The Neighborhood Project 2: East Passyunk, South Philly

This afternoon three friends and I embarked on Neighborhood Exploration #2.   We headed to the East Passyunk neighborhood in South Philly, looking to explore this lively cultural district.  We enjoyed our afternoon of taking photos, meeting shop owners, and buying more than we originally expected (including 2 comic books, a graphic novel, a big bottle of beer, lunch at a lovely cafe, and a Jackson 5 album from 1984).

We met the proprietor of a great shop called Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop, which carries everything from a collection of early 80′s R&B records to a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rollerskates to vintage menswear.  As I purchased a $4 Jackson 5 album, we discovered that the store is named after  the co-owner’s grandfather.  His name was Bob, and he wore a size medium.    Bob’s large collection of clothing and collectibles formed the initial supply for Medium Bob’s.  So clever.

We lunched at a local cafe, found a place to play comic book quizzo, discovered shops that sell items made by local artists, got 15% off a graphic novel for a foursquare check-in … and took photos to document the day.

Walking east from 13th to 9th, down East Passyunk Ave., there’s a striking juxtaposition of traditional and edgy, as two very different cultures have found a way to harmoniously coexist.  A National Geographic reporter described the neighborhood as “a traditionally Italian neighborhood that has been sort of taken over by the quote-unquote hipsters who have put their own stamp on it.”  A description that definitely resonates.  On a single block, you might find a used record store, an artist making one-of-a-kind bike accessories, a shop showcasing a lovely assortment of gleaming white First Communion dresses in its store window, and another selling Christian gifts and religious items.

East Passyunk is an interesting window into the complexities of urban development and how a neighborhood’s social fabric may shift over time.  A thriving artistic community brings a renewed economic vitality to this South Philly commercial corridor.  Is the corresponding cultural transition simply the natural evolution of a place?


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February 2012
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