Merchants have sold fresh food on South Ninth Street for more than a hundred years, surviving the Great Depression, multiple recessions and the arrival of families pushing $900 strollers in the surrounding Bella Vista neighborhood.
But can the historic Italian Market beat South Philadelphia’s parking politics?
Bella Vista neighbors and Italian Market proprietors met this week to talk about a proposed business improvement district (BID) that would provide corridor cleaning, marketing and beautification services funded by a new tax levied on business property owners. The district would be bounded by Eighth, and 10th streets and Federal and Fitzwater streets with some parts of Washington Avenue and Christian Street included as well. While parking is only one of a number of issues at play in the creation of the so-called South Philly Market Improvement District, the issue dominated the conversation.
“You used to pull up on the corner and run in for 15 minutes and put your flashers on,” said Barry Wilensky, owner of Wilensky Lock and Hardware, located off Ninth street on Passyunk Avenue. “Now, if you put your flashers on they’re going go nail you, which is not business friendly. It’s not good for the city.”
Eugene Desyatnik, a member of the committee advocating for the creation of the South Philly Market Improvement District and president of the Bella Vista Neighbors Association, said that the new group recognizes the problem and has ideas for how to address it. The committee is working with SEPTA, city officials and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, he said.
“Wayfinding to try to direct people to the parking lots that are in the area, Valets, parking validation pilots are in the works,” he said. “Creating more spaces in nearby lots for high turnover.”
He also said the group’s efforts would improve the pedestrian experience as well, potentially making shopping on foot or bike a more appealing option.
“We want to make it easier for people to come down to the area through all modes of transportation,” he said.
The tactics the BID group wants to try, Desyatnik said, could “certainly move the needle.”
Louis Esposito, the third-generation owner of Esposito’s Meats on Ninth Street, isn’t opposed to the creation of the improvement district — especially if it improves the health of the market — but he too wishes more could be done to address the shortage of places to stow a car.
“Parking has always been an issue,” Esposito said. “People, their expectations have been elevated. They want more convenience now.”
Desyatnik cautioned that “convenience has a cost” that could drastically increase the 0.2 assessment fee now being proposed for business property owners.
“The most effective strategy is to do the best with what you already have,” he said.
Charlie Cannuli, owner of Cannuli's Quality Meats, is one merchant who is not convinced the BID is worth its price.
Cannuli, whose iconic Ninth Street butcher shop has been in his family since 1927, was among those who voted “no” on a 2016 proposal for a similar BID.
“Just recently in the past year, my real estate tax on my properties down here went up close to $20,000,” he said. “So the last thing I need is to pay some more money to be here.”
Omer Taffet owns a gluten-free bakery on Ninth Street that’s been in business in the Italian Market for seven years. His perspective is different than Cannuli. Taffet feels the market slowing down. The BID “can only help our business” he said
To Desyatnik, the input both negative and positive is welcome.
“You can vote however you vote,” he said. “But still provide the input in case this is still something that is going to go forward.”