Best Pet Shop or Groomer
Winner: The Groove Hound, 2236 Frankford Ave.
Call it “The Dog Whisperer” meets “Play That Funky Music.” The Groove Hound, a dog grooming, doggy day care and overnight boarding service on the border of Fishtown and East Kensington, has a kind of unofficial slogan: it’s “where dogs go to get groovy.”
Co-owner Gert Schooley, 41, a Fishtown resident, has been saving dogs since she was 5 years old. Now she grooms them for a living, while saving her neighbors big bucks by offering personalized services at prices that she said are lower than most ($48 for a deluxe groom, wash and hair-cut session).
Schooley formerly worked as a dog groomer at a New Jersey shop while living in Fishtown. While walking around the neighborhood, she formed the idea of starting her own business.
“I really felt like this neighborhood needed it,” she said of her decision to open up a dog grooming shop five years ago. “I wanted people to be able to afford grooming, get quality work — and their dogs come out with a groovy haircut.”
One difference in The Groove Hound’s business model from other pet groomers is that it is appointment only. At pet shops that accept walk-ins, dogs may have to wait in cages for hours for their turn, Schooley said.
“If my energy is good and their energy’s good, it’s going to vibe off each other,” Schooley said.
To learn more or schedule an appointment, visit thegroovehound.com or call 267-909-9162.
Runner Up: Spot’s Spot, 123 W Girard Ave.
Best River Wards Nonprofit Organization
Winner: The Friends of St. George
As far as nonprofits go, the Friends of St. George are currently on an undefeated streak.
St. George Catholic Elementary School, a century-old Catholic institution at 2700 E. Venango St., was scheduled for closure in January 2012.
“On the night the archdiocese told us they were closing it, we said we have to do something to save our school. And so we formed the friends group,” said Donna Conway, secretary of the Friends of St. George.
Friends of St. George appealed the archdiocese’s decision, and by March 2012 had won their appeal. In April 2012, they held their first annual golf outing to support the school. With more than 100 golfers, the outing was a surprise success, ultimately raising over $10,000, which went towards new computers for the school.
In early 2013, the Friends of St. George got federal approval as a tax-exempt nonprofit. In April 2013, the second golf outing raised $15,000, which was used to set up an online grading system for the school.
“It’s a combination of school parents, alumni, and neighborhood people, all dedicated to keeping St. George’s open,” said Danny Markowski, St. George’s principal, an alumnus and a Friends of St. George member.
“It’s definitely more than a school – it’s a family,” said Conway.
Three generations of her family have attended St. George’s, she said – her parents and their siblings, her and her brother, and now her son and daughter.
“It’s an honor and it’s a surprise,” Conway said of winning. “We feel really grateful for all the volunteers and the people who actually come up and support us.”
There’s always the chance the archdiocese might try to close St. George’s again — but that just motivates the Friends group to work even harder.
“Is that always in the back of our minds? Absolutely. But we’re going to think positively and work so it won’t happen,” Conway said.
To keep up with Friends of St. George, search for “Friends of St. George” on Facebook.
Runner up: Rizzo PAL, 2524 E. Clearfield St.
Best Place to Get a Workout
Winner: Bridesburg Recreation Center, 4601 Richmond St.
The Bridesburg Recreation Center has fields that rival the largest of other city recreation centers and most in the suburbs, too – one mile around the perimeter.
That large space isn’t just utilized by youngsters, according to Bridesburg’s recreation leader John McBride. The Bridesburg Recreation Center is an all-ages center for exercise and healthy living.
“It feels good to be able to contribute directly or indirectly to people’s health,” said McBride, 51, of Rhawnhurst, a 29-year veteran of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department who has been assigned to the Bridesburg Recreation Center for the past two seasons.
The programs and activities at the center that help keep Bridesburg kids and adults healthy include indoor and outdoor soccer, basketball, flag football, dance and tumbling classes, and the ever-popular Zumba classes.
The Bridesburg Recreation Center also partners with the Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club to host some of their activities.
“Even the playground equipment is a great way for the kids to get a workout,” McBride said, pointing to children playing on the jungle gym and swing set. “Look at these kids swinging. They don’t know it, but they’re exercising their core muscles.”
On a recent afternoon, the recreation center’s playground was packed by 7- and 8-year-olds who had just finished their after school activities, but still wanted to keep playing, running and jumping around.
“Obviously it’s an honor,” McBride said of the Bridesburg Recreation Center taking the win. “It means people see your site as a vibrant center of the community — almost a heart of the community.”
Call the Bridesburg Recreation Center at (215) 685-1247.
