‘The neighborhood will continue’

Cit­ing de­vel­op­ment in River Wards neigh­bor­hoods like Fishtown and North­ern Liber­ties, mem­bers of the Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation say they have high hopes for the fu­ture of the tight-knit com­munity.

Car­ol Sander Roat, a BBA mem­ber, looks at an old pho­to­graph of her fam­ily busi­ness, Sander Me­mori­als, foun­ded in 1907. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

If you fol­low the path of I-95 down the Delaware River, there’s a slight curve in the high­way run­ning through the River Wards – right around Brides­burg. Ac­cord­ing to some, that’s be­cause the Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation pro­tec­ted the neigh­bor­hood from high­way con­struc­tion in the 1970s.

“When 95 was be­ing built, the reas­on we didn’t get 95 com­ing through us like Fishtown does, and so much of Port Rich­mond, is they [the BBA] fought it and fought it and fought it,” said Car­ol Sander Roat, a BBA mem­ber. “They didn’t want the Betsy Ross Bridge en­trance open­ing down here. They kept that en­trance from open­ing for years.”

Roat has a photo of the BBA mem­bers who fought the high­way at their an­nu­al din­ner in Oc­to­ber 1972. In the photo are her fath­er and moth­er, both former BBA mem­bers. Also in the pic­ture is the moth­er of Joseph Slab­in­ski, the cur­rent pres­id­ent of the Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation.

As is well known, Brides­burg is a com­munity with an in­her­ited memory of the neigh­bor­hood that goes back for gen­er­a­tions. 

For ex­ample, neigh­bors vo­cally op­posed a zon­ing bill pro­posed in early 2013 that could have brought in­dustry back to the aban­doned Coke site between Bucki­us, Or­tho­dox and Rich­mond streets and the Delaware River. Part of the reas­on was that they re­membered the smoke-belch­ing Phil­adelphia Coke Com­pany, which oc­cu­pied the site un­til it was forced to close in the 1980s for en­vir­on­ment­al reas­ons.

Roat said her moth­er grew up on the block op­pos­ite the Coke site, and she couldn’t hang laun­dry out to dry without it be­ing blackened by pol­lu­tion in the air.

“It’s so much bet­ter now than it was when I was grow­ing up,” Roat said of Brides­burg.

The BBA is made up of busi­nesses and people with long memor­ies and deep roots in the neigh­bor­hood.

“We have a num­ber of busi­nesses that are still act­ive that are over 100 years old,” Slabink­si said, list­ing Ken Fer­ros Barber Shop, foun­ded in 1909, and the Pol­ish Be­ne­fi­cial As­so­ci­ation, foun­ded in 1904, both on Or­tho­dox Street. 

Roat’s fam­ily busi­ness, Sander Me­mori­als, was foun­ded in 1907 by her great-grand­fath­er. And Slab­in­ski Fu­ner­al Home, foun­ded in 1917, is just a few years short of their centen­ni­al.

But the BBA doesn’t only rep­res­ent fam­ily-owned busi­nesses in Brides­burg. The neigh­bor­hood has also long been ad­ja­cent to an in­dus­tri­al sec­tor that’s one of the biggest in the city. And some of those com­pan­ies have been mem­bers of the BBA, too. 

Cur­rently the BBA’s largest mem­ber is Hon­ey­well, a glob­al en­ergy com­pany with fa­cil­it­ies in the area.

“We have everything from a loc­al candy corner store to a big ma­jor in­ter­na­tion­al multi-bil­lion dol­lar com­pany,” Slab­in­ski said. “It’s a very unique mix­ture – and be­lieve it or not, they all are in­volved over the years, from the big guys to the small guys.”

Foun­ded in 1952, the BBA today is one of three neigh­bor­hood groups in Brides­burg, the oth­ers be­ing the Brides­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation, and the Brides­burg Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion. 

“They are a very act­ive or­gan­iz­a­tion with­in our neigh­bor­hood,” said Brides­burg res­id­ent Trish Fries of the BBA. 

“They are sup­port­ers of our loc­al news­pa­per, the Brides­burg Bul­let­in, they are act­ive in sup­port­ing our youth sports pro­gram, the Brides­burg Cou­gars, which in my opin­ion is where the fu­ture of our neigh­bor­hood lies, with the chil­dren, and they are act­ive with­in the Brides­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation, which handles loc­al needs throughout the neigh­bor­hood,” Fries con­tin­ued.

Fifty-four com­pan­ies are lis­ted in the Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation’s 2013 mem­ber­ship roll. The BBA’s re­spons­ib­il­it­ies in­clude mon­it­or­ing zon­ing and qual­ity of life is­sues in the neigh­bor­hood; op­er­at­ing the Brides­burg Bul­let­in; and or­gan­iz­ing Pride Week, an an­nu­al week where res­id­ents are en­cour­aged to be “Brides­burg Proud” of their neigh­bor­hood and clean up their yards, their houses, and all the com­munity areas.

“It re­sembled a small cir­cus at times,” Slab­in­ski re­called of Pride Week in years past.

But things are al­ways chan­ging. The BBA used to give out small schol­ar­ship gifts to the best stu­dents at the loc­al schools, in­clud­ing All Saints, Saint John, John Paul II and Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary School. Today, only Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary re­mains open.

Des­pite those changes, Roat and Slab­in­ski both be­lieve the neigh­bor­hood’s bright­est days are in its fu­ture. The BBA’s biggest goal is to pre­serve the neigh­bor­hood for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. 

Cur­rently Brides­burg’s res­id­en­tial build­ings are 85 per­cent own­er-oc­cu­pied, the highest rate in the city. That makes the neigh­bor­hood “rock-sol­id,” as Slab­in­ski put it, and he said they hope to keep it that way.

“I think de­vel­op­ment will keep com­ing up the river,” Roat said, cit­ing changes to North­ern Liber­ties and Fishtown in re­cent years. 

“Our chil­dren want to move here. Young couples are mov­ing in. The neigh­bor­hood will con­tin­ue.”

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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