'Everybody's happy' with 52nd Street improvements

Posted: October 17, 2012

THE RECENT REMOVAL of bulky canopies outside businesses on 52nd Street south of Market was one of many things neighbors and business owners celebrated Monday, as the city seeks to once again make that struggling slice of West Philly an attractive place to do business.

"All of a sudden, everybody's happy. The momentum has picked up, store owners feel positive again. It's starting to reflect in the cash register," said Art Williams, owner of Art of Beauty, a salon on 52nd Street near Sansom. "At the end of the day, that's what we want."

Mayor Nutter, flanked by Council members Jannie Blackwell and Curtis Jones, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and others, spoke at the salon Monday, explaining how federal grant money helped translate to storefront improvements - among other changes - along 52nd Street, or "The Strip," as Nutter and other longtime West Philly neighbors call it.

Over the past six months, 21 business owners along 52nd Street split about $297,000 in grant money to improve their storefronts in hopes of giving the street a gradual - and much needed - facelift.

The money came from a larger pool of about $1.9 million allocated to the area after the city's Department of Commerce created a partnership in 2008 among businesses, city organizations and neighborhood groups to work on commercial corridor development.

In its heyday, 52nd Street was regarded as West Philadelphia's "Main Street." But by 2007, the corner of 52nd and Market, in the trash-strewn shadow of the Market-Frankford El, was known as one of the city's most dangerous and drug-ridden corners.

Now, about 88,000 people travel along the 52nd Street corridor daily by foot, car or SEPTA, according to the Commerce Department.

The improvements are intended to encourage neighbors to spend money there and to attract new businesses.

"We're hoping that it will change the overall perception of the corridor to bring more people out," said Aiisha Herring-Miller of the Commerce Department.

Terence Sheppard, a West Philly neighbor, looked along 52nd Street on Monday, taking stock of the discount, beauty and cellphone shops lining the block and said he hopes any improvements would mean more diverse store offerings.

"All the stores are basically variety stores," he said. "But everybody has the same things. It's pretty much that way all over."

Contact Phillip Lucas at lucasp@phillynews.com or 215-854-5914. Follow him on Twitter @UnPhiltered. Read his blog at PhillyConfidential.com.

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