A market known for being a little gritty and rough around the edges may need to clean up its act.
Philadelphia’s Italian Market is known as being a destination for some of the best produce stands and restaurants in the city, although the surrounding area doesn’t exactly add to its appeal. Boxes, plastic bags and food waste often litter the sidewalks by the end of the business day. There’s also an unappetizing aroma in the air. But that’s just how it is.
A Business Improvement District (or BID) plan proposed for the Italian Market by the South 9th Street Business Association could make some serious changes if it isn’t opposed by at least one-third of merchants in the district. If passed, the bill outlining the BID’s policies will require business owners and vendors to pay 0.2 percent of their property value to help pay for new lighting, street cleaning and safety features.
“We never want to get rid of the tradition-- but we do need to polish the diamond a little bit,” said Michele Gambino of the association. “The whole purpose of the BID is to create a better environment for shoppers.”
Although popular gourmet market DiBruno Bros. doesn’t advertise their stance on their storefront, they welcome the idea of change-- even if it comes at a cost.
“We need to stop the decline of the market,” said DiBruno Bros. Vice President Emilio Mignucci. “I grew up here. I believe the people in the neighborhood deserve a cleaner and safer market.”
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Proponents say the purpose of the BID is to create a more attractive shopping district for Philadelphians and tourists alike. Some businesses in the Italian Market are all for changing the image. But others aren’t so sure about it.
“I understand that my real estate value might go up in the long run,” said business owner Barry Wilensky, who opposes the BID. “But in the short run, that will cost me more taxes. For that return [on the BID costs], what will that do for my business?”
One goal of the BID is to make the Italian Market more of a tourism destination, according to Councilman Mark Squilla, an advocate of the BID. Although the local business association first thought of introducing a BID back in 2007, it took them seven years to receive the necessary grant money to design a plan to try and make it happen. Now they are just waiting to see if other businesses in the district oppose the plan.
Wilensky’s Hardware and Locks is located just off of the main Italian Market that runs along S. 9th Street. His store on East Passyunk Avenue is considered to be in the district. He doubts that a BID would attract more customers to his store, or that the distribution of services would be equal for those who are in the Italian Market and those who aren’t.
“I would be paying my fair share but not getting a fair return,” said Wilensky. “I don’t think that would develop walk-in traffic for the other businesses around me. You’re not going to get tourists to come look at a hardware store or auto shop.”
Merchants in the business district may submit opposition letters to Squilla’s office until Oct. 21.