Frankford businesses to improve facades

Fernando Torres has more than an aesthetic reason for wanting to improve the look of his Frankford tattoo parlor.

“Cars hit the building a few times,” Torres, who also owns a women’s boutique next door to the parlor, said. “I want to get a steel structure in front to protect it.”

Torres opened Mark My Flesh, his tattoo shop, and Dream Girl’s Fashion, his boutique, about two years ago. On Jan. 21, he was one of six local business owners who participated in a Design Day program sponsored by the Frankford Community Development Corporation’s Main Street Initiative and the Community Design Collaborative.

“There’s a designated area on the [Frankford] Avenue that’s seen revitalization take place,” Main Street Coordinator Theresa Hanas, who spearheaded the Design Day, explained. “So within that area, I asked a group of business owners if they wanted to participate in this and if they’d be interested in following through with the designs afterwards.”

Hanas said she manages 153 businesses on the Frankford Avenue corridor and opened the Design Day to a group of businesses via a “four corners” approach near Frankford Avenue and Orthodox Street.

“It will trickle down,” she said, explaining that the idea is to revitalize several businesses in a concentrated area. “If there’s one business in the middle of three that didn’t want to participate, when this business owner sees that the two on the side of them and the one to the right have all this magnificent work done, then hopefully they’ll invest in their store.”

Gilbert Pons picks out some of his favorite pieces in his antiques and upholstery shop on Frankford Avenue.
(Gilbert Pons picks out some of his favorite pieces in his antiques and upholstery shop on Frankford Avenue.)

Gilbert Pons, owner of Gilbert’s Antiques and Upholstery in the neighborhood since 1971, moved his store to Frankford Avenue near Orthodox Street in 2001. He said he participated in the façade improvement program in hopes of drawing more customers to the area.

“Foot traffic on the Avenue is not as vibrant as we need it to be,” Pons said. “But we do restoration work throughout the whole city [and] over the years we’ve gotten a good reputation, so we’re quite busy in our restoration department.”

Pons’ store still has much of the original, old-fashioned architecture from when the building was erected decades ago. He said the look is perfect, but he hopes through the Design Day program and working with the volunteer architect that he can revitalize the colors and details of the façade. Hanas said once the owners see the architects’ renderings and decide upon new designs, her organization can move forward and begin helping them apply for grants through the city.

“The city has a program called the Storefront Improvement Program,” she said. “Hopefully we’d bundle them together and apply together, and [the city] gives up to 50 percent of the money back.”

Store manager June Zaye feigns a dance with a mannequin in Dream Girl's Fashion on Frankford Avenue.
(Store manager June Zaye feigns a dance with a mannequin in Dream Girl's Fashion on Frankford Avenue.)

To June Zaye, a former owner of a women’s fashion boutique who now manages Dream Girl’s Fashion, which will also get façade improvements as part of the program, life is running the business.

“Right now with the economy, it’s very quiet and sad. You just gotta hang on,” he said. “I just hope it gets better.”

Morgan Zalot is a Temple University journalism student working with Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a class devoted to covering under-reported areas of Philadelphia.  You can also view this story, along with others from around the city, here.

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