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Trouble in Paradise: South Side Slums Bring Shame to Northern Liberties

The N 2nd Street Ghetto's Gotta Go!



I sat double-parked in front of the Palm Tree Market on N 2nd Street in Northern Liberties as Chris popped into the store. The Palm Market is like its name suggests, an oasis in the desert for all of the locals until developer Bart Blatstein finds someone to replace the defunct Pathmark that was to open at the Piazza to the North of our neighborhood. You can read that post here.

As I waited for Chris to return, I looked around at South N 2nd Street. "What the hell is going on here?" I asked myself for the hundredth time as I looked at all of the ugly abandoned storefronts, graffiti-painted boards, and dilapidated buildings. I noticed a young couple pushing a stroller and pointing with disgust to a collapsing rooftop and broken window. I, too, was utterly sickened at the sight. This is my neighborhood and something has to give!

Last week I showed a few properties to a client on South N 2nd Street. The lure of Northern Liberties as a hotspot had him interested in buying a home there. He said, "Why would I buy an overpriced home on North 2nd when it looks so...GHETTO. What are the chances my investment will go up in the next few years? I am not willing to take that chance."

Guess where he is buying?  Fishtown.  "If Steven Starr likes Fishtown enough to open a beer garden, then so so do I."

Glen from the Foodery asked me to help him in his efforts along with the NLBOA to "fix the South Side of the neighborhood" by getting in touch with the owners of the abandoned buildings that line N 2nd Street from Fairmount to Poplar. Glen knows as well as I do that if these Slumlords (I mean homeowners) were willing, we could put people in their stores and transform the entire South Side on N 2nd St. Glen came to me because he thought I had some sort of Magic Real Estate Power to get in touch with the vacant property owners and persuade them to let us help beautify this part of Northern Liberties. I wish my Real Estate license came with a magic wand and a few potions. Because many people have tried to contact the property owners and for many reasons --  perhaps greed, lack of money, or indifference, these owners are not taking responsibility for their properties. Like magic, they seem to have vanished.

I am sick of it! So, I am calling them out by name.

  • 736 N 2nd Street - David Jones (acquired the property for free in 1977 and took a line of credit out for 95K in 2003)
  • 734 N 2nd Street - Souder Family Partnership (Let us help you beautify your facade!)
  • 728-30 N 2nd Street - Luis George (acquired in 1985 for 65K. Rumor says you won't rent your space due to taxes?)
  • 720 N 2nd Street aka "Sher's Book Store" - John Valentino (a bookstore would be an awesome addition to the neighborhood)
  • 712 N 2nd Street - HPH 712 N 2nd St (Windex, dude! Use it. Clean up your 2400 sf of vacant commercial space)
  • 710 N 2nd Street - Avi Developers LLC (Your permits date from 2008. You don't need a permit to paint your facade!)
  • 708 N 2nd Street - Robert Krumm (Your "For Rent" sign looks crummy and it has been there for years! Use it or lose it!)
  • 201 Green Street - (Huge commercial space. Many of us have spoken to the owner Woody in the past. Rent it, sell it, or if you need help, reach out to us. We have ideas and resources.)

Hate him or love him, it is irrelevant, because Bart Blatstein singlehandedly transformed the North Side of Northern Liberties. I don't want to hear any excuses that the economy is too tough when we have other thriving businesses such as Koo Zee Doo, 700 Club, Liberties, Five to One, the Palm, Flowers Etc., Architectural Antiques Exchange, Green Eggs Cafe, Koi, Liberty Tattoo, Exit Philadelphia Skateboards, Arcadia, the Foodery, Soy Cafe, and so on.  NO EXCUSES. Glenn from the Foodery, Chris and I, the NLBOA and so many others know it is tough out there but nonetheless we know we can help cure the south side decay if only these property owners took an interest.

We want to know how you feel and what your suggestions are below. If you know any of these owners, we ask that you please direct them to this post.

Comments (25) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I kind of like that side of town, I look at it as a window of what was, reminds me of something from Raiders Of The Lost Ark the jungle ruins scene.

  2. I would definitely look into it Joe. A lot of foot traffic. There is a resurgence on 2nd St. And the rental rates are attractive right now which is the most appealing.

  3. We have been contemplating NE Philly for our first retail store location. But after a trip to Northern Liberites – it seems like a very ‘happening’ area – we may reconsider. It sounds like the possiblity exist for some inexpensive commercial rental locations.

  4. You guys are awesome! Chris, Stephanie and Glen thanks so much for staying on top of this endeavor. This topic, “the dead zone” has always been an issue with the NLBOA, (Business Owners Association) and we hope the energy does not stop!

    The South side of 2nd Street is pitifull as it is and, it can be incredible…imagine more retail opening up, people strolling on the streets and window shopping for their next purchases. Imagine the existing businesses thriving because there is reason for the increased foot traffic! Imagine no more boarded up buildings, clean windows, clean lots, clean sidewalks, banners and trees …I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it…but most of all, retailers will be waiting in line to start and lease the viable commerical space…we would then have a true 2nd Street Business Corridor!

