Avenue of opportunity

— The Castor Av­en­ue busi­ness cor­ridor in Rhawn­hurst is not what it used to be back in the good old days. With vig­or­ous ef­forts to re­vital­ize the area, however, hope is just around the corner.

Dav­id Kush­ner (left) and Re­uven Slurzberg (right) dis­cuss ways to im­prove store­fronts and side­walks alonf Castor Ave., north of Cottman. Both men are rep­res­ent­at­ives of the Jew­ish Com­munity of Rhawn­hurst, Wed­nes­day, Septem­ber 5, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


In the days of Lyn­don John­son and Richard Nix­on, Rhawn­hurst’s busi­ness cor­ridor was a shin­ing ex­ample of urb­an ex­pan­sion and eco­nom­ic pro­gress, of de­velopers mov­ing north, cre­at­ing neigh­bor­hoods and build­ing stores to meet the grow­ing com­munity’s needs.

Today, Castor Av­en­ue looks much the same as it did then, ac­cord­ing to those fa­mil­i­ar with the dis­trict. In­deed, the new­ness is a dis­tant memory, while some view the cor­ridor as an il­lus­tra­tion of urb­an neg­lect.

Act­ive busi­nesses still line the 10-block cor­ridor from Cottman Av­en­ue north to Solly Av­en­ue, but con­sumer traffic is a shad­ow of what it once was. Visu­ally speak­ing, many prop­erty own­ers have done little to give their store­fronts facelifts.

That’s why lead­ers of a loc­al non-profit group and elec­ted of­fi­cials who rep­res­ent the neigh­bor­hood are try­ing to or­gan­ize a new busi­ness as­so­ci­ation and launch a cam­paign to re­vital­ize the av­en­ue. Late last month, they hos­ted a walk­ing tour of the area with Deputy May­or Alan Green­ber­ger, the city’s head of eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment and its com­merce dir­ect­or, hop­ing to at­tract pub­lic re­sources to kick-start the im­prove­ment ef­fort.

“It’s a very nice area once you get off the av­en­ue,” said City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill. “[But] it looks like the last time the store­fronts were touched was forty or fifty years ago.”

“A lot of busi­nesses have been here for over thirty years,” said Re­uven Slurzberg, founder and pres­id­ent of the non-profit Jew­ish Com­munity of Rhawn­hurst. “But you also can’t help but no­tice there’s a lack of green­ery, a lack of trees and a lack of ban­ners [with slo­gans] like, ‘Wel­come to Rhawn­hurst.’”

Non­ethe­less, a cas­u­al sur­vey of the av­en­ue re­veals many as­sets, par­tic­u­larly a healthy vari­ety of stores.


With­in a block of Castor and Har­tel av­en­ues, there’s a dog groom­ing shop, a scuba shop, an es­presso and sushi caf&ea­cute;, a hard­ware store, med­ic­al of­fices and pro­fes­sion­al of­fices, along with a typ­ic­al as­sort­ment of hair salons and pizza par­lors.

There isn’t an over-abund­ance of shops of­ten as­so­ci­ated with de­clin­ing com­mer­cial dis­tricts, such as dol­lar stores, pawn­shops and dis­count shops.

“There’s a vari­ety there,” O’Neill said. “I’m not sure what the ideal mix is, but the people from the Com­merce De­part­ment have worked on com­mer­cial strips all over the city. So hope­fully, there are some les­sons they can in­cor­por­ate [in­to Rhawn­hurst].”

Tech­nic­ally, O’Neill’s 10th dis­trict does not in­clude the Castor Av­en­ue cor­ridor. It’s still in Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez’s 7th dis­trict. But new dis­trict bound­ar­ies will take ef­fect after the 2015 mu­ni­cip­al elec­tion. O’Neill plans to run for re-elec­tion and, if suc­cess­ful, would then rep­res­ent the area.

By most ac­counts, Castor Av­en­ue is re­l­at­ively free of lit­ter and graf­fiti, too. And ac­cord­ing to Slurzberg, the av­en­ue has a di­verse group of busi­ness op­er­at­ors who tend to be re­cept­ive to new ideas, as evid­enced by the feed­back they re­ceived dur­ing last month’s walk­ing tour.

“They said, ‘I’m so happy some­body is do­ing something like this,’” Slurzberg said. “It was uni­ver­sal. Every­body was all for it.”

State Rep. John Sabat­ina Jr. is one of those pro­pri­et­ors, op­er­at­ing a dis­trict of­fice at 8100 Castor Ave. In ad­di­tion, his fath­er, John Sabat­ina Sr., the Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 56th Ward, heads a law firm at 7720 Castor Ave.

“A lot of the busi­ness own­ers said the area lacks unity and or­gan­iz­a­tion,” the young­er Sabat­ina said, “[that] there’s no real meth­od or con­tinu­ity. Rhawn­hurst for so long has gone without a busi­ness as­so­ci­ation, I don’t think they’re aware of the pos­sib­il­it­ies.”

Plans re­main in the pre­lim­in­ary stages, but or­gan­izers are talk­ing about sweep­ing phys­ic­al im­prove­ments to pub­lic and private prop­er­ties.

Slurzberg, who foun­ded JCOR in 1997 to pro­mote unity and com­mu­nic­a­tion among syn­agogues and Jew­ish or­gan­iz­a­tions in the com­munity, en­vi­sions façade im­prove­ments for par­ti­cip­at­ing busi­nesses.

In oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, O’Neill said, sim­il­ar ini­ti­at­ives have res­ul­ted in ped­es­tri­an safety im­prove­ments such as curb “bump-outs,” along with bet­ter street light­ing, new trees and more at­tract­ive se­cur­ity gates on store­fronts.


Shar­on Abergel, the own­er of Es­presso Caf&ea­cute; and Sushi Bar at 7814 Castor Ave., thinks that unity among area mer­chants will pro­mote se­cur­ity and clean­li­ness on the av­en­ue, while giv­ing them a stronger voice with loc­al politi­cians. This will make the loc­ale more at­tract­ive to new mer­chants, res­id­ents and in­vest­ment.

“If the com­munity is go­ing to grow, my busi­ness is go­ing to grow,” Abergel said. “If you’re uni­fied as a group, you have more power.”

“One of the main goals is to re­vital­ize and also re­ten­tion and re­cruit­ment,” agreed Dav­id Kush­ner, a JCOR board mem­ber and long­time com­munity act­iv­ist.

Ini­tially, or­gan­iz­a­tion­al help will come from the Com­merce De­part­ment. Once a plan or wish list is in place, par­ti­cipants may ap­ply for state grant money.

The JCOR folks em­phas­ize that the par­ti­cip­a­tion is open to all mer­chants and is not re­stric­ted to the Jew­ish com­munity.

“There will be a new or­gan­iz­a­tion formed that will en­com­pass the busi­nesses in this cor­ridor and oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions, and JCOR will be part of that,” Slurzberg said. “There are a lot of eth­nic com­munit­ies, and every­body I talk to agrees with it.” ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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