December 22-28, 2005
: photos by Michael t. regan
Can a new punk rock mecca drag the South Street vibe farther south?
It's Christmas on East Passyunk. There are angels atop light poles, inflatable reindeer on the balcony of Tratorria Luca and massive Merry Christmas lettering below King of Jeans' faux-Patrick Nagel signage. And there's a walking, talking Santa Claus making stops in The Record Bar and Marra's.
Do I love the old Italian Catholic symbolism? I do.
I like that it freaks some people out.
"Initially, it was like whoa -- older Italian guys everywhere, trying to tell me what to do," laughs Jon Yates, the owner of Beautiful World Syndicate record store, which opened Dec. 1. "Now, they're all, 'Howyoudoin.' It's sweet." It'll get more amusing at 1619 E. Passyunk now that HeyDay Entertainment and Y100rocks.com are in that building. Situated next to the coolly bohemian Roselena's Cafe, the nondescript 1619 has, within a month, become the de facto corner of Philly's punk rock universe: three floors of alterna-awesome.
Suck on that, NoLibs. Blow me, West Philly. And South Street? "It's bombarded with terrible clothing and jewelry stores," says Stacie George, HeyDay's booker for the Khyber and North Star. "That street's not comfortable or fun anymore. Nothing would be more satisfying than to see East Passyunk have stores like Zipperhead." She's hoping the punk rock mecca might attract young kids to open up their own businesses on the Avenue.
The space is nothing much to look at: it's a long, 1,000-square-foot room with 10-foot ceilings. There's a back wall mirror, like a dance studio, and a glass front for everyone to see dreadlocked Tony Drake hanging vinyl (Blowfly, Desmond Dekker, Bauhaus) on the paneled walls above the 20,000 or so pieces of music shelved below. You have to walk through the record store to get upstairs, which is home to HeyDay on the second floor and Y100 on the third.
HeyDay's George sits at her work station at the end of an exposed brick wall lined with handmade posters for past showsDMBQ, Spoon, Man Man. A calendar by her desk charts the next two months. Yah Mos Def is marked in black to play the Khyber in January. Red is for North Star, brown is for Rex's. HeyDay, which once resided on South 10th Street, moved after rents tripled. East Passyunk's affordability and access to everything in the Italian Market neighborhood made it a perfect choice.
It only takes a couple of cute boutiques, record stores and bookstores to make Passyunk cool for kids to shop and hang. "Plus, nothing is cuter than seeing the daycare children walking by every day in a line for their afternoon walk," says George.
Like her upstairs neighbor, Y100rocks.com's Jim McGuinn, George (who may wind up doing a show on the station) notes the potential for synergy among the three tenants.
"If I book a band for a venue, they're doing an in-store at Beautiful and maybe the in-store gets taped by Y100rocks," she says.
McGuinn agrees. "Put together a bunch of creative people in one building and you never know what can happen," says the building's newest tenant.
Y100 FM has famously been off the air for 10 months now. The immediately forged Y100rocks.com has become a top Internet-only radio station. This is its third location after starting in McGuinn's home and going through a stint in "Jersey Dan" Bisogno's apartment building at 15th and Passyunk. "Watching a movie got hard with a gaggle of strangers around," says McGuinn, who's happy to have moved the operation into a bigger space of its own. Plus, "1619 has amenitieslike heat," he jokes.
At the moment the room is freshly painted "dill pickle green" and steel gray blue, and it's filled with oddities. There's an old neon sign advertising "Unique Be Be," a wall of shame of Polaroids featuring Bigger Lovers and G. Love, a baby basketball net and leather chair courtesy of HeyDay and a beat-up amber sectional couch. Oh, and the guts: a digital CD/computer/iTunes setup with microphones, where former Y100 FM promo coordinator and man-of-a-thousand voices John Landow and McGuinn have turned my visit into an on-air comedy routine with me as a modern-day Emperor Norton. Laughs ensue as I trip over some wires, nearly pulling the plug on the station. Again. Sike.
"What better way to connect the dots on this block and this scene than having a radio station, record store and booking agent in the same building," says McGuinn.
"We don't know much about the neighborhood," says Y100's Zia Hiltey. "But we love the singing fountain."
Yatesfamous for selling CDs at R5 Productions stops for two yearsdidn't know much about the neighborhood either. "I wanted a permanent spot, but West Philly and Center City were too expensive," he says, nonplussed. The neighborhood sort of chose him. "It is sweet down here."
His R5 clientele come. Though he knows HeyDay well, he's reserving comment on the peeps from floor three. "They're in a different world than I am, musically, I guess." Yet, he acknowledges his upstairs neighbors have bought records while passing through. And, though he initially may have been freaked by the area, Yates says there's change in the red-sauce-scented air.
"This block'll shift dramatically in five years," says Yates. "It has tothe owners are old. And five Italian restaurants can't still exist on one street."