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Neighborhood Guide: Fishtown

How civic pride revived a neighborhood

Take a working class neighborhood as old at Philadelphia itself; add the youthful energy that comes from an influx of Millennials; throw in a heaping helping of artists looking for affordable urban space; and the result would probably look a lot like Fishtown.

Once a center of the shad fishing industry, Fishtown is traditionally defined by the triangle created by the Delaware River, Frankford Avenue and York Street (though recent expansion has seen the northern border shift toward Lehigh Avenue).

Jeanne Whipple, Team Leader with Philly Home Girls at Coldwell Banker Preferred, bought her first home in Fishtown in 2002. Drawn by tree-lined streets, affordability and proximity to public transit, Whipple was a trailblazer. She recalls how difficult it was to convince friends to visit because they didn’t know where Fishtown was. “All the businesses in the area catered to long-time residents” she says.

“There was no landmark to attract people from outside the neighborhood.” A lot has changed since then, and Whipple has had a front row seat to the neighborhood’s extraordinary growth.

First came the businesses, largely bars and restaurants from established restauranteurs such as Paul Kimport and William Reed. In 2004, the pair – whose Standard Tap has been credited with sparking the NoLibs renaissance – opened Johnny Brenda’s, the first “destination” bar north of the frontier of Girard Avenue. Kimport, who lives in Fishtown, says among the things that attracted them to the area were its economic and cultural diversity and potential for growth. “The community had really good bones and a lot of character – it just seemed like the right energy for us.”

Kimport also praises the “relatable values” of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation. Instrumental in the neighborhood’s revitalization, NKCDC has been behind everything from festivals such as the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby to numerous community gardens. NKCDC’s Executive Director Sandy Salzman is proud of what’s been achieved, particularly of the more than 1,100 trash-filled lots that have been cleaned up since 1995.

“We were the first community development group to take back a neighborhood by restoring vacant land. We called it guerilla gardening because we were trespassing on properties in order to clean them up. Now builders can see the potential for development, where before they couldn’t see past the trash.”

Once Johnny Brenda’s was established, the floodgates opened. Hipster hangouts – like Memphis Taproom and Frankford Hall – followed, and soon the streets were dotted with yoga studios and coffee shops.

First-time home buyers also began to flock to Fishtown, attracted both by its cool factor and affordability. While it’s no longer the undiscovered territory, there are still great bargains for anyone willing to put in a little sweat equity. Buyers can purchase an existing fixer-upper for as little as $125,000, reveals Whipple, particularly if they are willing to look north of York (what she calls NoYo) or west of Frankford. New construction is booming as well, particularly in East Kensington, where there are currently 66 permits for residential buildings.

And once people settle, they want to stay. As recent transplants are starting families, says Whipple, “there are a lot of grass roots efforts to promote the schools and drive improvement by parents who do not want to move out of Fishtown to the suburbs.” Among those planning to make the neighborhood their permanent home is Whipple herself: “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.” One thing’s for certain, no one is asking where Fishtown is anymore.

ON THE MARKET


For sale
2220 Amber St.
$391,000
2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths

For eco-minded buyers, this contemporary, LEED certified house in the heart of Fishtown has everything: solar panels, energy efficient windows and appliances, and a water collection system for starters. The details throughout make this property special: bamboo floors throughout the first and second floors; a large kitchen with Energy Star stainless steel appliances; and baths with rainfall showers. The corner location and abundance of windows (all UV and argon) provide ample natural light.

Contact: Jeanne Whipple, Philly Home Girls of Coldwell Banker Preferred-Old City (267) 872-3969, jeanne@phillyhomegirls.com

For rent

1045 Frankford Ave APT 101
$1,945 /month
2 beds 2 baths
Situated on a lively street close to dining and nightlife, this apartment in Frankford Lofts offers open-concept living, exposed brick and natural sunlight throughout. A modern kitchen and washer/dryer in-unit are just some of this loft’s amenities. There’s also access to parking and an on-site fitness center. The building is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend.
Contact: Jamie Ives, Odin Properties (215) 920-0200

LOCAL HANGS

Johnny Brenda’s
There is no more authentic a Fishtown institution than gastropub and live music venue Johnny Brenda’s. Originally a corner taproom owned by local boxer John Imbrenda, its 2004 reinvention as a hipster watering hole helped launch the neighborhood’s renaissance. Owners Paul Kimport and William Reed are hard at work on their next Fishtown venture slated to open early in 2017: a neighborhood spot in the former Shenanigans under the El at 1624 N Front.

1201 Frankford Ave. johnnybrendas.com

La Colombe
Craft coffee roaster La Colombe was a household name in Philly long before it opened its flagship in Fishtown in 2014. But its headquarters, housed in an immense former warehouse, takes things to a new level. Offering an all-day menu of comfort food like Shrimp and Grits, the café also pours wine and beer, Different Drum Rum (distilled on premises) and, of course, coffee.
1335 Frankford Ave.lacolombe.com

WHAT IT COSTS

$324,475 median sale price for a single-family home
$1,595 per month median rental price for a two-bedroom apartment
$350,000 median sale price for a two-bedroom condo

New in the Neighborhood:
With white-hot nightlife such as the new Fillmore performance venue drawing visitors to Fishtown, smart developers are bringing hotels to the neighborhood. Soon you can pair a coveted weekend dinner reservation at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons with an overnight stay at the restaurant’s planned boutique hotel. And Roland Kassis, the developer behind Frankford Hall and La Colombe’s flagship location, is building his own 125-room hotel at 1224-40 Frankford Ave.

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