South Philly now has a cool vibe, parts of Jersey next?
This past Sunday I had lunch at a wine bar in Center City Philadelphia. They always have good wine and great unique items on the menu. It's a bit pricey but every once in awhile I like to treat myself. The wait staff is always funky and in their twenties. This time was no different, a pale girl with eyeliner that stretched out a little bit too far in a sort of Star Trek fashion. She was friendly, talkative and had a really cool vibe. We got to talking about what part of the city she lived in and the topic of South Philadelphia came up. She said she was thinking of moving there because of the really cool vibe around Passyunk Avenue.
When I grew up down there that street didn't have a really cool vibe. It had inexpensive stores where our mom could buy her something to wear for cheap. Now it's populated with trendy clothing stores and not so affordable and funky restaurants where they serve stuff that I never heard of is a kid. My old neighborhood basically looks the same on the outside. Most of the old buildings built in the early nineteen-hundreds are still there. Some have been remodeled, some of been torn down and replaced with new townhouses. My maternal grandfather moved there from Sicily in 1910. He didn't move there for the cool vibe. He moved there because it was the only affordable place to live close to the factories and mills that employed him and thousands of other recent immigrants from Europe. My dad bought a house there because it was fairly close to the Naval Shipyard where he worked for 35 years. And it was very affordable.
Recently, a house sold in my mother's old neighborhood not too far from Passyunk Avenue for $900,000. I told my mom about it last week and she gave me a look that mothers give to their children when they curse or tell an obvious lie. It's true professionals young and old are moving back into old neighborhoods that they never grew up in thinking it's funky and cool. And it is.
It's just unbelievable to us who grew up there that those streets and those shops and those buildings somehow have a cool vibe. To me a cool vibe was getting out of that neighborhood for a week every summer to go down to the shore and breathe salt air away from the crowded row homes and factories.
Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hoboken, Philadelphia and some parts of Jersey City are all going through a revitalization and rebirth. Maybe there is hope for Paterson Newark and Camden too. When I was growing up cities were something you aspired to move out of and get a piece of the American dream with a house and a yard maybe even a pool. Nowadays it's something millennials aspire to move into. The city, the old neighborhood, for the cool vibe?!
Maybe the trend will go the other way in another 40 years. But somehow I don't see the Suburban strip mall with a Target, a pizza shop and a Staples having a cool vibe. But I never thought my mother's old row house in South Philly would either.
- Dennis Malloy
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