Kathy Dethier is Chair of the Department of Design at the Moore College of Art and Design. We were delighted when she spent part of her “summer vacation” last year consulting with store owners on façade improvements through the Collaborative's rStore program. Below, Kathy talks about the corridor, the goals of the store owners she worked with, and the design solutions.
Last July, I joined two other architects and a cost estimator to work with six store owners on the Torresdale Avenue Commercial Corridor in Tacony. Since its zenith in the ‘30s through the ‘60s, Torresdale Avenue has battled decline and was hard-hit by the recent recession. With a rich variety of independent businesses, 3,000 residents within a five-minute walk, on-street parking, a bike lane, and ample sidewalks, the corridor has real revitalization potential.
Tacony Community Development Corporation is spearheading improvements to the corridor as part of a larger revitalization strategy for this historic Northeast neighborhood. Tacony CDC’s Corridor Manager, Alex Balloon, likens the campaign to “lifting the aluminum curtain" and revealing the original detail and appeal of the storefronts. He recruited six businesses to do design consultations with the Collaborative.
90 Minutes=Lots of Info The rStore design consultations began with a 90 minute, one-to-one meeting between a business owner and a Collaborative volunteer. We started off by discussing the client’s ideas and what's eligible for facade improvement grants. Then we sketched out ideas together. As a follow-up to the consultations, the volunteers then provided final sketches and cost estimates.
These products were created to help merchants set priorities and, in some cases, apply for grants through the City of Philadelphia’s Storefront Improvement (SIP) Program. SIP grants range from $8,000 to $12,000 and can be used to further develop the design concepts and offset the costs of improvements.
Robin Kohles of the Collaborative paired me with two businesses, Kavanagh’s Tobacco and Rubino’s Pharmacy. Both business owners shared a desire to generate more business—and concerns about security. My design challenge lay in satisfying both goals.
Kavanagh’s needed a clear sense of identity. The display of over a dozen signs on the first floor façade of the building made it difficult to know to know exactly what the store sold. Rubino’s solid roll-down security gates and poor lighting sent a message of fear to the public and hid merchandise from view.
I suggested to owners Sam and Jay Kavanagh that we remove all the existing signage and replace it with a projecting sign that simply displayed the business name—Kavanagh’s. A colorful, box style fabric awning, on a tubular metal frame would mark the entrance while hiding the new security grill housing. The residential bay window would be replaced with a modern storefront with simple lettering identifying the business name and nature of the business. A new glass door would replace the old wood door increasing visibility. Gooseneck lighting fixtures would light the awning and a new spotlight would illuminate the entrance.
Next we tackled the façade. Siding, concealing the historic, architectural detailing of upper level bay window, would be removed and the original wood trim and brick repaired. The wood trim would be painted with a selection from the Tacony historic color palette. When consistently applied, the color palette will create a recognizable identity and brand for the commercial corridor.
For Rubino’s Pharmacy I suggested to business owner Mario Sellecchia that we create more visibility for the store’s interior, especially after business hours. We replaced the existing security grills with new rolling, open grills. To enhance the display windows, all signage would be removed for an open, uncluttered appearance. The interior of the recessed storefront windows would be painted and new track lighting would illuminate the displays.
Rubino’s sign would be replaced with a colorful fabric awning on a tubular metal frame. Awning signage, illuminated with new, gooseneck light fixtures, would feature Rubino’s new logo. The entrance, with its new glass door, would be lit by a soffit light from above. Aluminum trim, hiding the original eaves would be removed and all trim would be repaired and painted using the Tacony color palette.
A Final Word
In all six consultations done last July, it was clear that the community was taking back their neighborhood with great pride. Torresdale Avenue’s business owners are reclaiming their stores as welcoming places that invite people to linger.