  5. Marc- 712 is complicated. It pains me to show it, walk by it, even think about it. The bank owns the remaining few units and the bank “ain’t gonna do nuthin” bless their hearts ; ) I believe many of the owners there do not occupy the property and the tenants (for the most part) do not have the same priorities as occupying homeowners. The commercial space is owned by the original developer and I assume there is a high chance that the bank will take possession of that unit in time. Hurling fines will not make that situation any better for the current owner and may make selling the space even more difficult. So, if we want that commercial space to look better, we need to ask the owner for permission to clean it up for the sake of the neighborhood.

    And like I mentioned before. Once we (I am willing to take this as far as I can) clean up this small section of N 2nd Street, we can move up the commercial corridor and then inward throughout the neighborhood. If people want help, help is there. My hand is out. I am just waiting for someone, any one to reach for it. Sometimes it is just that simple.

    And thanks Nina. I am super pleased to see people speak up. We really need to take it a bit further though and just fix the problem as best we can. Even a little improvement is better than letting the area further decay.

  6. Two other points.

    Even though the commercial space at 712 (?) remains unrented, let us see the blank canvas. Remove all the junk/construction debris from the inside. It looks like crap.

    Second, this block seems like a good candidate for L&Is new abandonment program. The one where they’re levying fines of up to $300 per day on vacant, unmaintained properties in otherwise occupied neighborhoods. At this point, there are very few truly vacant structures in the neighborhood (outside of 2nd street, at least). Let’s get on L&I to do something about those properties which fit the bill.

  7. I’m with Stephanie on this. Regardless of the status of the interior of these properties, or the intentions of the owners, very little effort would improve the pedestrian experience on this street, particularly on the west side, which is far worse (IMO) than the east side. Broken signs could be removed, trim work touched up, doors painted, tree pits weeded/mulched/planted/maintained. Gutters could be swept. None of this requires a loan or a mortgage or financing. It just requires you to get off your lazy ass and do something about it.

    Stephanie, I’m curious. You’ve undoubtedly had listing in those two condo buildings. Have you not had frank discussions with the owners of those units/listing about the curb appeal of those buildings? You’d have to be a zombie to not see it. If I were an owner listing a unit in one of those buildings, I’d go out there and fix it myself. I’d probably also pay for improvements myself and just go over the condo board, or whatever it is, because they’re clearly not doing anything. Then again, if I lived in either of those buildings…neither would look the way it does to begin with….

  8. This is so exciting to have so many folks worked up and energized to address this problem…this has become a dead zone and without filling it up, no one can take a leisurely stroll and “go shopping”. The businesses that do exist are great, but they still do not generate the foot traffic that is necessary to thrive with a retail store in Northern Liberties. I cannot understand why those empty commercial spots could not be utilized by offering lower rents to retailers. This would give them an opportunity to flourish, offer more consumer variety, draw more traffic and maybe, just maybe, we will see people carrying bags from their recent purchases.
    Lets not lose momentum on this effort…2nd Street IS OUR MAIN BUSINESS CORRIDOR! We have to make some changes…there are still businesses in NL that ARE NOT making ends meet in spite of their popularity…not enough density!
    I congratulate all of you for waking this “DOG”!

  9. Pride, cleanliness and a little bit of paint does not cost much money at all. I think there would be a lot of folks willing to help. Obviously, each situation and each owner is different. The article was written to raise awareness.

    I still think that some owners probably cannot handle the responsbility … if that is the case sell. Others can. IF that is the case, lower the rent. Or simply make it rentable and rent it out. Or do something. The point is not to do nothing. We applaud those that are doing something and are willing to help in any way we can, whether it is this block or any block in the neighborhood, or in fact, any block in Philadelphia…

  10. The facts are that the facades of these properties remain an eyesore and there are people, myself included, in the neighborhood willing to help with whatever resources we have available to improve this stretch of vacant storefront. And if and when the owners open up to that, we can work our way up the block and throughout the area to address every seemingly unmaintained property.

  11. I didn’t say it was impossible to obtain financing, and I know for a fact that one of the properties called out in this “article” has obtained a building permit to gut/rehab the building only to have the bank ask them to redesign the project to add more units or they will not give them as much as they need. I am simply pointing out that it is ignorant to publicly blast people when you don’t even know the facts about the situation, further to use Towers Dev. projects as an example of what is possible is crazy.

  12. I’m a bit further north on 2nd. We got financing to gut and renovate our place during the housing bust, so I am evidence that it is still possible. However, I understand that not everybody’s situation is the same… but I wish they would at least clean up their place a little. It’s not just south N. 2nd… the block north of poplar has at least 5 busted properties / lots.

  13. Further north on 2nd, there are also vacant buildings across from Tendenza and Tower’s Hancock bldg parking lot. Doesn’t seem fair to call out this particular stretch of 2nd, especially if you do not know for a fact if any current attempts are being made to rehab any of those buildings. Just because you can’t see improvements, doesn’t mean that steps aren’t being made to make them happen.

