresdale Avenue have not fully bounced back from the recession.
“We went from about 107 retailers in our Tacony area to 77,” Balloon said. This drop in businesses has left a number of abandoned storefronts in the area, which is crippling the businesses still on the avenue.
“If I’m a baker and I’m next to a butcher, we can both sell to the same customer,” Balloon explained of the co-tenancy concept. “If I’m next to a vacant building, I don’t have the opportunity to pick up that extra sale from someone who might be shopping at another store.”
The issues for Tacony’s business corridor go beyond vacancies. The businesses that still call the area home are facing problems with connecting to customers in the neighborhood. Balloon cited the changing demographics in the neighborhood as an obstacle that some business owners have yet to navigate.
Many of the businesses along Torresdale Avenue are long-standing specialty shops that operate on a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. business model. That might be fine for older shoppers, but for working families with young children, it simply will not work. “I’m working with those business owners to help them improve their business and to look for ways we can help grow business here in Tacony,” Balloon said.
The effort to strengthen Tacony business is an initiative called the Historic Tacony Revitalization Project. One of the business owners that Balloon is working closely with is Mark Whited, the owner of Bull’s Eye Darts Supplies at 6917 Torresdale Ave. Whited brought his business to Tacony four years ago after opening in Frankford in 1997.
“This is a great place to do business,” Whited said. “It’s convenient to Center City. It’s close to I-95 and New Jersey, so it’s easy to get to.”
Whited said he hopes the revitalization efforts will lead to improved business for himself, as well as his fellow business owners in Tacony. “If we improve the storefronts, maybe people will take a little more pride in the neighborhood,” Whited said. “Everyone seems to be excited about it and everyone seems to be cooperating and pulling together to make this thing work.”
Balloon cited design, counseling and promotion as the keys to the plan. Small business counseling is available through this effort, and the neighborhood is seeking to enhance promotion through initiatives like ShopTacony.com and the Tacony Hoagie Trail, which is a collaborative advertising campaign featuring three of Tacony’s best sandwich shops.
The Hoagie Trail is one example of the attitude of current business owners in Tacony. The main objective is not competition. It is for all businesses to work together to strengthen Torresdale Avenue.
Though Torresdale Avenue businesses are getting much-needed attention, other aspects of the neighborhood are just as important to the community’s well-being.
Tacony Civic Association Vice President Joseph Sannutti pointed to the seldom-referenced historical side of Tacony. “We are in the process of placing plates on the historical homes, while reaching out to the people who live in this area to let them know about the history of our neighborhood,” Sannutti said. “We’re trying to bring people together to have value for our neighborhood.” Sannutti also pointed to the goal of fostering a community that asks what the leadership can do for them and what they can do for Tacony.
Holmesburg wants to reconnect with its past, as well. The Pennypack Park area at Frankford and Solly avenues is a scenic destination that’s been the focus of several beautification efforts. Community leaders are trying to make the most of the area, especially since the Pennypack Creek Bridge received historical recognition last fall. This part of the park is often attributed to many of the neighborhood’s issues, including litter and drug use.
Holmesburg Civic Association President Rich Frizelll said he wants to see this area reach its full potential. “One of [The Holmesburg Civic Association’s] main focuses is reclaiming this park,” Frizell said. He sees a ton of potential in the park and touched on the fact that individuals from out of town often come in and talk about how beautiful the area could be if properly tended to.
One aesthetic obstacle the HCA is trying to work around is the ConRail-owned train trestle that runs across Frankford Avenue above Pennypack Park at Solly Avenue. The rail is rusted and unpainted, but after some tension between the HCA and ConRail, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“[Congressman Bob Brady] has got Conrail to agree to allow us to paint the bridge,” Frizell said. “They’re going to waive all the fees, registrations and insurance.” Conrail has agreed to let Holmesburg paint the rail if they can find the resources. “They’ve finally loosened up.”
Frizell holds a deep affection for the park that sits just three blocks away from his Holmesburg home. Frizell has made it a personal mission to make sure Holmesburg gets the help it needs to save the park.
Raymond Boyd is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.