Letters From the (Real Estate) Trenches

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Illustration by Tim Durning

This past fall, after five years of renting in Fairmount, my husband and I finally decided to buy a home of our own in the neighborhood. Now, call me naive — maybe too many hours logged on HGTV? — but I honestly thought that our prequalified mortgage and 20 percent in our pockets meant we’d follow the classic script: We’d find a place, put in an offer, have our agent negotiate with the seller’s agent, and then — voilà! — be happy homeowners.

That isn’t how it went.

In fact, says realtor Karrie Gavin, that’s rarely how it goes these days in Philly. Gavin, a four-year agent with Elfant Wissahickon, prides herself on almost never losing a bidding war — and she’s been in a lot of bidding wars lately. A lot. “The inventory is very low right now, and there’s a high buyer demand,” she says. “I’m seeing a lot of things selling for above the asking price.” Penn’s Fels Institute of Government reports that home prices in fall of 2014 shot up all over the city; average days on market fell from 88 last winter to 67. The takeaway? Gird your loins, buyers: Competition is fierce, especially in hot spots like Fairmount, Grad Ho, Bella Vista, Queen Village, Passyunk Square, even Chestnut Hill and Narberth.

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The Best Hair Stylists in Philadelphia

The stylists of Salon Vanity at work. Photograph by Joseph Balestra.

The stylists of Salon Vanity at work. Photograph by Joseph Balestra

There are many, many great stylists in this city and its ’burbs. And most of the greats can do anything you ask them to, and do it well. But the trick to true hair happiness is a little more complex, isn’t it? You don’t just want someone who’s great; you want someone intuitively attuned to your exact hair issues.

And that, reader, is what you’ll find here: 45 excellent stylists, each with a special knack for dealing with one issue or another, from cutting crazy curls to eliminating those wiry grays to helping with thinning hair, and beyond. We’ve also got the scoop on the five man-cuts that can instantly update a look, the secrets behind the city’s best heads of hair, the Center City salon that’s bringing back the perm … and more.

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Philadelphia Pop-Ups Are Why We Can’t Keep Nice Things

Illustration by Nick Massarelli

Illustration by Nick Massarelli

If any one thing cinched Spruce Street Harbor Park as the summer’s best pop-up, it was probably the hammocks — dozens of them scattered in the shade, cocooning people reading or napping or making out. The sprawling swatch of riverfront, complete with swan boats and floating barges and water lily gardens, was so picturesque that it felt more like the Hollywood set of a park than it did an actual park nestled on the southeastern edge of Philadelphia, within spitting distance of the I-95 on-ramp.

If this were a movie set, it would be for one of those cheery rom-coms, the type where the city is all twinkle and no grit. (In essence: More Nora Ephron than Woody Allen.) Just look! Down the river there’s a boardwalk lined with shipping crates that hold hot-dog vendors and games like air hockey; behind that, children play with four-foot-high chess pieces and venture barefoot into a wading fountain. Around them, dozens of park-goers are sprawled out on beach chairs or waiting in line for a Jose Garces truffle-and-cheddar burger, while park employees hand out maps and greet newcomers: “Hi there, welcome to Spruce Street Harbor Park.”

That this place appeared to draw and delight every possible demographic is no wonder, really. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, collaborating with David Fierabend from Groundswell Design Group, did such an amazing job creating this $600,000 shaded Shangri-la that upon entering, you forgot it was very recently a boring swath of nothingness sandwiched between the Independence Seaport Museum and the USS Olympia. You forgot that behind those greeters is the rest of the city, where people sit in airless cabs, where planters are dead-bolted to front porches. And you forgot, until too late, not to fall in love with this place that will eventually vanish as quickly as it popped up, like a vaguely hipster Brigadoon. (Update, 8/27: You now have a one-month reprieve — the new closing date is September 28th.)

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I Tried It: The Hairspray That Promises to Cover My Grey Hair


Can a spray really get rid of grey?

