What Drexel Is Doing to West Philly (and My Paycheck)

Why my friend from Penn is jealous.

My office at Drexel is on the corner of 33rd and Chestnut. Seven years ago, when I first started teaching there, I was grateful that the bookstore was in my building, so that I could easily pick up bottled water or a bag of soy crisps on my way in and out of the building. Between that and the plethora of awesome lunch trucks in the neighborhood, I have been satisfied. 

But, that bit of Chestnut Street, which was renamed Papadakis Way last year when the new, green Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building went up, is now being called Chestnut Square (which is also confusing, at least for now—the construction currently under way goes down Chestnut Street, and therefore, looks much more like a row then a square).

Drexel President John Fry is continuing work he did when he was a VP at Penn and developing Drexel’s portion of University City’s town and gown. The first new store I heard about was Shake Shack. “Meh,” I thought, which is exactly what I thought the first time I ate at one. It’s just a burger, people, calm down.

Then I heard Joe Coffee was coming, which made me a little happier. I do hate buying coffee at Starbucks for all the reasons that good, thinking, pseudo-hip people are supposed to have for hating to buy coffee from huge corporations. (Sometimes I am truly disturbed by the Starbucks inside the Target—that double whammy of seductive American consumerism difficult to ignore, especially after I have gone to Target for deodorant, a garden house, a package of boxers for my son, and somehow spent more than $100.) Joe Coffee is apparently perfect for the pseudo-hip, and like Shake Shack, automatically cooler because it’s a New York thing. All I know is it has to be better than the pumper coffee that is currently the only thing available in my building.

The next restaurant I heard about was coZara, owned and overseen by Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka of Zama. The (now confirmed) rumors were that this would be a two-story Japanese restaurant. When I have cravings, I usually get them filled at Collingswood’s Woksabi, where I can get what I believe is the world’s best wasabi shumai, and, according to a friend who has traveled extensively in China, the world’s best Pad Thai. So, my reaction to the news of coZara on campus was warm, but not feverish. It’s nice to know that if I’m on campus, I’ll be able to get some fresh Japanese food, a much-needed step up from the plastic boxes of sushi available (near the pumpers of coffee) with stickers on them that say, “Caution: May contain raw fish.”

So, I was merely finding it all interesting, calmly waiting to see what I’d hear about next, minding my own business, when I heard that Zavino, the wine and brick oven pizza place, is coming.

My response was: “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” And I was texting.

I’m scared you guys, really scared. How am I going to make it in and out of the building? I’m afraid I’m going to be rolling my paychecks right back into University City, which can only be part of the big plan. I haven’t spent all my money at work since I was a part-timer at American Eagle in high school and pairs of Frye boots would whisper my name on even my shortest shifts. (Despite owning more sweaters than even a Pittsburgh girl could ever need, I bought so many I had to get stackable milk cartons to store them in, and by God, they were folded very, very neatly.)

I was talking to a small group of my students about all these new venues, and when the brick oven pizza was mentioned, one innocent lamb said, “They’ll probably charge $8.50 a slice.” I hated having to be the one to tell her they would not be selling pizza by the slice.

I’m trying to focus on the positive. A friend who teaches at Penn actually expressed jealousy, which always feels good. It’ll be nice to have all this construction done so soon, since simply figuring out how to get in and out of the building has sometimes felt like I’ve needed an advanced degree. I’m trying to focus on the good things like the breaking up Drexel’s orange brick architectural persona, the creation of new jobs, the University’s place in the larger context of University City, but …

Wine and pizza? There goes my Weight Watchers program. I mean—even if I walk to the Speedline from the office, how many activity points can I possibly earn? I hear there’s going to be outdoor seating, so I’m already imagining holding Painted Bride Quarterly meetings there, and wondering how administration will feel about my holding al fresco office hours.

And, I’m afraid to ask, what’s next? A chocolatier?