Should be less controversial than the Subway

In the spring of 2012, a Subway franchise opened near 46th & Baltimore. At the time, several neighbors decried the move- some were upset because it was a chain and others that were worried customers would zip in and out of a parking alley behind the adjacent homes.

The store had a 10-year-lease, but it closed this past winter. At the time, the Spruce Hill Community Association was told that Subway was actively engaging new tenants for the spot. But the space, at 4533 Baltimore Ave., has remained shuttered. Now, plans for a new tenant have emerged and work has been ongoing at the site.

Closed for now, but will another franchisee step in?

At 46th & Baltimore in West Philly, Subway is closed, but Jared and his gang still have plans to sell sandwiches at this location. The original franchise operator has left and Subway is looking for another, according to Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association zoning chair.

Shuttered Subway

“I could only tell you I asked the zoning attorney on our zoning committee to see what he could find out,” Grossbach said. “Evidently, and this is the only thing we know, they [Subway] are looking for another franchise operator.”

When the Subway proposal came before the SHCA two years ago after the sandwich chain announced plans to take over a long-vacant corner location at 4533 Baltimore Ave. along the Baltimore Avenue Commercial Corridor, a handful of neighbors decried the proposal because of fears: traffic and big business. First, customers would create parking issues; it's located next to an alley and driveways behind 46th Street homes, they envisioned hungry Subway shoppers zipping down in cars on their way to and from work. Then was the fact Subway is a chain franchise as opposed to an independent small business, on a corridor full of the latter. The store opened in the spring of 2012, entering into a 10-year lease.

Who will win?

There's no question that the 600 block of South Street has made some major strides of late. Some time ago, we wrote a post lamenting the alarming number of vacancies on this block. And we had a point. But years have passed and new places have arrived. European Republic, Serpico, and Sneaker Villa have collectively breathed new life into this once-tired block. But through it all, 600 South St. has stubbornly remained vacant.

This may be the only spot in the world where a McDonald's couldn't make it work. A couple of years ago, plans emerged for a 7-11 in this space, but the project fell through. The Root mural which appeared over the summer on the 1400 block of South Street was also planned for this location, but that likewise did not come to pass. Months ago, we told you that the building was undergoing renovations to create four apartments on the upper floors. That construction is still taking place, and it has also included the installation of new windows in the retail space. From what we can tell, it still hasn't attracted a tenant. But one would have to think that someone will eventually bite on the space, right?

Neighbors in Spruce Hill in West Philadelphia are attempting to build up their organization by offering free membership for new members that join the Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) between now and next winter.

Some civic groups charge fees and some don’t. SHCA fees are $20 a year. The group’s more than 300 members provide an annual budget of $6,000 that contributes to the organization's efforts in the community. Current members decided to offer free membership in order to boost the group’s numbers, ostensibly increasing the budget in years to come. Ten new members had joined by early May, according to Rich Guffanti, SCHA’s database coordinator.

Lot at 43rd and Baltimore

“There’s about a dozen things we do with it,” said Guffanti. That includes handling publicity and making the community aware of local development like plans for a 92-unit building at 43rd & Baltimore. When neighbors voiced their concern about a Subway proposal at 45th and Baltimore, the group's budget contributed to community outreach efforts, though the store did eventually open. While the money is not much, for SCHA it serves its purpose.

We've never been particularly fond of the aesthetic of Liberties Walk in Northern Liberties- it's always felt a little too Disney to us. But we would, on the other hand, posit that this development has had a rather positive effect on the neighborhood, giving it a concentrated mixed-use corridor to go with the Piazza and offering several quality retail amenities over the years.

Shiny at night. Image from
View from the south, on Bodine Street

There's no question that Liberties Walk spurred additional development on surrounding blocks. For example, the Stables project, located just to the north, will eventually swell to over two dozen modular homes. And just to the south, another significant residential project sprouted up a few years back. Many other one and two-off projects have also risen in the area, replacing blighted buildings or vacant land.

A reader checked in, wondering about the ongoing demolition of two buildings at 138-140 N. 17th St., just off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We swung by the location, and discovered that one building was already down and the other wasn't much longer for this world. A cursory inquiry with the demo crew revealed no information whatsoever.

Subway next door

The two buildings being demolished, the still-standing two-story building housing a Subway, and a small parking lot just to the north of the church pictured above are all owned by 17 Parkway Associates LP, and were purchased back in the late 1980s. Though the two demoed buildings look like they could have been homes or apartments, we suspect they were instead small offices. Looking at a Google Street View photo, however, it looks like they may have been unoccupied in recent years.

On the western end of University City, the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue is experiencing rapid change.

Looking east

Here is where the immaculate pink, red, green and blue painted homes and tree-lined suburbanesque West Philly blocks begin to blend with some poorly maintained homes and vacant, blighted properties. There are at least six abandoned buildings near 51st & Baltimore.

Last week, applicants appeared before the ZBA with preliminary plans for full-scale renovations at 5027 Baltimore Ave. that would include a ground-floor gourmet sandwich shop, a first-floor apartment, two second-floor apartments, and another on the third. Gourmet sandwiches? Sounds pretty good to us. Such a shop would represent welcome competition for the Subway sandwiches they’ll soon be peddling at 46th & Baltimore- sandwiches that can be as drab as West Philly homes are interesting.

At the end of last year, I. Brewster & Sons Gallery, which had previously been located at 1824 Chestnut St., relocated to the space that was, until fairly recently, the Please Touch Museum. The gallery has been in business in Philly for over 30 years, and their growth over the years necessitated a move to the larger space.

Which leaves their former space available for (drum roll please) a new Subway!

The space

While we aren’t exactly jumping out of our skin with excitement about this one, we suppose it’s a good thing that the vacant commercial space is being filled quickly, and by a tenant that will likely succeed; plus there are a bunch of people out there that do in fact love their Subway. Although we haven’t been able to uncover a set completion date for this project, we assume this thing will happen pretty quickly.

In West Philly, the opinion of one neighborhood organization has trumped the voice of another. The ZBA recently reversed its decision to reject a Subway franchise at 4533 Baltimore Ave.

Yes Subway?

The reversal occurred after the applicants asked the Spruce Hill Community Association to write a letter of reconsideration to the ZBA. Weeks later, the Garden Court Community Association, whose members showed up at the zoning hearing to express their concerns, mainly that the sandwich shop would bring illegal traffic down the alley that abuts its exterior, received a letter informing them about the reversal. Despite their grievances, the Subway would be granted a take-out license.

“We’re very upset with it,” says GCNA past president Mary Allegra. “We’re consulting a lawyer.”

The voices of near neighbors have been heard in West Philadelphia, where an application for a take-out variance for a Subway at 4533 Baltimore Ave. has been rejected by the ZBA. The applicants have 30 days from the date of the Jan. 11 decision to appeal.

The potential sandwich shop instigated local neighbors who feared a nasty traffic and parking situation and believed the applicants failed to consider local interests. It also sparked a controversy at the ZBA hearing in December.

No Subway?

“[The applicants] really didn’t consider the neighbors,” said Wilhemina Herbert, president of Garden Court Neighborhood Association, whose borders run to 45th and Cedar, a few blocks south of Baltimore, of the applicants.

Herbert said there were a number of businesses interested in occupying the location along the commercial strip of stores, and wondered why Subway was ultimately chosen. She thinks perhaps the owner was trying to make as much money as possible from the location. (Can you imagine?)