Stacy Simon knows real estate.
During her 25-plus year career, the Philadelphia resident has worked as a retail real estate agent for some of the country’s biggest companies, including 7-Eleven, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and the United States Postal Service.
So, when Simon learned that the East Falls Development Corporation was hiring a part-time business liaison, essentially a retail recruiter, she thought she’d be a good fit.
So too did Gina Snyder, the community development corporation’s executive director. Simon’s connections to the city’s real estate and retail communities were a big reason why.
“Bringing Stacy on board is like bringing a network,” said Snyder.
Simon, who’s been on the job for about five weeks, has already started tapping into her web of contacts as she works to fill vacancies in and around the neighborhood’s Riverfront Business District, which covers stretches of Midvale and Ridge avenues.
In her new role, Simon will act as a match maker of sorts between potential tenants and the neighborhood’s property owners.
Gaining exposure outside of East Falls
The work may not be easy at first.
In recent years, the neighborhood’s business district has lagged behind its relatively strong residential community. To date, exactly a quarter of the commercial properties along the Riverfront Business District are vacant. There are a total of 71 commercial properties. Eighteen of them are vacant. There are also two vacancies on nearby Conrad Street, which is also part of Simon’s purview.
Simon said East Falls has a lot going for it that will make selling the neighborhood less challenging.
The neighborhood’s proximity to the Schuylkill River, and Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive, two major thoroughfares, are part of Simon’s assessment. The easy access by public transportation is another.
“It’s a hidden gem that needs to be exposed and I just don’t think it’s had enough exposure,” said Simon.
Snyder noted that her organization’s decision to create Simon’s position was not made in haste.
Economically, she said it finally felt like it was possible for someone to spend more time making real headway than banging their head against the wall.
“We really feel comfortable because we’re coming out of a recession,” said Snyder. “Now that the money has turned on the tap on the finance side, it feels like it’s going to be easier.”
NewsWorks could not reach City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., whose fourth district includes East Falls, for comment.
Mark Sherman, perhaps the neighborhood’s most prominent real estate figure, did not return calls seeking comment.
The ‘domino effect’
Simon’s work isn’t being guided by a master plan.
In general, she said she is looking to bring more restaurants and service-oriented businesses to the community. Adding those uses, she and Snyder reason, will enable residents to stay in the neighborhood more often.
Though she’s not against bringing in corporate outfits, she’d ideally like to have more independents setting up shop.
Simon said she is actively pursuing restaurants in Center City and other sections of Philadelphia to see if there’s interest in opening a second or, in some cases, third location in East Falls.
“It’s getting people to realize that this is a great other opportunity for you,” said Simon, noting that “people want to see who’s taking the next chance.”
“It’s like a domino effect,” she added. “Once you get a couple things going, then people realize.”
To her, that momentum is already there.