  14. When is that Pathmark opening up anyway?

  15. Ted – You do raise a good point. However, some simple little cosmetic updating of the exteriors of these properties can still be done. Or on the other side of the street the broken glass can be replaced. Or at least the trash can be picked up. Also, as an individual investor, I have been able to obtain financing and construction financing on my properties. Many of these properties have substantial equity in them based on our research. Further, if folks are really jammed up, if they asked for help, maybe people would chip in. Who knows ? I just do not think any attempt is being made. Maybe I am wrong. The history of many of these buildings being this way for over 10 years is a good example of that fact.

  16. If you think that because Bart Blatstein can obtain financing for his projects, that anyone else can then you simply don’t know anything about the current state of construction financing. The simple fact is most banks are NOT LENDING MONEY FOR ANYTHING RELATED TO CONSTRUCTION.

  17. GREAT ARTICLE! Be proud of our neighborhood!

  18. Is great to see some energy and comments here. I agree with you Don about the City taxing vacant properties. However, some of these owners can also rent out their commerical store fronts as well in the interim. There are a lot of options out there.

    The whole block could certainly use some cleaning up and I agree with Marc and Aimee that something definitely needs to be done with the cleanliness of the block and a lot could start from the condo associations at 712 and 722 N 2nd St. The difficulty lies in that many of the units at 712 are tenant occupied but hopefully the ones that are owner occupied can rally. And I do think it is finally close for the HOA to take control of the association at 712, if it has not done so already. Obviously the better the outside and curb appeal of the building the better the real estate values will be for those homeowners. Not to mention for the betterhood of everyone in the community and the neighborhood. Afterall too, so many folks drive or walk up and down N 2nd St, this to us is very important that homeowners and landlords take pride in their properties and real estate as this block is a big representation of our neighborhood. Which is why we say to all these owners do something with your properties (sell, rent, clean it up…. do something ! ) . Either for yourself, for your neighbors or for the community.

  19. Great to read this! WAAAAAY back in about 1989 I established the “Second Street Revitalization Committee” which morphed into the NLCDC, with Larry Freedman spearheading the continuing work that needed to be done. But after all these years, so much more needs to happen. Like the legendary (or to some, infamous) Harry Shur, who owned many of the sagging and unrestored 2nd Street buildings in that area and so many folks denounced him for holding back progress and re-growth, these “new” owners are basically doing the same thing. For whatever reasons, it doesn’t matter. Kick em in the butt because apparently that’s what it takes. Bravo!

  20. As a homeowner on North 2nd it pains me to look across the street at all of the empty storefronts. I love this end of the neighborhood and it already has wonderful businesses that do great! Any new businesses would be so welcome and would really make for such a more vibrant corridor. Please, please be responsible property owners and do something about your MESS!

  21. Well, the good news is that Brown Betty is moving into the double-wide space of what I believe was Bermuda Tans, on the west side of 2nd Street at the base of the newish (5 years?) condo rehab. The bad news is, I think it’s also time to call out both home owner’s associations of the two condo buildings on the west side of the 700 block of N 2nd Street because they’ve let the sidewalks and tree-pits outside of their buildings become complete *hit-holes. Just because you live in a condo (i.e. “maintenance free”) doesn’t relinquish you of responsibility of maintaining your public spaces. I understand that the trees that were there were destroyed by cars backing into the spots, but spend a few hundred bucks on tree guards (like those in front of the Sovalo/Blind Pig storefronts) and plant some fast growing Honey Locust trees to replace what was left. The guards will protect the trees, beautify the sidewalks and protect the trees. I assume the condo you showed was in one of those buildings. Well, guess what, they’re maintained just as poorly as the vacant storefronts. Those residents should be ashamed of themselves. If I can sweep the entire 300 block of Brown Street once week, surely the 20 or so residents of each of those buildings can muster up enough will to clean and maintain a few tree-pits. Sheer laziness.

  22. Those properties have been a problem since harry shor owned most of them. There is no motivation for the owners to sell as long as they are being taxed as empty properties. We need to get city council to tax properties correctly so owners of properties such as these need to sell to folks who will do something with them.

  23. We did not mention some of the broken glass on the first floor apartments on the other side of 2nd street where NLNA used to meet and one other property. The landlord or homeowner should replace those windows. I walk by almost every day. This is Northern Liberties ! Be proud of your real estate !

  24. I think this stretch of 2nd street has the potential to become the hub of Northern Liberties (as I recently learned it had been in the past). I think the space between Fairmont and Brown has the most densely packed street-level retail space in all of No Libs, and quite frankly it’s a shame that it is not being used effectively. The amount of new home construction just within a two block radius of this stretch should be enough to spur some eager entrepreneurs into giving this block a shot…..all they need are willing landlords.

    P.S. A great example of a new business that is thriving is the Green Eggs Cafe. Having been open for less than a year, they are consistently full of very happy patrons (myself often included).

  25. simply awesome!!! Sell those spaces or make them better.. either way, do your part in making that part of 2nd street better!!

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