Pulse: Chatter: Neighborhoods: It Takes a Midtown Village
For years now, the stretch of 13th Street between Chestnut and Walnut — a.k.a. the heart of the Gayborhood — has been changing. First came a few onesies for sale in a shop, then some bibs at another, then a new store with bath and body products, a purse-making studio, and — now — the month-old outpost of Genes, a Wayne-based kids’ boutique. Slowly, surely, the place has gone from Boys Town to trendy-mom haunt. The real shocker? Nobody seems to mind.
It’s a bit odd after last year, when Gayborhooders snappily predicted the demise of the quirky ’hood once shop owners started referring to the area as “Midtown Village.” If folks saw a new name as a move toward gentrification (read: straightification), then surely the slew of BabyBjÖrns and gingham clutches would produce a similar outcry, right? Not so much, says Steve Duross, owner of bath-and-body shop Duross & Langel. He swears the Gayborhood’s not only intact (36 rainbow street signs to be hung this summer!), but better than ever. Many area shops, he notes, are still gay-owned (including his), and the gay landmarks remain cornerstones: Woody’s is a flag-flying beacon; Danny’s sex shop thrives next to El Vez; and gay porn theater Sansom Street Cinema is going strong, with a spiffed-up facade that complements a chic new neighbor — Genes.
It’s coexistence, not a de-gaying of the ’hood, says Duross — and it’s exactly what Gayborhood developer Tony Goldman says he’s aimed for over the past decade: shops “with character” on streets desirable to everybody. From a business standpoint, diversified foot traffic is a no-brainer, but if it also means moms buying tot-sized Diesel right next to the gay theater, it’s social progress, says Duross, that’s “way beyond assimilation.” Jeff Guaracino of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (and author of a gay tourism guide) even calls the shift “revolutionary,” adding that cities like Tampa and San Francisco — whose gay enclaves are still segregated — could learn from the Gayborhood. (Well, we are the City of Brotherly Love.)