Runner up: Angler Movement Arts Center, 1550 E. Montgomery Ave.
Best Neighborhood Bar Overall
Winner: Mick’s Inn, 2526 E. Clearfield St.
There are a lot of bars in Philadelphia.
What makes Mick’s Inn, a classic Irish bar that dates back to the 1930s, the best neighborhood bar in the River Wards?
Customers and staff had different answers.
“Camaraderie!” said one bartender.
“Inexpensive beer – it’s $2 a can!” said a customer.
ldquo;It’s a good neighborhood bar – that’s it,” said an old-timer as he sipped a beer.
To Francis Semon, owner of Mick’s Inn and a Port Richmond lifer, there’s no secret. Mick’s is just an old-fashioned bar — a good place to watch sports, drink beer and listen to music.
“A lot of our bartenders lived here their whole lives. They’re connected to the neighborhood,” Semon said.
Semon’s uncle owned Mick’s Inn bought 1961. It had already been a bar for 30 years before that. The bar came into Semon’s hands last June.
Unlike many other bars around Philadelphia, Semon often tends bar himself, if one of his regular bartenders has to take a night off or if he simply feels like it. He also cleans up the bar himself.
Semon, who lives upstairs above the bar, said that he thinks this old-school approach works best.
Although $2 a can of beer definitely doesn’t hurt.
Call Mick’s Inn at 215-739-5979.
Runner up: Cheers Cafe, 2601 E. Westmoreland St.
Best Customer Service Overall
Winner: Port Richmond Pharmacy, 2512 E. Clearfield St.
Port Richmond Pharmacy’s Gerry Masino said the pharmacy’s customer service is what distinguishes it from the chains.
Clearly, neighbors agree.
“We go the extra mile for our customers. We’ll do whatever it takes to get them their medicine,” said Gerry, who is the pharmacy’s director of human resources and customer relations.
That philosophy goes from the pharmacy’s cashiers and staff – who speak Albanian, Spanish, Polish and Russian – to its drivers, who deliver medications to elderly residents around the neighborhood.
“Seniors know that they can ask our drivers if they need help changing a light bulb,” said owner and manager John Masino.
The Masinos recently received overjoyed calls of gratitude from one customer who was surprised by a driver holding a box of candy and a balloon on her birthday when she answered the door.
“It’s just things to say, ‘We’re thinking of you,’” Gerry said.
Providing great customer service has become even more important to the Masinos as a way of carrying on the legacy of their brother, Nick, a co-owner of the pharmacy who passed away one year ago, on Sept. 17, 2012.
“We’re carrying on the tradition of excellent service from our brother,” John said.
Nick’s legacy doesn’t just mean operating a great pharmacy, the Masinos said, but also serving soft pretzels at special events, as he loved to do.
It extends to the pharmacy’s traditions of having staff wear Phillies shirts on game days, offering free bottles of ice-cold water when the weather is hot, and sometimes giving away popcorn or apples to customers, “just because.”
Call Port Richmond Pharmacy at 215-426-5099.
Runner up: Salon Blush & Spa, 2407 E. York St.
Best Place for Pizza and Best Sandwich Spot
Winner: Tony’s Pizza, 3128 Belgrade St.
“Again?” asked Mario Ditri with a grin, when he found that Tony’s Pizza, a neighborhood institution on Belgrade Street in Port Richmond, had been voted “Best of the River Wards.”
Tony’s Pizza, owned by the Ditri brothers – Sal, Mario and John — has now been awarded more than 10 times by Star’s readers over the years, either for Best Cheesesteak or Best Pizza. This year, they are the only winner in two categories.
But next year, they may not be here anymore. After 32 years in Port Richmond, the Ditris recently put their pizza parlor, with all its pizza-making equipment and its famous name, up for sale.
“I think it’s time to be able to stay home at night,” said Mario, 54, who along his brothers works at the pizza shop every night until 10 p.m.
Asked how they have kept the delicious pizzas coming for over three decades, Mario replied, “It’s no secret – we do our best,” as he threw down a roll of dough and started kneading it.
Mario first started making pizzas in seventh grade. The Ditri brothers then worked together at a pizza parlor in Frankford for five years before deciding to open up their own shop. The rest was history.
“It’s what we did all our lives,” Mario said. “It’s a good neighborhood, a nice neighborhood. It feels great to know that people like our food.”
Call Tony’s Pizza at 215-427-2090.
Best Sandwich Spot Runner up: Primo Hoagies, 2703 E. Clearfield St.
