Shopping in the garbage

Vetertan artist Joel Spivak gives a few of his Philadelphia favorites.

Vetertan artist Joel Spivak gives a few of his Philadelphia favorites.

Joel Spivak is a real South Street original – literally. The 70-year-old architect, builder and artist was one of the small group of creative spirits who moved into dirt-cheap apartments on South Street back in the late ’60s and revolutionized the area, planting trees, opening galleries and shops, building playgrounds and gardens and ultimately saving the street from being bulldozed and turned into a highway.anna eat drink shop play

Now he’s playing a key role in South Street’s second revolution. Last spring, the city decided to do something about the vacant storefronts that made South Street look like a Jack o’ Lantern’s smile.

A new initiative called Arts on South was launched, which allows artists and art collectives to occupy the abandoned spaces rent-free until the economy improves and the storefronts can be purchased by more profitable businesses. Spivak is a part of the Dumpster Divers art collective, a group of artists who use trash and found objects as their main media. Through the Arts on South initiative, Dumpster Divers was able to open a huge, colorful gallery at 732 South St.

“We bring a lot of energy to South Street,” Spivak said. “Inspiring people to make art, that’s our job here.”

Spivak – who doesn’t drink – shared with us some of his favorite places to eat, shop for art supplies and play. Check out his picks:

I have two favorite places to eat: the Kebob House on Passyunk Avenue and Alyan’s Middle Eastern Restaurant, which is on Fourth Street right off of South [Street]. They have really great food, and it’s cooked to order, and the people are very nice. We don’t have a lot of chains here. The chains don’t make it. There was a big McDonald’s at Sixth and South [streets], and it went out of business. Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t make it, Taco Bell didn’t make it… you come to South Street, you want to eat a Jim’s Steak. I mean, everybody comes down here for a steak sandwich. It’s pretty popular. People are fascinated by the big pile of meat. I always tell people, “Go to Pat’s and Geno’s” because it’s so unusual. If you don’t come from a place where that sort of thing happens, it’s something to see how long those lines get.

Well, the trash pile and the curb are the best. Actually, the curbs at universities are the best. At the end of the semester, everybody leaves everything, and the landlords put all kinds of furniture out on the curb because they have to clean out the apartments. So Penn’s campus, Drexel’s campus, I’ve never been to Temple at the end of the year, but those two are really remarkable. I mean, some of the students are coming over here from India, and they’re not going to take that stuff back, and if they come back the following year, they’ll just get new stuff.

South Street, they have all these nice coffee shops, but you can sit in almost any neighborhood, and there’s a whole lot of activity. I share season tickets to the Phillies so I go to those games, and I have a ticket to the first game of the World Series. Penn’s Landing is a really nice place, it has a lot of surprises, like, you’ll get there, and there’ll be some kind of festival, like the doo-wop concert that they have every year that’s free to the public and raises money for veterans.
Philadelphia’s also a great place to volunteer if you want to do something like that, they have all these Web sites like, where they’re always asking, “Hey, would anybody like to teach some people how to read?” There are all sorts of organizations to get involved with.

Anna Hyclak can be reached at

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