Richmond Street Requiem

While the Port Rich­mond thor­ough­fare of Rich­mond Street has been plagued by va­cant prop­er­ties for dec­ades, new con­struc­tion in the area and en­thu­si­ast­ic new busi­ness own­ers could help ush­er the cor­ridor in­to a bright­er, busier fu­ture.

Call it a comeback of sorts — but Port Rich­mond’s Rich­mond Street could be poised for an epic re­turn to great­ness.

In a per­fect world, the once-thriv­ing com­mer­cial cor­ridor would be re­turn­ing to its hey­day, rich with cul­ture and pop­u­lated by shops, eat­er­ies and busi­nesses. But that prob­ably is too per­fect.

Just the same, Rich­mond Street has been un­der­go­ing some ma­jor changes — reg­u­lar clean­ings, the be­gin­nings of re­con­struct­ive road­work, tight­er re­stric­tions on aban­doned prop­er­ties and some new store­front open­ings.

For now, trash lit­ter­ing the land­scape still trumps the pop­u­la­tion of vi­brant store­fronts, but these re­cent signs of pro­gress also could be signs of prom­ise for the Port Rich­mond com­munity.

Rich­mond Street, a long-for­got­ten road­way crunched between I-95 and a num­ber of ar­chi­tec­tur­ally in­ter­est­ing but aban­doned build­ings, has be­come some­what of an eye­sore over the years, with aban­doned factor­ies stifling busi­ness and com­merce along the cor­ridor.

But PennDOT con­struc­tion has re­cently be­gun, and there are big plans for the fu­ture of the road. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, Rich­mond Street will see sig­ni­fic­ant im­prove­ments between Ara­mingo Av­en­ue and Ann Street.

Between Cum­ber­land and Ann, im­prove­ments will en­hance Rich­mond Street’s aes­thet­ic value and ac­com­mod­ate smooth­er travel.

The pro­ject will place a cen­ter turn lane on the street, as well as bike lanes and walk­ing paths on the sides. And the icon­ic Route 15 trol­ley will re­turn even­tu­ally, restor­ing a cer­tain charm that has been miss­ing.

The New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. has been work­ing to de­liv­er a bet­ter Rich­mond Street. Henry Py­att, NK­CDC’s com­mer­cial cor­ridor man­ager, has been mak­ing it a point to aid the Rich­mond Street busi­ness com­munity.

“I help small busi­nesses get through the zon­ing pro­cess, nav­ig­ate city per­mit­ting, find loc­a­tions to open or ex­pand, pro­mote their busi­nesses alone or in groups, and keep the com­mer­cial cor­ridors clean,” he said.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion sup­plies a so-called cor­ridor stew­ard, Mari­usz Tyrk, who travels the neigh­bor­hood by cargo tri­cycle, clean­ing up the com­munity. Neigh­bors might see Tyrk on the streets with his bike, which tows a brightly painted green box.

Tyrk also is flu­ent in both the Eng­lish and Pol­ish lan­guage, an at­trib­ute im­port­ant to a Port Rich­mond area that is home to a large Pol­ish-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Tyrk’s oth­er du­ties, ac­cord­ing to Py­att, call on him to “clean the side­walks, re­move il­leg­al signs and dis­trib­ute in­form­a­tion about city pro­grams or oth­er op­por­tun­it­ies to busi­ness own­ers.”

All of these ser­vices are re­l­at­ively new.

“On Rich­mond Street, and also on Al­legheny Av­en­ue, we have just be­gun provid­ing these ser­vices as part of our new Cor­ridor Main­ten­ance Pro­gram,” Py­att said. ldquo;In our ef­forts to get ac­quain­ted with this strong busi­ness com­munity, we have con­sul­ted with long­time busi­ness own­ers and be­gun mak­ing reg­u­lar vis­its to busi­nesses to ex­plain the ser­vices we can of­fer. We’ve already been able to help a few busi­nesses with fund­ing and zon­ing is­sues.”

Py­att be­lieves that the thor­ough­fare is on the cusp of a re­sur­gence be­cause of the area’s pub­lic trans­port­a­tion, com­pel­ling ar­chi­tec­tur­al her­it­age, and a “small but ded­ic­ated group of long-term res­id­ents and busi­ness own­ers.”

In ad­di­tion to the NK­CDC’s work, the city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions has be­gun to crack down on own­ers of aban­doned prop­er­ties. In fact, when the new ini­ti­at­ive re­cently was an­nounced,  May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter hos­ted a news con­fer­ence on Rich­mond Street — a sym­bol­ic move be­cause of the area’s oft-seen broken win­dows and dis­tressed prop­er­ties.