Best Pizza Runner up: Pizza Brain, 2313 Frankford Ave.
Winner: Chris Savage, Corner Bar, 3066 Richmond St.
A big smile and a charming personality, plus an ability to serve up shots and beers at a blistering pace, made Chris Savage this year’s “Best Bartender” in the River Wards.
“All I do is fill people’s drinks up,” Savage said, laughing. “I can’t make a ‘Malibu Bay Breeze.’”
Savage, 36, is a Port Richmond lifer who lives on Belgrade Street with his wife and their baby. He’s been tending bar at Corner Bar, located on Clearfield and Richmond streets, for three years.
He only works Friday nights, spending the rest of his week working at a printing company.
“It’s an honor – I couldn’t believe it,” Savage said of learning that he had been voted best bartender. “One of my buddies said ‘I voted for ya,’ but I had no idea.”
Corner Bar has been in Savage’s family for more than 50 years. The family even celebrates Thanksgiving at the bar. What makes the bar special is the close community of locals that gather there, Savage said.
“Everybody here knows each other, everybody comes here every Friday night. That’s why I like this place,” he said. “My wife comes from a small town in New Jersey, but she can’t believe how tight-knit it is here – everybody lives a block from their mom. That’s a good thing. It keeps the neighborhood strong.”
Call Corner Bar at 215-634-8494.
Runner up: Keith Greiman, Memphis Taproom, 2331 E. Cumberland St.
Best School Crossing Guard
Winner: Melissa Kragle, Kensington Avenue and East Cumberland Street
Kids walking to or from school can count on a friendly greeting and a glowing smile when they cross the corner at Kensington Avenue and East Cumberland Street.
That is what makes crossing guard Melissa Kragle, a Fishtown native and school crossing guard for six years, the best in the River Wards.
“I talk to everybody. I just watch out for the neighborhood,” said Kragle, a mother of three, of her job.
But Kragle has earned enough fans of her work to be elected one of the best in the River Wards – as well as to regularly receive gifts on holidays from the parents of kids she looks out for.
“Some people just come up and give you a gift on holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day,” she said with a grin.
Kragle’s corner is trafficked by students from the nearby Henry A. Brown Elementary School, Kensington Business School, and William H. Hunter Elementary School.
The toughest part of the job?
“We don’t all speak the same language,” Kragle said.
She’s out on Kensington Avenue every weekday for three shifts – for morning arrivals, lunch break, and afternoons at the end of school.
Kragle has a tough corner, with noise from the elevated train above and speeding drivers on the street below. But she has a positive attitude and an unflappable cool.
As the train roars y overhead, Kragle chatted with parents and the kids she escorted across the street.
“How was school today?” she asked one boy as he lugged a heavy backpack up to the corner. “You got a lot of homework?”
He nodded, grimly.
“Well, have a good evening!” she told him with that trademark smile.
Runner up: Barb Edman, York and Memphis streets.
Best Kids’ Community Mentor
Winner: Ernie Rehr, Rizzo PAL director, 2524 E. Clearfield St.
Officer Ernie Rehr, 56, may reside in Holmesburg, but in the River Wards, he’s been known for generations as a positive role model and leader for local kids.
“I have kids coming now that I coached their parents — that’s rewarding,” Rehr said.
With 28 years on the job as a police officer in the 25th District, and now into his 23rd year as director of the Rizzo PAL, Rehr admitted that he’s getting near retirement age. But locals are begging him to put that day off.
“I know one couple…they’ve told me, ‘Officer Ernie – you’ve got to stay for another seven years. You’ve got to coach our kids!’”
Fresh off of the PAL’s summer golf program, Rehr was prepping for the new school year and a new season of after-school activities when Star caught up with him.
“On a typical day, this room will be filled with kids,” Rehr said inside the recreation room on the second floor of Rizzo PAL. In fact, as many as 200 kids might participate in all the various activities going on at Rizzo PAL on any given day.
“I want to empower [kids] to reach and achieve whatever their goal is. You do that by education, education, education,” he said. “But we want our kids to be strong in body as well as in mind.”
With that philosophy, it’s no secret why Rizzo PAL’s programs have been packed with local kids for years, and will likely stay that way for years to come.
“More and more parents are calling me to see what I have for their kids,” Rehr said. “There’s no pressure here – it’s play hard, have fun, and shake hands when it’s over.”
Visit the Philadelphia Police Athletic League online at phillypal.com, and call the Rizzo PAL at 215-426-6583.
Runner up: Kim Creighton, director of the Portside Arts Center, 2531 E. Lehigh Ave.