Speaking at the Germantown-Lehigh Business & Merchants’ Association’s “rooftop business breakfast” on Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter noted a collective need to help neighborhood commercial corridors thrive.
While he was talking in a North Philadelphia neighborhood east of Broad Street, he said small businesses ideally represent the city’s economic engine in all of Philadelphia’s commercial corridors, including those near the Germantown and Chelten avenues.
He also urged city business owners to hire youths for summer jobs, as federal budget grant cuts cost the city thousands of positions last year with more reductions expected in the coming months.
“It’s our goal to help small businesses, minority owned, female owned, African American, Latino, Asian, white, any businesses. They create and contibute to the quality of life we want here in Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s not just about what happens downtown.”
He told the room filled with dozens of neighborhood business owners and various officials about changes to how they’re taxed and treated when they seek help from the city to get their business up and running.
“This is the United States of America. We want to encourage you to make money,” he said, noting that profitable neighborhood businesses translate into local hires. “We want to make it possible for you to open a business and to stay open once you do.”
Attractive, engaged business corridors a key
Nutter noted that organized groups like GLBMA afford public-private partnerships a better chance of being successful.
“Zoning and planning are about ‘how is this area going to grow in the next 15, 20, 25 years,'” he said. “How do you make [the business corridor] cleaner, how do you make it brighter, how do you make it more attractive to drive customers to a place where they can feel safe and comfortable? Because that’s when people will come and spend money there.”
Opening the floor to questions, he was asked about, among other things, canceled city contracts, late charges on unpaid tax-collection fees and illegal car washes.
In an awkward moment, a barber named Omar said he’d like to train youths to cut hair and contribute to making the corridor a better draw, but noted he had been harrassed by a police officer as he closed his shop one night.
When he said that the officer in question was sitting 10 feet away at that very moment, Nutter urged him to share his concerns with 25th District Capt. Frank Vanore, who was also in attendance.
As the barber and police left the room to discuss the matter, the talk turned to helping neighborhoods by enabling its youth find work and constructive uses of time.
A call to hire Philadelphia youth
“Five thousand summer jobs were lost last year as a result of what Congress did to President Obama’s budget, and we’re going to see another cut this year,” Nutter said. “Even if you can only hire one, please hire a young person this summer. I know it’s a challenge, but we’ve got to do it.”
One attendee involved with a neighborhood youth-baseball program noted “these are our future business people right here, but how do we make that connection? The money is not there, but they need the experience.”
Nutter recommended business owners on the corridor band together to hire “crews of teens” to keep blocks clean, or to shovel snow when it falls.
“There’s activity going on in this neighborhood in a very positive way,” he said. If the youth buy into being responsible for helping it continue, “they’re less likely to do something negative.”
How this applies to Germantown
After the event, Nutter said that the community engagement message applies to all sections of the city, including Germantown, in which a rejuvenated business corridors have long been a goal.
Germantown United, a months-old group, hopes to become that organized voice to which Nutter alluded in his talk. Having worked during his college years at the Rendezvous Club (a past iteration of Champagne Cafe on Chelten Avenue), he said he knows the neighborhood’s challenge.
“Commercial corridors and neighborhoods, at times, follow business cycles with their ups and downs,” he said. “Then come the periods of regrowth and rebirth. I think that’s where [Germantown’s business corridor] is now.”