The 7 Worst Philly Business Stories of 2012

From Genuardi's to Bart Blatstein's critics.

Make no mistake, there have been many great business developments in the city and region this year. Among them are the Mayor’s Jump Start Philadelphia program, the exciting growth of both the city’s tech and startup communities, improvements in the city’s relationship with the business community (like the new Licensing and Inspections website and a remapping of food-truck-permissible areas), and a record year for Small Business Administration loans in the area.

But it hasn’t all been great. Our unemployment rate in the region remains high and above the national average. Housing prices are recovering but are still depressed. Economic growth has been anemic at best. Amid that, some local stories have stood out as examples of the times (and the city) we live in.

1. Challenges for/Goodbyes to Two Family-Owned Businesses. In the past year, Marathon Grill, a long-time and much-loved family-owned chain of eateries closed locations in University City and at 13th and Chestnut, and the owners are reportedly working hard to hang on to their remaining three spots. I’m rooting for them. But I’ve stopped rooting for Genuardi’s, the regional supermarket chain that began as a family-owned produce farm in Norristown in 1920. That’s because they’re no longer around. The company sold its soul to Safeway back in 2001 and ultimately relinquished its good name and what was left of its reputation to Giant Food Stores this year.

2. The Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center. I’m still trying to figure out what Bruce Springsteen has to do with our constitution. The people running this amazing center are struggling to make it a success, but this is not a good sign.

3. The re-election of Barack Obama. Philadelphians may love the President, but I don’t think they’re going to love his economic policies over the next four years. The business community and my client base sure doesn’t. With the fear of his policies and lack of experience, we’re bound to suffer another cycle of marginal growth at best as most businesses hunker down, hide their cash, limit their investments, hold back on employing people, and wait for Chris Christie to lead us into everlasting prosperity.

4. The Philly Fed indexes. Every month the Philadelphia Fed monitors the economic activity of the region. And in 2012, the results have been … meh. November’s business outlook registered negative activity, which I guess means that things are so bad that manufacturers are now eating their raw materials instead of using them in production. Other months have taken even more alarming dips. The index is a reminder of how poor our overall economy continues to be. The Fed also publishes another closely watched barometer called the Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti. This is a national index that’s designed to track conditions like weekly initial jobless claims, monthly payroll employment, industrial production, and personal income. Try and guess how that’s been doing? Yeah … not so good either.

5. The critics of Bart Blatstein. For all his success with blotting out blight in this city, Bart Blatstein gets complaints and push-back from community organizations and groups like Casino-Free Philadelphia? Because a casino at the old Inquirer building would be a “bad influence” on nearby schools? Because they’re concerned about the impact that a new casino will have on the community, traffic, parking, crime and safety on North Broad street? Have you ever seen what North Broad Street looks like? Do you not think that a businessman like Blatstein would also want to make sure the area was safe, secure and friendly so that his businesses can prosper? Philadelphia will never grow to be a truly great economic success when developers like Blatstein, looking to invest their own money (with the intention of getting rich, and good for him) continues to face these kinds of obstacles.

6. The Phillies, Eagles and Flyers. Hand-wringing aside, the awful (and in the case of the Flyers, non-existent) performance of our teams this year have cost our local fans countless hours of dismay and our local businesses millions in lost revenues. I wrote recently about how Chickie’s and Pete’s may need to consider closing—and not because of their crab fries. It’s because the food chain, like so many other local companies, suffer when the public loses interest in our teams. Fewer beers are quaffed, burgers aren’t sold, t-shirts stack up on clearance tables, and consumer optimism is affected. It’s not just a game.

7. The Pouls family. After making a large donation to a school, they try to have a teacher who looked the wrong way at their child fired from her job. They allow their huge Gladwyne estate (and their daughter?) to be featured on an embarrassing episode of MTV’s Teen Cribs. And … surprise! It turns out that the daddy was fleecing banks for millions and is now forced to sell his storied Main Line mansion at a loss in the midst of his financial ruin. This is the kind of guy that embarrasses the Main Line community. And more importantly, he embarrasses the Philadelphia business community. Unfortunately, we get a few of these stories every year. Ugh.