On the east bank of the Schuylkill River sits a particularly interesting section of the city known as Manayunk.
Not only is it one of the more up-and-coming areas of the city, its Main Street is packed with bars, restaurants, shops and galleries, but it serves as an important link to the city’s communication with other parts of the country.
Its textile and paper mills along with the famous Manayunk Canal served as useful segues to manufacture in the days of heavy industry.
Because of these contributions, Manayunk
was named a National Historic District in 1983. Years ago, a hill so steep it was dubbed ‘the wall’ divided the homes of business executives and low-wage workers, the case today is much on the contrary.
Over the years, Manayunk has changed and developed a great deal. Today, there is no defined class divider; in fact, the neighborhood is overwhelmingly middle-class with a moderate cost of living.
Manayunk is known best for Main Street, packed with every cultural attraction imaginable within less than a 20-block radius.
“What’s wonderful about Manayunk is it’s smack-dab in the middle of such a big area,” said Devita Levin, owner of Worn Yesterday, a consignment maternity and children’s clothing shop on Main Street which she opened 21 years ago.
“It’s just so convenient to get here.” What makes Main Street Manayunk so unique, though, is that the history behind it all is still present in its residents of today. Most businesses on Main Street are owned by original proprietors. Many of the street’s buildings were once private residences.
“My neighbor’s business has been here for over one hundred years,” Levin said. “I think it used to be a house because there’s a bathtub in it.”
Levin said that she decided to open Worn Yesterday because, when she was a girl, she felt the pressure to wear designer clothing to “fit in” among her friends. Not everyone can afford clothes this expensive, so her consignment shop offers the same look for less. “Why not learn to pay less?” she said.
The streets of Manayunk are teeming with galleries and underground shops, and the people tend to live alternative lifestyles of many sorts. This means, naturally, that music shops are not uncommon in Manayunk. Main Street Music, located in Manayunk’s busiest area, has been open for 15 years. According to business owners, the town’s popularity has dwindled since about 2002.
“Before, 10 times as many people would be here on a weekend evening, and that’s not even an exaggeration,” said Pat Feeney, owner of Main Street Music. Feeney said the decrease in business on Main Street has been because other parts of Philadelphia, like Old City and Society Hill, have expanded in recent years. However, he said, business at his shop is steady.
“Location-wise, this is great,” he said. “There is still a really big night life here.”
If there’s one thing that keeps everyone coming back to Manayunk – it’s the food. With more than 30 restaurants in town and only a few of them chains, Manayunk is the one place where a person could be as picky as they’d like. Like many businesses there, most have been around for years.
The manager of Bella Trattoria, an Italian restaurant and bar on Main Street Manayunk and also with a location in Old City, mentioned another factor that keeps the customers coming.
“Most of our customers are regulars, but people that are bar-hopping will stop here too,” said Tony Presta, who has managed Bella for more than two years. He thinks people in Manayunk are there to stay. “People like it here because it’s nice – but not too upscale.” First impressions are always important, and Manayunk gives a good one. Tom Meyer, a sophomore communications major at Temple, recently paid Manayunk a visit. He said he liked the neighborhood because it’s scenic and a nice getaway from Center City.
“I think I’ll be back here real soon,” he said. Food, shopping, history and night life: what more could a college student ask for?
Carlene Majorino can be reached at email@example.com.