As fourth-generation owner of Cohen & Co. Hardware on East Passyunk Avenue, Mitchell Cohen has seen South Street fall, rise and — in recent years — fall again.
One thing he doesn't think will improve matters is turning his short block of Passyunk into a pedestrian plaza, as is currently proposed by the city and the South Street Headhouse District. "I'm for beautification, but to close an already struggling street ... is a little too risky," Cohen says. Trucks won't be able to turn, he warns; homeless people might congregate on the benches. Sure, the block's cafes and bars will benefit from outdoor seating, but what about the hardware store, the dry cleaner?
Pocket and pop-up parks, a new focus for Philly within the past few years, may make urban planning nerds salivate — but are they good for business?
Well, yeah — at least Green Line Café co-owner Douglas Witmer thinks so. A parklet outside his business last year was so successful, he's asked the city to bring it back again this summer. And Prema Gupta of the University City District, which has also won city grants to install two pedestrian plazas this year, says so far responses have been positive.
Still, Andrew Stober of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities acknowledges the Passyunk plan is " the boldest change of a street use " that has been proposed. The city has been meeting privately with businesses and will hold community meetings before installing the plazas. And since they're being done as one-year pilots — not by ordinance — it's all temporary for now.
Stober says his team is working to address all the businesses' concerns, but Cohen isn't sold. "If was a different street with different establishments on it," he says, " then it might work."