Trends: Go South, Young Homo

Gays — and the yuppies who follow their lead — are remaking Passyunk Avenue into a cosmopolitan hub bustling with designer coffee shops and chic boutiques. But the biggest surprise may be the reaction of South Philly’s old-timers

In the past few years, though, with so much affordable housing stock down here and Center City getting pricier by the day, the “grandmom houses” of South Philly have become what no one could have envisioned: hot property. “People are less afraid to go farther south now,” says realtor Trish Kelly, who has placed at least three dozen gay couples here in the past five years. “Though the real estate environment is slightly depressed, I believe this neighborhood is strong. But the people who grew up here and still live here are … well, a little confused with the world at the moment.”

The trend isn’t confusing at all to Kevin Gillen, a Penn research fellow and vice president of Econsult, an economics consulting firm. “This is the classic pattern,” says Gillen. “The artists and musicians are the first to take the risk in an emerging neighborhood. Then come the gay couples, who typically don’t have children and so don’t have the same worries about safety and school districts as young families.”

Indeed, gay migration has long been synonymous with trendsetting. And positive stereotypes about the gay intruders abound. They take care of their property and beautify the area, they’re entrepreneurial, they have disposable income and patronize local businesses, they promote community, they increase property values. And most importantly, they signal to the young families, yuppies and professionals that they should really come check this place out.

Capogiro’s Stephanie Reitano knew it. When developer Tony Goldman convinced Reitano and her husband to open a gelato shop at 13th and Sansom in 2002, in the heart of the city’s “gayborhood,” the dicey corner was no sure bet. “What was proven was, where gay people live, they spend money,” says Reitano. The risk paid off. Now she and her husband are trying their luck again — this time with a scoop-shop version of Capogiro on East Passyunk. “We have always loved this neighborhood,” says Reitano. “We’d go to Mr. Martino’s, Marra’s, and new places like Paradiso.”

“Now if only we could convince the old-timers to pay $4.87 for a small cup of ice cream,” muses Joseph Marino, co-chair of the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association and the ’hood’s ersatz mayor, as he walks past the just-open gelateria. (Though Reitano says she has no trouble selling to the longtime locals, she often has to explain exactly what gelato is to the generation not born in Italy.) If anyone gets the old-guard-vs.-new-crowd dynamic, it’s Marino, who — as a lifetime resident, the music director at a local parish, and an openly gay man — embodies both of the cultures now melding in the heart of South Philly.

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  • Jill

    I just moved to EPX and I live a few doors down from Maria Vetri, whos mentioned in this article. I've lived here for two months now and I have loved every minute of it. I'm a straight female in my mid-twenties and I'm so glad that the gay community has been welcomed in this neighborhood. I myself have found all the "old-timers" to be very welcoming. I'm so glad that there have been so many new shops and stores opened in this area. I look forward to welcoming many new businesses and neighbors :)

  • James

    My partner David White and I just bought a house in South Philly, and opened a new store on the avenue. (Absolute Abstract). This article is so right on! We love the vibe, the people and all the diversity. My neighbor who is an addorable woman in here later years made us Italian cookies that were the hit of our Grand Opening!

  • Lower Moyamensing Civic Associ

    What a glowing review of the 'hood! Thanks, Philly Mag!

  • Joseph

    The title of this article is so offensive on many levels. I was interviewed for this article and the author totally misrepresented herself and the reason for the interview. I was completely mis quoted.

  • Brady

    As a very proud resident of this neighborhood since well before the "renaissance", I agree with the general theme of the article and applaud the fact that Philly Mag is bringing some recognition to all the great things going on here. However, old-school South Philly is still very much alive. It's just not the South Philly that most people from outside the district make it out to be. The neighborhood has always been a place where many different groups coexisted. The Italian culture is alive and quite well. I moved here for that very reason. While the gay crowd may have just discovered "PAAH-SHUNK", I can assure that we have been here all along. My greatest hope for The Avenue is that it holds onto its roots and does not turn into another "Gayborhood", plagued by drug dealer-filled corners, begging homeless people, strung out hookers and the eventual blight that naturally follows.

  • Ricciuti

    What a great article – a lot of hard work – as always – went into improving this part of South Philadelphia. It's awesome that the 'old-timers' stayed and are generally mixing well with the new folks – gay or not. Thanks for the great article.

  • Laurentius

    Congratulation to East Passyunk X-ing on this wonderful exciting article. Thank you for The Philadelphia Magazine for taking such notice of all the hard work everyone does and the wonderful growth of the area..giving credit when credit is due (everyone in the wonderful neighbourhood, Lyn Rinaldi of Paradiso and Izumi, Vince Fumo etc.)
    Once again , congratulation!!!!!!

  • A

    I've lived in South Philly for the past two years having moved from out of state. I've had the most wonderful experience and I think the theme of this article is about supporting your local business man/woman. That's the "small town" theme in South Philly that's so enticing. You can go to a cheese shop, local restaurant, local gym (Fitness Works on 8th and Reed), local coffee shop, etc. It's what keeps a city alive..entrepreneurship at it's finest!

  • Benjamin

    I think its great that all people are finding a welcome in South Philly. It has become more of a melting pot anyway. There are the Irish and Italian roots, which we don't want to loose, but there are many other immigrant groups here now. Just go to the "Italian" Market to see how diverse South Philly really is. I am so happy that the LGBT community is now finding a home here. Me and my partner love Passyunk Ave and are very happy about this new trend, we hope it continues!

  • Scott

    I've lived in S. Philly ,on and off, for eleven years and finally bought a house with my fiancé at 9th & Mountain. I represent both ends of the spectrum with respect to the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. I am not a native of Philadelphia, or even Pennsylvania for that matter. I am of italian- American heritage with a very Philly-centric last name… Stallone, but I look more like my fellow new residents. I am an artist, musician, producer and studio owner. I work with artists and musicians in many styles that range from underground indie hiphop to screamo-post metal to electronica and industrials for advertising. I have witnessed the changing dynamic first hand from a conscientious transplant's perspective and I think the writer really hit the nail on the head. Souphilly is a great
    place to live and work. It's the most culterally diverse place in the whole city and the most accepting and welcoming to new transplants that move in to the area and truly want to make this neig

  • s

    this article was GREAT!…after i read it, i took a ride down to there and found a lot of wonderful places…i did some window shopping, got some lunch and got my hair "did!" i found a wonderful little place called "hello" on 13th and miffilin st. not only did i eat good but my hair looks fabulous…thanks jessica and philadelphia magazine for putting out such a wonderful and insightful article!!!