Northeast Times

Presenting: Best of the River Wards 2013! - Part II

You voted, we listened. Here are the 2013 win­ners of the Best of the River Wards, Part II. Click through the pho­tos be­low to see snap­shots of each win­ner. See Part I for the rest of the win­ners.

  • Rec. leader John McBride (back right) with a group of kids from the Bridesburg Recreation Center. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Officer Ernie Rehr, director of Port Richmond’s Rizzo PAL. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Crossing guard Melissa Kragle on the job. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Chris Savage of Corner Bar. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Tony’s Pizza co-owner and chef Mario Ditri throws dough as brother Sal Ditri looks on. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Gerry Masino, left, and John Masino, of the Port Richmond Pharmacy. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • The staff of Mick’s Inn, with owner Francis Semon at middle, in gray. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • The parents and alumni of the Friends of St. George. PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF STGEORGE

  • The Groove Hound co-owner Gert Schooley with one of her “clients.” SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

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.”

Yes, again. 

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.

Best Bar­tender

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. 

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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