The historic neighborhoods of Germantown
and Mt. Airy, located in northwest Philadelphia, offer rich culture, unique architecture and bustling shopping districts.
Stepping off the SEPTA train into Germantown, the area may seem run down and archaic. But what most people don’t realize is that Germantown’s historical character is what makes it so unique. Cobblestone streets and classic architecture remind people that it is a neighborhood of firsts.
Rich McIlhenny, operations manager of Cunningham Piano Co., located in the heart of Germantown, said the neighborhood is known for its many historical accomplishments.
“Germantown is America’s first suburb,”
he said. “And Penn Charter, down the road, is the oldest Quaker school in the country.” McIlhenny also explained that the area is culturally exceptional.
“Germantown and Mt. Airy are generally places where all types of people live together,” he said. The area is known for its open-mindedness and accepting nature, and does not judge residents based on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, McIlhenny added. Just a mile from Germantown’s busy shopping district, you’ll find some of the most diverse and distinct aspects of Philadelphia culture.
There, a five-block stretch of Germantown Avenue known as Mt. Airy gives way to loads of galleries, cafes and eateries. Mt. Airy is the opposite of Germantown. It screams contemporary, attracting a young, vibrant college student community.Jay Thomson, owner of Amoeba Art Shop in Mt. Airy, said he was attracted to the neighborhood for its diversity.
“Mt. Airy is well-known around the country as being one of the most stably diverse communities going back 50 to 75 years,” he said. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Thomson spent a year in Scotland. And before attending graduate school at Temple’s Tyler School of Art, he opened Amoeba, which is located in the most bustling part of the Mt. Airy, in August 2004.
“As an artist, I was tired of having to drive all the way downtown for supplies and I knew there were other artists in the neighborhood that felt the same way,” he said. In addition to having a retro theme, Amoeba is unique because it is home to the only Philadelphia Mural Arts Program mural in northwest Philadelphia. Thomson said he loves the mixed residential and working environment of Mt. Airy. It was more than just owning Amoeba that kept him in the area after completing graduate school.
“I loved Philadelphia so much that I decided to stay,” he said.One major contribution to Mt. Airy’s business district, Thomson said, was the creation
of InFusion Coffee and Tea shop. The owner, Jason Huber, opened the shop about four years ago and it immediately took off.
With wireless Internet access and couches for lounging, InFusion has a relaxed environment perfect for business professionals and students.
InFusion may also be popular because of its lack of competition in the area. In the absence of mainstream cafes, InFusion doesn’t have another franchise.
“Nope, this is the only one,” Huber said. “Although we’re working on opening another.”
Germantown and Mt. Airy are lesser-known areas of Philadelphia that deserve greater recognition. The culture, history and overall diversity that lies within just a few miles are easily equal to that of larger towns and cities elsewhere.
Next time you’re looking to explore a new part of town, spend some time in Germantown
and Mt. Airy. These neighborhoods will surely provide you with enough of an experience to keep you coming back for more.
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.