Affordable housing, proximity draws students to Fishtown

Imagine a neighborhood where the most familiar sight is a crushed pint of iced tea littered on a street corner. This is just the case in Fishtown, one of Philadelphia’s many distinct neighborhoods where housing

Imagine a neighborhood where the most familiar sight is a crushed pint of iced tea littered on a street corner. This is just the case in Fishtown, one of Philadelphia’s many distinct neighborhoods where housing is affordable and commercialization non-existent.

Located just northeast of Center City, Fishtown stretches from Girard Avenue to the Delaware River. The exact boundaries are a much discussed topic by “Fishtowners,” and real estate agents say that any area in the 19125 zip code is a Fishtown address.

Very few chain stores exist in Fishtown. Expect to find family-owned and operated corner grocery stores and a seemingly endless selection of pizzerias with college-friendly late night hours and cheap prices. Diners at Emo’s Pizza at Memphis and Norris streets can chow down on two large pizzas and a two-liter soda for a mere $12.

Ever feel the urge for a six pack, but you’re just too tired to make the hike to the local beer distributor? In Fishtown, you can have your beer delivered for a $1.25. The neighborhood is home to several cheap beer distributors, including Fishtown Beverage at 1511 Frankford Ave.

At this neighborhood favorite, a 30-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sells for $16. Party enthusiasts, Fishtown is for you. While Fishtown is perfect for socializing, it isn’t just another college hangout – the neighborhood is a true family community.

You’d be hard pressed to find other areas of the city where elderly and young alike pass time relaxing on their front doorsteps, enjoying the day and keeping an eye out for one another’s well-being.

“The people are really committed to their community. The people on your block, you’ve known all your life, and that’s why it remains a good neighborhood,” said Jim Ackley, a 40-year-old contractor who has lived in Fishtown his entire life.

The community has recently welcomed an influx of artists, college students and other professionals to the area. These 20-somethings are attracted to Fishtown for various reasons. Matt Wertz is one of many Temple students who live in Fishtown, about a 2-mile bike ride from Main Campus. “The location is really good. It’s a short bike ride to campus and I’m also right near Center City,” the history major said. “For anyone that drives, I am just minutes from the Girard exit off I-95, which makes it really accessible.”

Not only is the location fantastic for Temple students, but the prices are perfect for a college student looking to live in a home for an affordable price. Houses in Fishtown are mostly row homes and are equivalent in size to any row home elsewhere in the city – but at a much cheaper rent.

“I got a room in Fishtown twice the size of my room in South Philly that I used to have for the same price. And it’s much closer to Temple campus, which really makes this a desirable place to stay,” said Jim Pollum, a sophomore civil engineering major.

The arrival of so many newcomers, or “newbies” as the locals call them, has encouraged the opening of new business in the area. Girard Avenue is the neighborhood’s main shopping district, but unlike other areas of the city, major corporations are few and far between here.

Instead of Starbucks, coffee shop enthusiasts go to the charming and independently owned Canvas Coffee Company at 400 E. Girard Ave. Girard Avenue is also home to independent shops DiPinto Guitar and the bike shop Jay’s Pedal Power.

The recent gentrification of the neighborhood does not come without resistance. Some native neighbors are wary of newcomers moving into the area. They argue that newbies throw loud parties and have little regard for the well-being of the neighborhood. These concerns lead to a deteriorating sense of identity within the neighborhood.

Lisa Flynn, a long-time resident of Fishtown, blamed her dismay on young college students moving to the area. “I’ve lived on this block for 24 years, and only in the last few years do I remember the block ever having empty beer cans or loud music late at night,” said Flynn.

Other neighbors are more welcoming of the newbies, resident Jim Ackley being one of them. “It’s the same way I feel about all neighbors. If they’re good neighbors, they’re welcome. I’m glad to have them.”

Julian Root can be reached at julian.root

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