Blondes seem to think that they have it the hardest when it comes to color upkeep, and for much of my life as a low-maintenance brunette, this actually seemed true. I was always grateful that my natural dark brown color required basically nothing aside from the occasional highlight to look its best. And then I turned 30. Suddenly, the easy, breezy days of doing nothing stopped working: Now if I go more than a few months without a little help from a professional, the grey (or as I like to call it, silver) shoots through my hair, as glaringly obvious as lightning bolts slashing through the night sky. Alas, as a working mom, the chances of getting to that professional every couple of months to address said lightning bolts are basically nil. Sigh.

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Philly, Just Get Over Wawa Already


First, there’s the name. Wawa. A word that sounds like nonsense. Like baby talk. Like a sad trombone. Wah-wah.

Thinking, I guess, that I’m not originally from here and thus a little ignorant about such things, the Wawa lover will generally inform me, tone pious, that “wawa” is the Ojibwe word for the Canadian goose in the company’s logo.

I mean no disrespect to the tribe — neither the Ojibwe nor the Philadelphian — but no amount of etymology can change the fact that seven years into my Philly life, I’m still mortified to utter the phrase, “We’re going to Wawa for a Sizzli.”

My husband, a Philly native, will drive us 10 miles out of our way on road trips, past BPs, 7-Elevens, Sunocos, Dunkins and countless other pit stops, in order to hit up a Wawa for that Sizzli. Or, more often, for the coffee, which he swears is the best road coffee money can buy. The dark roast is above par, but it’s still just coffee. When a gallon of gas costs three times as much as the coffee you’re driving to fetch and the convenience chain of choice has closed so many city outposts that a soul can hardly even call it convenient, it’s time to question such devotion.

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Review: Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, and Lots of Weed at the Mann Music Center


There is likely nowhere in Philadelphia better suited to host Willie Nelson than the Mann Center — if not because nothing says summer like sitting on a blanket under the stars listening to “On the Road Again,” then because the smell of weed just doesn’t waft so discreetly in, say, the Academy of Music as it does from the Mann’s, er, grass seating.

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Parenting Consultants in Philly: Do You Actually Need One?

Mommy's Little Helper:  Baby concierge Marisa Piccarreto at her South Street boutique. Photograph by Jillian Guyette

Mommy’s Little Helper: Baby concierge Marisa Piccarreto at her South Street boutique. Photograph by Jillian Guyette

Last fall, 20 hours after our firstborn came home from the hospital, our little family welcomed its first visitor: my lactation consultant. She glided in, assessed and tweaked my nursing technique, and left her number should any drama arise. It was, my husband and I agreed, $150 well spent.

My lactation consultant. I know this sounds like something you’d hear on Real Housewives of Bourgeoisville. A co-worker—a boomer who’s raised two children—didn’t pull any punches when, a few months later, we were discussing the recent uptick in Philly pros to whom your average parent is turning for help: the nursing experts, yes, but also the sleep consultants, the postpartum doulas, the child nutritionists and so forth.

“You fucking incompetents!” she hooted. “We had help. It was called Dr. Spock.”

Today’s parents have Dr. Spock, too. But now we also have Dr. Sears. And Baby Wise. And the Baby Whisperer. And the Internet.
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Forty Years Later, Are These Philly Favorites Still the Best?

The cover of 1974's Best of Philly issue

For the 1974 debut of Best of Philly (which was actually the Best and Worst of Philly), the editorial team sought out dozens of worthy bars and restaurants on which to bestow awards. From the then-brand-new (and now just-closed) Le Bec-Fin (Best Meal Over $25) to Rittenhouse’s Seafood Unlimited (Worst Meal Under $2), they cataloged the city. These days, a handful of the original Best Of winners remain—a rather impressive feat in an age when new-and-trendy seems to win out so often over the tried-and-true. (Am I right, Le Bec?)

Is there some special Best Of mojo that has kept the hangers-on hanging for so long? I visited five of the oldies to see, first, if they were still worth the trip, and second, if there is, in fact, a secret that has kept them thriving for decades, with no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s what I found. …

Best of Philly 2013

The cover of Philadelphia magazine's 40th edition of Best of Philly.

For 40 years now, we’ve been eating, drinking, primping, polling, shopping and schlepping our way across Philadelphia and her ’burbs to bring you the best of everything this city has to offer. (Forty years. Do you know how much sodium has been consumed in the name of Best of Philly over 40 years?)

