We’ve lived in Northeast Philadelphia now for about 7 months. We’re trying our best to be students of this section of the city, but it’s a difficult beast to pin down. Philadelphia is huge. It’s not like Boston. In Boston, if you lived 20 minutes away from the city, you were in a different city. Different mayor, different school district, different area code. In Philly, you could live a half hour from Center City (like we do) and it’s still Philadelphia. Same mayor, same school district, same area code. But while sharing that sameness, there is a ton of diversity. North Philly is different from South Philly which is different from West Philly and all of it is different from Northeast Philly.
In 7 months of living here, we still haven’t really figured the Northeast out. But in talking with people, it feels like no one has. It’s sort of suburban – plenty of single family homes with nice yards. But it’s sort of urban – plenty of streets with fifty row-homes squeezed together and a twelve-lane urban highway running through the middle. There are malls all over the place. Except you won’t find Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, or JCrew. Instead you’ll find Family Dollar, Payless, and a number of Russian stores with signs written in Cyrillic. Its somewhat middle-class, but most people describe it as immigrant blue collar. There are plenty of Dunkin Donuts and Wawa’s, but no Starbucks. Many have said that a Starbucks can’t survive in the Northeast. People in the Northeast won’t pay $4 for tall-triple-soy-toffee-nut-latte when they could buy a medium coffee with milk & sugar for a buck fifty elsewhere. Plus, people in the Northeast don’t sit around, reading books, and making conversation in coffee shops. They get in their cars, drive along our 12 lane Boulevard, get what they need, and go home.
But to test all that, are two new Starbucks stores recently opened in the Northeast. Yesterday was the Grand Opening Celebration of Starbucks at the corner of Red Lion & the Boulevard. The place was packed. It was great. I’ve been dying for a Starbucks. Not for the coffee. Are you kidding? I’m not paying $4 for a tall-triple-soy-toffee-nut-latte when I can get a medium coffee with milk & sugar for a buck fifty elsewhere!
But you know what, I will pay $4 for the Starbucks experience. The chance to finally have a spot in the Northeast where people might sit around and talk for a while. A chance to connect with people and exchange ideas. In fact, we’ve submitted a proposal to run a book club/discussion group out of the Starbucks and will get to talk with the store manager about it on Monday.
Anyway, I am super happy for Seamus (the store manager), and his whole team. They threw a great celebration and I wish them the best as they settle down in the weird animal that is Northeast Philadelphia.