Wanted: An Identity For East Girard

February 18, 2013 | by Dominic Mercier


Photo: Theresa Stigale

Photo: Theresa Stigale

If someone were to ask you to describe East Girard Avenue, how would you respond? A potential grand boulevard hampered by traffic and pedestrian obstacles? A mix of new and long-established businesses and restaurants? A car-friendly stretch that is particularly daunting–sometimes terrifying–to those on foot or bike?

The New Kensington Community Development Corporation, which serves the corridor that stretches along Girard Avenue from Front Street to I-95, is hoping to distill and transform those many notions through a recently launched district marketing plan. With funds from the City’s Commerce Department, NKCDC is working with urban planning and design firm Interface Studio and the branding agency Letter 27 to create a cohesive strategy to market East Girard as a destination, complete with new logo, streetscape design guidelines, collateral communications pieces, and an online presence. Girard Avenue west of Front Street received new sidewalks, granite curbs, and street trees in 2010.

While it has its own unique challenges, NKCDC economic development director Angie Williamson is hoping East Girard Avenue can enjoy the same success of nearby Frankford Avenue, home of the Frankford Arts Corridor, which features a similar mix of old and new businesses in a traditionally working class neighborhood that–with NKCDC marketing support–are blooming.

Photo: Theresa Stigale

Photo: Theresa Stigale

“What makes Fishtown special is the blending of both [old and new],” Williamson says of the businesses, “and we don’t want to dilute that. We’re looking for something to make East Girard stand out.”

The identity seeking process, Williamson says, kicked off February 15 with a stakeholders meeting featuring 11 district business owners, both old and new. During the meeting, representatives from Interface Studio and Letter 27 presented findings from walking assessments and business owner interviews.

Williamson adds that the stakeholders all believe that in order to support the businesses that have been there for decades while embracing emerging venture, sthe branding and marketing should not veer too far to the traditional and historic or the sleek and contemporary .

Leah Murphy, a senior associate at Interface Studio, agrees, noting that one of the biggest challenges facing the project could be drawing too much attention to the district and disrupting its old/new balance. The goal, she says, is maintaining it’s “everyday main street” ambiance while promoting Girard as a neighborhood-serving corridor as well as a nightlife destination.

In order for the project to be successful, the firms will have to tackle Girard Avenue’s particularly difficult streetscape. Facing a very wide roadway dotted with unsightly infrastructure Murphy says they’ll also be creating placemaking strategies to enhance how the corridor is experienced.

Front and Girard | Photo: Theresa Stigale

Front and Girard | Photo: Theresa Stigale

“If you think of Girard Station as a gateway to East Girard, it doesn’t exactly make the best first impression and certainly doesn’t say ‘welcome to East Girard’,” she says. “Frankford and Girard is a confusing and potentially dangerous intersection, whether you’re passing through on foot or by car or waiting for the trolley–and good luck if you’re braving it on two wheels.”

At the same time, she notes, “it’s a great opportunity to create a sense of “place” or “arrival,” given that it’s such an lively crossroads of activity.”

300 block E. Girard | Photo: Theresa Stigale

Photo: Theresa Stigale

On top of the marketing plan, with funds from Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s Corridors of Retail Excellence program, NKCDC is also working to put ideas into play on an experimental block, the east side of Marlborough to Oxford, 306-316 E. Girard. Work here will concentrate on façade upgrades and visual merchandising to demonstrate low-cost but high-impact revitalization ideas. Both projects are expected to be completed in the early summer.


About the Author

Dominic Mercier Dominic Mercier is a freelance writer, photographer, and graphic designer and Philadelphia native. He is a 2001 graduate of Temple University, where he majored in journalism. He is the former managing editor of Montgomery Newspapers and press officer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He currently serves as the communications director for the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. More of his photographic work can be seen here


  1. glenn woodley says:

    It needs an identity, it is an old fishing area so it needs to be made to look like a village with quaint shops and warm. more trees and green spaces as well as briniging back the angle parking so there is more room during rush hours it will be regular parking only so there is better traffic flow outdoor cafes and restaurant areas would also be great. people need to feel welcome there and not discouraged by the blight. the landlords must be made to clean up their properties or lose them. A sign over frankford ave saying Port of Fishtowne welcome. and another as you pass norris street.

