The new Avenue North development project, which will comprise a multiplex movie theater, high rise apartments and shops on the southwest corner of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and North Broad Street, has garnered mixed reactions from local business owners and residents of the Yorktown section of the North Philadelphia.
Despite the intended goals of the project, business owners in the vicinity of the development worry about the effects that larger, corporate businesses may have on their locally-owned stores. Residents worry about how the changes will affect the face of their neighborhood.
Some local business owners said they feel like they are being driven out of the area. Henry Collins, owner of Mecca Unisex Salon located on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said the new changes are putting the smaller shops out of business.
“It’s bad for the minority business owners because all the rents are going up,” Collins said. “Midlevel stores like Subway and 7-Eleven are coming in and it’s running all the African American businesses out because they can’t compete with midlevel corporations for market space.”
Collins’ salon has been on Cecil B. Moore Avenue for 10 years. With the push to revitalize the area Collins said he has seen many black-owned businesses fold due to larger businesses coming in.
“Two to three businesses had to go under because of the competition,” Collins said.
Abdullah Nasar, owner of King Fried Chicken on North Broad Street, said the work could draw in more customers.
“Hopefully it will attract more people to the neighborhood,” Nasar said.
Ken Scott, president of Beech Corporation – a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of businesses – said, “not too much of the people are being displaced.”
“Our mission here is to be inclusive with the new developments,” he said. “We’ve had many community meetings pertaining to the project.”
Karen Lewis, executive director of Avenue of the Arts Inc., the corporation responsible for Avenue of the Arts North – another development project that will expand from Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia to Glenwood Avenue in North Philadelphia – acknowledged that making the current residents feel like a part of the new efforts can be difficult.
“Elected officials must work to maintain a balance between the needs of residents and revitalization,” Lewis said. “It’s important to maintain a balance so residents don’t feel pushed out or like they don’t have a voice.”
While some residents agree that the new developments will energize the area, they also feel that it may change the make-up of the neighborhood.
“I think it’s really needed,” said James Lee, a North Philadelphia native. “I just wish they did this 20 years ago. I really commend that they’re making an effort to make the community a little bit better and rich.”
But Lee said new physical changes may also mean a change in the economic and social make up of the area.
“I think its good, but at the same time I can see it changing the economical landscape of the area,” Lee said. “Even the small merchants over there, sooner or later their businesses are going to be pushed out of here. They’re going to be given these so called deals so bigger, better, more [brand] name industries can come in. But by constructing and creating this whole, whatever they’re doing it’s kind of like they’re bringing in a whole different kind of community.”
Venus Mitchell, another North Philadelphia native said she believed the improvements will be good for the neighborhood.
“I think it’s a good idea that they try to make it even better, you know the scenery. [But] you don’t know what type of environment it’s going to attract,” she said. “Hopefully it’ll keep it nice. Hopefully it’ll be a good thing.”
The actual construction on Avenue North began in April and is scheduled to be completed by spring of next year.
Renita Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.