South Philly bodegas reflect changing neighborhoods

    South Philadelphia’s Passyunk Square neighborhood is known for up-and-coming restaurants, cheesesteak rivals Pat’s and Geno’s, and the more Latin section of the Italian Market. But stretching parallel along East Passyunk Avenue’s eastern periphery are a bevy of more modest corner stores hawking potato chips, candy and cigarettes. A minimum of two per block appear from Wharton to Morris streets and reflect the neighborhood’s changing demographics.

    Renee Gilinger of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District said that she doesn’t know why there is such a high concentration of corner stores in the neighborhood, especially with a large Acme supermarket just blocks away, but that a lot of them carry speciality niche items.

    Marie Buck, owner of Marie’s Grocery at 6th and Titan streets, said she’s noticed a shift from Italian-American families to single renters and immigrant families in the 41 years her store has been open. Marie’s house specialities include hoagie trays, Buck’s homemade meatballs and cured meats.

    “I could eat the same meal for three days,” said Michael Giannini, who after a lifetime in the neighborhood remains loyal to Marie’s, despite the many convenience stores.

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    Buck said Marie’s once sold fresh foods, but not nearly as much anymore. Corner store staples like chips, canned foods and sandwiches sell the best. Buck lamented: “No one wants to cook anymore! But at least it’s good for business.”

    A few blocks south, pantyhose and sprinkles diverge at New Matt’s on the corner of 6th and Wilder streets. New Matt’s one center aisle displays canned beans, bread crumbs, condensed milk and candy brands from Wonka to Mars. Owner and Chinese immigrant Chan Qyng has been at the same spot for 12 years, after “Matt” left the neighborhood. She prides herself on having whatever residents need—from laundry detergent to fresh produce items like sliced fruit, lettuce and avocados.

    At La Guadalupana, the newest addition to the row of corner stores, owner Antonio Sandoval and his children watched television on a recent quiet afternoon. In addition to typical corner-store fare, Sandoval offers Mexican sodas and cheeses, jalapeños and whole cantaloupes. A clear case houses sweet Mexican breads and pastries from Las Rosas, a bakery on S. 8th Street. Sandoval opened the store about nine months ago at 6th and Fernon streets, and it stands out as the only neon green store in the neighborhood.

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