  2. Bradley Maule says:

    Great piece, Dominic. When I lived in Fishtown (2007-09), I had a love-hate relationship with Girard (more love than hate, but occasionally that). Either way, it’s definitely central to Fishtown’s vitality. And so, with the incredible development along Frankford Ave, it’s amazing and infuriating that its intersection with Girard is not only still awful, but actually worse. The rerouting of the 15 trolley to accommodate Sugar House is incredibly stupid and awkward, and it doesn’t even STOP at that intersection, the nexus of the entire neighborhood. Sheesh.

    1. Sean Gibbons says:

      To clarify – the trolley was not routed to serve Sugarhouse. The trolley is temporarily re-routed because they are replacing the bridge that goes over Delaware ave as part of the I-95 construction, so the trolley was routed down Frankford for a turn around. This plan was apparently in place before Sugarhouse was even proposed.

      Once the bridge is rebuilt (it looks about halfway done), the Trolley should go down East Girard again with a stop at the intersection with Frankford. I expect with Sugarhouse now existing and the Canal St project hopefully being built in the near future, some Trolleys will still go down Frankford to the turnaround.

  3. Richard A Miller, AIA says:

    East Girard is in desperate need of greenery, and the removal of two lanes of paving. The potential, with the city skyline vista is huge.

    If you green it, and slow it a bit, they will come.

  4. Brian says:

    Good article. This strip is just minutes away from my house in Northern Liberties. I recently took the time to walk down the whole strip of East Girard… I agree with all comments above. The most pressing issue has to be the intersection of Front & Girard. Those that frequent the area are desensitized to how awful it really looks and is. Signage would be a great idea as Glenn mentioned. I see potential for that “Main Street” feel. I just worry that things won’t progress fast enough. I think the truth is, that people have to come to the realization of, is that Deal$, 7-11, McDonalds, and strip clubs need to be removed from this area to see the deeper tranformation. Proper businesses, lighting, and signage create a sense of safety and community.

  5. Clair says:

    I agree that the new addition of Deal$ and 7-11 may have been a setback. At the same time, they are no longer empty. While it isn’t a good place for bikers, maybe there could be signs directing bikers to bike paths. I think trees and maybe an ordinance that new places have no neon lights and rules about signage. Something that is a must: clean up the trash. It is everywhere. Yuck.

  6. dale says:

    Deal$ was definitely a setback… and to think Avram Hornik wanted to turn that building into what became Union Transfer. What a change that has made to Spring Garden, and it would have definitely made a nice change here. Damn NIMBYS

  7. patrick says:

    Deal$ is an unattractive business, but the new 7-11 is nice, clean, bright and in a convenient location. Much more inviting and comfortable then any of the nearby bodegas. The McDonald’s may not fit the intended image of the area, but I think smaller footprint corporate outlets with centralized asset protection and more business stability provide a nice buffer between the subway stop and the more legitimate local business further down the line.

  8. Bseen says:

    My grandmother used to live at 451 E. Girard Ave., and my father grew up in Fishtown, so I know the area pretty well. The house my grandmother lived in was once occupied by Samuel H. Cramp, a Civil War veteran and relative of the Cramp Shipyard family. In studying the house for a research paper in an Urban History class, I discovered a number of things discussing how vibrant the neighborhood was during the late 19th and early 20th centuries what with manufacturing, fishing, and the variety of businesses there. I-95 killed a lot of that vitality.

    One thing I’ll always remember about my grandmother’s house is hearing the rumble of trolleys through an open window on humid nights when I stayed over during the summer. It kept me awake then, but the sound of trolleys and the orange glow of street lights make me nostalgic today. The charm and history of the place is there, it just needs to be explored.

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