From Copper Scrappers To Table Scrapping at Frankford & Lehigh

May 6, 2014 | by Erin Bernard


Kensington Community Food Co-op party announcing they've got a storefront | Photo courtesy of KCFC

Kensington Community Food Co-op party announcing they’ve got a storefront | Photo courtesy of KCFC

The race to the lease signing between co-ops North and South is over, and again the North has won. After years of dedication and membership fundraising, Kensington Community Food Co-op announced on Sunday the signing of a lease with an option to purchase the building at 2672 Coral Street, formerly known as O’Reilly’s Pub. Including the parking lot and grassy knoll behind it, KCFC now has a brick-and-mortar space on the southwest corner of Frankford and Lehigh Avenues.

“There are many reasons why this site is ideal,” said co-op founder Lena Helen. “To begin, traffic and visibility are great, while the location maintains a connection to our core member-owner base. I love the history the building and the surrounding area holds. Reviving some of that history is going to be a lot of fun.”

This stretch of Frankford Avenue has seen an influx of young business over the past decade with Rocket Cat Café, Atlantis the Lost Bar, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, and Pizza Brain. KCFC’s location is the farthest north, though, in a neighborhood where formalized grocery stores and healthy food are scarce. Civic leader Jeff Carpineta, who works for Philadelphia-based Solo Realty, led the effort to find the space and secure the deal. “What we want people to do now is to flow around Frankford Ave, and begin to explore Front Street,” he said.

Coming soon, KCFC | Photo: Peter Woodall

Coming soon, KCFC | Photo: Peter Woodall

In recent years, the Coral Street building’s history has been a tough one. O’Reilly’s Pub closed in 2012, and in its vacancy, scrappers gutted the building, slicing through walls to remove parts of the kitchen. Prior to O’Reilly’s, the space was a bar named Shannon’s. But from pub to co-op, this corner has a history of bringing people together.

When asked what the food co-op’s storefront will do for the neighborhood, founder Lena Helen said, “these are the postmodern, postindustrial questions—‘What can we do to fix this mess?! Will our efforts make a difference?’ We are not a starry-eyed people. We know the hazards, we see the corruption, we see the decay, and we are all affected. I don’t have a sweeping answer. But I can affirm that without a doubt, cooperatives build community, cooperatives build democracy, cooperatives ensure local co-ownership and—the profits—all of the profits stay.”

KCFC was founded in 2008 by a small group of neighbors who wanted accessible, local, fresh and organic foods at fair prices. Through grants and research, they developed a market analysis plan, hosted outreach events at Greensgrow Farms, drafted bylaws, became state access card eligible, launched the bimonthly Marketplace for non-perishable grains and local produce, and recruited over 400 members.

But Sunday’s announcement is not the end of KCFC’s journey. While the lease was signed April 14th, the organization still needs nearly 850 members to begin construction; they currently have 412. Other established food co-ops in the city, including Weavers Way in Mt. Airy and Mariposa in West Philadelphia, have enriched growing communities of families and eco-minded residents with a stable offering of “close to earth” foods as well as a gathering place for the entire community. Both of these co-ops have supported KCFC’s journey to find a location.

“It’s a different economy,” said Carpineta. “It’s a different process in that in the normal world, people say, ‘Well, they’re gonna open a grocery store,’ but this is a shift in the thinking, a shift from the ‘they’ to the ‘we,’” he continued, “As a community, we’ve stood up and said ‘let’s do this.’”

The corner property at Frankford & Girard includes the lot behind it | Photo: Peter Woodall

The corner property at Frankford & Girard includes the lot behind it | Photo: Peter Woodall

At the very least, KCFC’s newly-hired membership coordinator will support the effort to include both longtime and newer Kensington residents, but the group is also inspired by low income food access programs such as Brattleboro (VT) Food Co-op’s Food for All program. The store will also accept WIC and SNAP. “The co-op gets to be a fulcrum between different demographics,” said Carpineta. “We’ve tried to seat ourselves geographically so that we can really serve all the communities that are around us.”

In the wake of postindustrial textile mill fires and battles to keep scrappers out of vacant buildings, KCFC’s site will diffuse further destruction of its immediate building and serve as eyes on the street for neighbors. “We’re in a neighborhood where care and destruction are matched, and we must do all we can so that care will win out,” said Carpineta. “It has room for 30 to 40 people to gather together. There is demand for a place that can be a meeting ground to foster togetherness and to fight the good fight in the neighborhood, and this is gonna be it.”

Construction on the site could begin as soon as 2015. The vision includes a paid staff so that members do not have to work, though there will be a work-member option.

The choice of a location of KCFC’s younger, Southern neighbor, the South Philly Food Co-op, remains to be made. While South Philly has reached its own 400-member goal, it still needs more members before finalizing the planning stage, choosing a site, and beginning construction.


About the Author

Erin Bernard Erin Bernard is the Founding Director and Curator of the Philadelphia Public History Truck. She is a curatorial member of the Kensington-based art collective Little Berlin and staff member of the Painted Bride Art Center. Erin holds a B.A. in Journalism and is currently working on her M.A. in Public History at Temple University.


  1. pete hart says:

    this area is turning around…slowly..i remember a daily news article in the 80,s that that the city had to send a bulldozer and dumptruck to remove all the glass from scrappers breaking the glass out of aluminum window frames to scrap the aluminum

  2. Aaron Bauman says:

    As a member of the South Philly Food Coop, I’m so happy for Kensington! Congratulations!

    This is not a competition – the more coops the merrier: Philadelphia is a better place because of them.
    What a great space they’ve found, and I’m sure we’ll be able to collaborate and learn from KCFC.

    Also, is out of date: as of May 1, SPFC has reached over *600* members.
    The Real Estate Committee – sworn strictly to secrecy – is actively researching viable spaces and talking to potential partners.

    If you can’t get ahold of anyone through the website, please email me and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can answer all your burning questions.

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