He goes out each day to try to make the city more beautiful

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Todd Kelley, founder of Graffiti Removal Experts, cleans the back of a street sign at 3rd and Walnut streets.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Todd Kelley, founder of Graffiti Removal Experts, cleans the back of a street sign at 3rd and Walnut streets.
Posted: October 11, 2013

T ODD KELLEY, 39, of Society Hill, is owner and president of Graffiti Removal Experts, a business that removes graffiti from all kinds of surfaces. Kelley, a Wynnewood native who formerly was a real-estate agent and owned a painting business, is passionate about eradicating what he considers urban blight.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the business?

A: I volunteered with the Society Hill Civic Association (SHCA) two years ago to remove graffiti. Then I started covering a larger area. I got some money from SHCA in mid-2012.

Q: How did you grow the biz?

A: One day I was cleaning up on 8th Street and said, "I can do this in other neighborhoods." I incorporated and got a business license. I went to other civic associations - Washington Square West, Headhouse Square/South Street - and pitched them on it.

Q: How's the biz model work?

A: I walk a grid twice a week, street by street. At the beginning it takes longer, but once it's cleaned up, then it's just maintenance. Basically, I remove graffiti in the business district - street signs, poles, lampposts, mailboxes and storefronts.

Q: How big a problem is this?

A: It's so pervasive, people think it's just part of urban living. I also do acid-etch repair. Vandals use it to burn glass. It's all over the city, and it's a shame.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Three civic associations, Pennsylvania Hospital, Review Publishing and an area of 70 square blocks in the southeast quadrant of Center City.

Q: What do services cost?

A: $400 to $2,200 a month, depending on difficulty, how clean they want it and the size of the area. I dedicate six hours per week to South Street/Headhouse, about five to Society Hill and four to Washington Square West.

Q: And acid-etch repair?

A: $200 to $400 per window, two to three hours, very labor-intensive. I do this about eight to 10 hours a week.

Q: Anything else you do?

A: Removing spray paint from brick surfaces or masonry. Pennsylvania Hospital and Philadelphia Community College have had problems with this. I have a pressure washer, and this part of the business comprises another six to eight hours per week.

Q: How many employees?

A: Just me, but when I have a lot of clients at once, I bring on independent contractors.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: About $3,000 to $6,000 a month.

Q: What's next?

A: I want to expand the business to other neighborhoods, like Queen Village and South Passyunk. The city is the only competition, and they do graffiti removal to homes and businesses. My clients want it done right away, and so I fill in the gap. I'd just love to see Philadelphia cleaned up.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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