This year, we’re celebrating the tradition with a boatload of fresh winners for 2013, from the doughnuts you should be eating to the place you should buy your bike to the people you want teaching your kid Mandarin … and much, much more. There are the winners from the public taste tests we hosted throughout the summer (see who really makes the best Italian hoagie); an ode to some classic bests (like Philly’s greatest dive bar—now and forever); the favorites that you, our readers, voted for in our online polls; and the Philadelphians who are having the biggest and best impact on our lives right now.

Because, illustrious history aside, that’s what Best of Philly really is, and has always been: an up-to-the-moment guide to all the great things going on right here, right now. Don’t miss out.

Check out are Best of Philly winners below:

>>Best of Philly: Food and Drink

>>Best of Philly: Fun and Games

>>Best of Philly: Service and Help

>>Best of Philly: Shopping and Beauty

>>Forty years after Best of Philly began, are these original winners still the city’s best? 

Men’s Fashion is Back in Philadelphia

Men's fashion in Philadelphia is experiencing a renaissance. Illustration by Tim Gough.

It was one of those long-awaited evenings in April when it finally felt like spring had come, the type of night when the whole city emerges from its musty winter cocoon. By some small miracle, my husband and I had landed a coveted table by a window at Parc, which meant we could enjoy both our roasted chicken and the parade of people fluttering by us on the sidewalk.

And oh, what a parade! What a procession of finely clad asses walked by, hugged in shrink-wrap denim! Long legs were emphasized by slim-cut pants in periwinkles and mustard yellows; hair was carefully styled to look effortless; bare, slender ankles peeked sassily out from rolled-up trousers; and the handful of lightweight sweaters was so streamlined, you could almost make out anatomical details through the cable knit.

And you should have seen the women.

Nice weather doesn’t bring out more fashionable male plumage, necessarily—it’s just easier to take it in without all the coats. Nor would I say these sorts of fashions are limited to rich Rittenhouse prepster types. No, the men who are out there looking good seem to span all classes and genres. Hipsters, skater dudes, jocks—they’re all finding ways to buck the old Philly norm. (The old Philly norm, as defined by a girlfriend: “You could guess that pretty much any well-dressed man in Philly was either gay or worked at Boyds.”)

But now? Slim-cut selvage denim, retro statement glasses, custom-designed (or at least tailored) suits, thoughtful details like cuffed pants and man-scarves and pocket squares … pop into Pub & Kitchen, or Johnny Brenda’s, or Alla Spina, and you’ll see all sorts of male chic once reserved for devotees of Details magazine. What’s more, you see it on the same 20- and 30-something guys who not so long ago lived and died by the hoodie. It’s a fascinating transformation to behold.

And I’m hardly the only woman who’s noticed. A friend who attended the opening of Locust Street’s new Suitsupply marveled at all the “cute straight men” meandering around a shop known for fashionable suits and excellent tailoring. Another pal—a fantastic dresser—admits to having asked her husband on more than one occasion to please take his outfit down a notch: “He puts on his skinny jeans and his perfect blazer, and suddenly my jeans look dumpy.”

It sounds a little braggy, but we 20- and 30-somethings are credited with driving a lot of change in this city right now, from revitalizing the restaurants to jump-starting Center City’s real estate boom. Is it possible that we’re also responsible for a new masculine metamorphosis of citywide proportions? Considering the average age of all those natty straight guys strolling our sidewalks in their salmon-pink skinny chinos, the answer looks like an emphatic yes.

But before we deem this a new era of male sartorial splendor, it bears noting that there are some other guys who look really good on the sidewalks of Philadelphia: the old ones. Some of the most fetching ensembles out there are on older men who pay attention—have always paid attention—because in their day, it was not just ungentlemanly but also unmanly not to. Sure, this generation’s pants might be tighter, their colors brighter and their styles more diverse, but today’s guys aren’t so much forging new fashion paths as finding new, modern reasons to return to their gender’s once-stylish roots.

In other words? Modern men are just reclaiming their masculinity, one tailored blazer at a time.

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