A reader reached out to us the other day, wondering about a little building that had recently appeared on the 1700 block of Montrose Street. Historically, 1703 Montrose St. was home to a single-family home, but we see some L&I violations from 2019 which indicate that the home became structurally unsound at some point, resulting in its demolition. Interestingly, a vacant and blighted building sat next door at 1701 Montrose St. for several years, getting torn down about ten years back. We have to wonder whether the corner building’s issues ultimately resulted in the structural problems for its neighbor.

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View back in 2009

As we said, the old home was demoed in 2019 and the lot was sitting empty for the last couple years. Suddenly, at some point in the last couple months, something new appeared at the property. Check it out:

Small building
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Better view

Initially, we wondered whether this building might represent an example of the tiny house movement in Philadelphia. For those unfamiliar, the tiny house movement is exactly what it sounds like – it espouses living in smaller spaces, technically defined as a living space smaller than 400 sqft. In the article Small House, Big Impact: The Effect of Tiny Houses on Community and Environment, Charlie Kilman writes that people look to tiny homes as they “rethink what they value in life and decide to put more effort into strengthening their communities, healing the environment, spending time with their families, or saving money.” Tiny homes also present a new approach to affordable housing, and we have wondered when or if this movement might dip a toe in Philadelphia as we try to work through continuing issues with affordability.

Upon doing a little bit of research, we discovered that this new building isn’t a tiny house, but it’s something perhaps even cooler. For at least the rest of this year, this address will be the home of the Mama-Tee Pop-Up Grocery Store. Mama-Tee started as a community fridge project, with a goal to provide free food to people suffering from food insecurity. At this time, Mama-Tee has 18 community fridges located throughout the city, and those fridges collectively distribute over 500 pounds of food every month across several communities.

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Community fridges around the city

We spoke with the founder of Mama-Tee, Dr. Michelle Nelson, who explained that the Pop-Up Grocery Store will essentially serve as a hub for the community fridges. Whole Foods donates food which goes to the store space, and volunteers pack up boxes to stock the fridges in their communities. Neighbors will also be able to make donations to the store, which will filter through to the fridges. In addition, the store will sell a limited selection of items produced by Philadelphia makers, with the initial product mix including pita chips, health bars, and a specialty beverage. On June 12, the store will celebrate its grand opening, after which it will be open Tuesday-Sunday, 2-5pm.

1703 Montrose St. remains a privately owned property and the owner is planning to build a new home here at some point. In the meantime, they’re allowing the store to operate here on a temporary basis, likely through the end of the year. Fortunately, the store was built to be mobile, with the expectation that it would eventually move from its original location. Perhaps in the coming months, the store will find a more permanent home and will be able to lose the “pop-up” moniker- it’s also probable that additional stores will be constructed in the coming years, so while this building could find a permanent space, it’s likely that there will be other pop-ups in the pipeline.

If you’d like to support the Mama-Tees Pop-Up, click here for their GoFundMe.