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

“I can’t read my book anymore,” says 80-year-old widow Mary Galanti Papola, who’s lived in the same home at 13th and Tasker her whole life, “because all the new neighbors come by and want to talk to me!” With regard to the “new people,” she says, “I think they’re pretty nice. They’re very Democratic. I can’t find one that I would say was nasty. And if they’re gay, that’s great. They upgrade the neighborhood.”

“There was a 70-year-old woman sweeping alongside a tattooed young man who had big plug earrings,” Joe Marino recalls of a recent neighborhood clean-up event. “Well, they became quick friends and started talking about the best way to grow basil in their yards. The point is, it’s true that South Philadelphians are not easily swayed, and they have the courage of their convictions. But when it comes to community, they’re not narrow-minded; they’re single-minded.”

Susan Patrone’s mother was in the self-checkout at the Acme, “in front of some big tattooed, pierced kid,” says Patrone. “She was a little nervous, intimidated. But when she left cash on the machine and started to walk away, he tapped her and said, ‘Here, you left this.’”

“You go out on the Avenue on a Friday night and you walk through the Cantina sidewalk — which is impossible because maybe it’s filled with hipsters — and there might be a family in front at Paradiso, and then Michael’s has a completely different crowd, and then you look across the street and see those old Italian men playing cards,” Stephanie Reitano says. “Philly should be thankful that this exists. You’re not gonna see this in Boston or New York. It’s a really cool time to be here.”

The Center City crowd is coming to check out teeny gastropub Lucky 13 because LaBan raved about it, suggesting that this ’hood could be one of the next restaurant rows. New businesses are staying open late to catch the foot traffic. The zoning laws are stringent enough to halt overdevelopment, which is good, because Marino will positively lose it if a Starbucks moves in.

Newcomers choose this place for its history, its sense of community, for saying “Hi” when you pass on the Avenue. “They want to be part of something authentic,” says Patrone, “and South Philly’s for real.”

 

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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!!!