A Corner in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia
Taking a writing course offered at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore led me into a community in West Mount Airy at the corners of Greene and Carpenter Lane. Despite the bleak winter afternoon, the community offered a warm atmosphere as the little shops that lined the streets invited me to stop in to visit. In addition to taking a writing course, I had also enrolled in a photography class at an art center in my community, so I had brought my camera along, as our assignment was to look for new shapes and textures as subjects.
With a fondness for restoration, I couldn’t believe my luck stumbling onto the Philadelphia Salvage Company. Suitcases and trunks piled on what looked like an old railroad cart, and metal cans spilled into the sidewalk. But I didn’t linger too long in cold. Upon entering the building, I noticed a cast iron stove, pumping warm air through the building, as a tea kettle spewed steam from its spout. I warmed my hands and looked around, mesmerized by the array of architectural salvage, from stained glass, plumbing and electrical fixtures, antique doors and windows. In a second life, I could be a picker, as I love all the old stuff in need of a fix-up.
The Salvage Company celebrates a doggie visitor as their “mascot of the day,” and I understand that a sleepy cat sometimes occupies the front bench.
I found lots of subjects for my photography assignment.
One subject seemed to deserve special attention: a shelf of different sized gears. The photograph of those gears inspired this blog post, and three months later the photo won first place at the Community Arts Center!
Across the street from the Salvage Company, dogs waited patiently for their owners grabbing a bite to eat at the High Point Cafe. Chilled by the damp air, I stopped in for a cup of coffee. I was not disappointed as the coffee was excellent, in addition to their selection of pastries. The Cafe refers to their corner as a village and “are proud to be part of one.”
One store down from the Cafe, the Nesting House specializes in selling new and used baby items “with an aim to uphold a mission of social and environmental stewardship.” They sell cloth diapers and used clothing. I found a little pair of shiny dress shoes for my great-niece.
Crossing over to the corner, I opened the door to the Weavers Way Co-Op, and met with crowds waiting in line to make their purchases. Deli aroma filled the air, and signs advertised hot soup for sale by the cup. According to co-ops website, they sell products that are “local, sustainable, organic, fairly traded and healthful.” It’s a small, two-story compact space, and yet they had annual sales up to $14 million.
I picked up some fresh vegetables and loaf of bread and headed to my destination, Big Blue Marble Bookstore. This store reminded me of the book shop restoration I had been part of years ago at Bindlestiff Books in West Philly. An independent book seller, the shop displayed a fantastic collection of children’s books and places for kids to sit and consider what they might buy. Toys and stuffed animals filled every corner. A cozy space, I lingered in the travel section before heading upstairs to my writing course. The store sponsors events including book clubs that can use their community space.
The progressive leanings of this corner village come from a long history of neighborhood harmony. According to Wikipedia,
The area is recognized by many civil rights groups as one of the first successfully integrated neighborhoods in America. Mount Airy residents organized to resist blockbusting, panic selling, and redlining, especially during the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when those practices were prevalent. It continues to be a well-blended neighborhood and was recently cited in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine for its racial diversity and neighborhood appeal. The community has also been recognized by US News & World Report for racial harmony and balance.
The harmony in their neighborhood stands in contrast to what the big-box stores offer. In this post, Mystique of the Ole Fashioned General Store I compare the general store of years gone by, which served as a community anchor, with the big-box store of today, which, in contrast, offers little neighborhood involvement or esthetic appeal. According to a study conducted by faculty at Penn State, big-box stores coincide with hate groups. Mount Airy demonstrates that progressive values provide the small-town American atmosphere we long for in this country. It’s as simple as having a welcoming street corner in your neighborhood.