Philadelphia gems: Its neighborhoods, that is

Posted: April 05, 2013

To some, they are former diamonds in the rough, locales that a decade or so of change has polished into something now truly unique.

And many have made the cut as the city neighborhoods the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. will be showcasing in a new two-year campaign. The full list of 14 will be unveiled Friday.

"Philly is a city of neighborhoods. What does that really mean?" GPTMC president and chief executive Meryl Levitz said of the impetus behind the campaign. "We want people to go one block further. People haven't felt this good about Philly as they do now."

Levitz said her staff spent nearly a year doing research on the 14 "visitor-friendly" neighborhoods. Among them is Cedar Park in West Philadelphia, which, like its 13 companions on the list, has these things in its favor: a storied street (Baltimore Avenue); buzzed-about restaurants; emerging art galleries; independent shops; music venues; parks, and annual festivals.

Tucked between 46th and 52d Streets, Larchwood Street and Kingsessing Avenue, Cedar Park, with its stately Victorian homes, has tranformed over the last decade, with help from the University City District. Young families have moved in, drawn by new schools (such as Penn Alexander Elementary) and two parks (Cedar Park and Clark Park).

"There's been a lot of good changes, a lot of them structural, with new roads and better safety," said Sourabh "Harris" Tolasaria, a native of Calcutta who since 2009 has opened three Indian restaurants on Baltimore Avenue. "It's really improved the area."

Tolasaria spoke Tuesday over lunch featuring veg samosa chaat (baked pastry garnished with yogurt) and veg pakora (batter-fried vegetables with sauce) at Desi Village, one of his restaurants.

Annual events in Cedar Park, such as the Dollar Stroll (scheduled for June 12 and Sept. 13) attract as many as 5,000 patrons to Baltimore Avenue for daylong bargain-hunters' street fairs. Dining Days (from July 18-Aug. 1), now in its ninth year, showcases restaurants.

"What used to be a less-than-desirable neighborhood is now a vibrant, thriving community," said local business owner, community organizer and resident Algernong Allen, 40, who moved his family to Cedar Park two years ago from Fairmount. "Residents are interested in preserving the green spaces and supporting their local businesses."

Such as Mariposa Food Co-op, a member-owned-and-operated cooperative at 4824 Baltimore Ave. that sells fresh produce and organic meats and regularly features speakers and classes, and Milk & Honey Market, a full-service grocery store at 4435 Baltimore Ave.

"I like the people. They're real," said Pavlos Kollias, 26, a Princeton graduate student and area resident, as he picked up produce and bread at the co-op. "It reminds me of Greece."

Restaurants dotting the stretch from the 4500 block to the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue give it a global flavor. There's Dahlak (Ethiopian/Eritrean), Desi Village (Indian), Aksum (Mediterrean), and Vientiane Cafe (Laotian-Thai).

At the heart of the community is Cedar Park itself, at 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue. A trolley runs daily along Baltimore Avenue - you can see and hear it from VIX Emporium, a former millinery at 5009 Baltimore, where artisans design and create the jewelry, clothes, ceramics and other items for sale.

Next door to VIX is Seeds Gallery, which exhibits locally made art. Danger Danger Gallery at 5013 Baltimore features underground music by college bands.

VIX owner Emily Dorn, 40, opened her shop in 2007, the same year Dock Street Brewery, a popular restaurant and bar, opened across the street.

"More people are moving in," Dorn said. "I meet new people every weekend. Cedar Park has been remodeled to make it more open and inviting for families."

The neighborhood campaign is being funded by an $800,000 William Penn Foundation grant. GPTMC plans to get the word out through heavy social media.

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or

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