State Rep. John Taylor, who wasn’t avail­able for com­ment for this story, was a ma­jor force in the ini­ti­at­ive. He sponsored the land bank­ing bill that could en­able the city to seize blighted prop­er­ties, like some of those along Rich­mond Street.

On the busi­ness side, the pro­spects for com­merce have brightened with the ar­rival of two new mer­chants. The own­ers of AFI Flowers, Tom and Vanessa Sherid­an, are op­tim­ist­ic that the de­cision will be good for their busi­ness and good for Rich­mond Street.

Al­though they en­countered some obstacles in their search for a loc­a­tion, they are happy with the out­come.

“I wrote let­ters in Eng­lish and Pol­ish and lit­er­ally placed them out­side of each of the aban­doned build­ings, ask­ing if their own­ers were will­ing to sell or rent. No one got back to me,” Tom Sherid­an said. “The build­ing we’re in now used to be a fur­niture fact­ory. These were of­fices, and the fur­niture was made here, too. There’s a lot of his­tory in­volved. I like that sort of thing.”

The store, which opened on Jan. 2, is gear­ing for suc­cess.

“We think Rich­mond Street can be the next big thing. This area has so much po­ten­tial,” Sherid­an ad­ded. ldquo;It’s a bridge to the wa­ter­front. It’s right next to the casino, but it’s al­ways over­looked. This is a great com­munity with good people and an amaz­ing at­mo­sphere. I see the po­ten­tial; it’s a little gem to me.”

Tom Sherid­an handles the busi­ness as­pect of AFI Flowers; Vanessa Sherid­an puts the ar­range­ments to­geth­er in the store­front.

“She’s the artsy one,” Tom said.

The oth­er newly opened busi­ness, Sweets & Treats, is just a block north of the flower shop. Own­ers Jeff Jadezak and Wayne Bul­lock opened their candy store in early Decem­ber and are ex­cited to be part of the neigh­bor­hood.

The sweets store of­fers every­one’s child­hood fa­vor­ites, and the own­ers are open to com­munity in­put and what res­id­ents would like to see on the shelves.

The shop is in a build­ing owned for years by Jadezak’s fam­ily. In fact, he eas­ily re­mem­bers the days when Rich­mond Street was bust­ling with busi­ness.

Al­though foot traffic isn’t nearly what it used to be on Rich­mond Street, Jadezak is start­ing to see it at his shop.

“We’re get­ting a fair amount of foot traffic. If we can get a few more new busi­nesses, we can get it back to what it used to be,” he said.

“Oh my God, people stop in,” Bul­lock ad­ded. “People con­stantly walk in and drive past and de­cide to stop in.”

He and Jadezak would like to cre­ate a small-town com­munity feel on Rich­mond Street.

“Dur­ing the first couple weeks, I stood out­side and talked to every­one who walked by. People looked at me funny, but I kept do­ing it,” said Bul­lock, who ori­gin­ally is from West Chester.

The busi­ness part­ners hope their shop be­comes a place where res­id­ents can re­lax and hang out.

“Even­tu­ally we’d like to of­fer cof­fee and hot chocol­ate, and place some tables out front where people can sit and re­lax,” said Bul­lock.

“The side­walk here is much nar­row­er than it is on Al­legheny (Av­en­ue), but we want to get per­mits and put some smal­ler tables out,” ad­ded Jadezak.

They’re also hope­ful that oth­er pos­it­ive perks will come to Rich­mond Street, such as new light­ing, benches and com­munity trash­cans.

The tides of change are a pleas­ant sur­prise to the loc­als, and res­id­ents seem pleased with the re­cent pro­gress. Sup­port for the new busi­nesses already is strong mdash; in fact, on so­cial me­dia sites, many loc­als have been call­ing for an all-out Rich­mond Street re­vital­iz­a­tion pro­ject.

On the street, res­id­ents like Peter Di­Cap­ua said his fam­ily have be­come reg­u­lars at Sweets & Treats. They live just west of Ara­mingo Av­en­ue, he said, and they think the new busi­nesses are a nice ad­di­tion to Rich­mond Street.

“We’ve only been liv­ing here for two years, and we’ve con­tinu­ously been told this area is go­ing to gentri­fy,” Di­Cap­ua  said.

He thinks Sweets & Treats is on the right track to suc­cess.

“This is a great idea for a busi­ness,” Di­Cap­ua said. “People with kids will flood this place.” ••

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