Philadelphia is more than the city of brotherly love: its unique, vibrant neighborhoods are filled with small businesses and close-knit communities that together form the backbone of this beloved city. This Small Business Week, we’re going back to our roots and talking to locals in six Philadelphia neighborhoods to discover what they love about where they live.
For a little history, Philadelphia is where Inspire was created. Our Chief Technology Officer, Mike Durst, is a Philly native. Philly has rapidly become a small business and technology hub, and we knew it was the perfect city to lay the groundwork for our mission of creating a connected movement of people working towards a brighter energy future.
Work within the space that you have; it's something that the northern neighborhood of Fishtown does well.
Earning its name from the shad fishing trade from the 18th and 19th centuries, Fishtown proudly retains its working class roots today. While construction projects are constantly underway, the new businesses that have moved in seem to want to respect and preserve the original character. It’s this kind of respect for the history and culture of this neighborhood that makes the cafes, shops, and restaurants of Fishtown stand out.
The bike shop Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles use an old warehouse on Frankford. Greensgrow Farms on East Cumberland in the adjacent Kensington area sits right in the middle of row houses and champions the neighborhood mindset in their company slogan (“Growers of foods, flowers and neighborhoods”). The simply named Fishtown Tavern offers locals a cool drink in a no-nonsense, dive-bar setting. Local pride is strong here, with images of fish everywhere — from the house number plates to the murals down alleyways. Love music? Lindsay used to work in Fishtown, and thinks it has some of the best venues in the city for live music fans.
“Johnny Brenda's is a staple of the Philly music scene,” she says. “Not only is there something happening every night of the week, but you can see bands who play larger shows in New York or Washington, D.C. at this super small, intimate venue with great sound quality.”
Chock full of history in every direction, the center of Old City draws in a lot of tourists, but the Philly natives who have opened shops and restaurants in the area fell in love with Old City’s charm.
Sarah Levine owns Luna Cafe on Market Street and has lived in Philadelphia for ten years. Old City just had something special for her.
“I kind of fell into Old City,” says Sarah. “I love the historic feel to it.”
She was looking for a turn key property in Old City when she found the place.
“It used to be an Italian Trattoria. You couldn’t ask for a better location, and I love feeling as though I’m contributing to the oldest neighborhood in Philadelphia.”
Sarah enjoys meeting all kinds of people who wander into her cafe, which serves a bistro-style menu from locally sourced ingredients.
“We have a tremendous amount of tourists in the summer time and a really nice mix of people that either live or work in the neighborhood.”
Susan also has a favorite spot in the Old City for cocktails after a long day of working at Luna Cafe. “Sassafras. It’s such a cozy, intimate little bar.”
Old City is also where the art scene in Philadelphia started, with places like Moderne Gallery being early pioneers. On the first Friday of every month, Old City galleries open up their doors to art enthusiasts who want to take a free look at the offerings. It’s grown so popular that it’s extended to other neighborhoods such as Fishtown1.
Center City is the heart of Philadelphia, the hub of the commuting workforce and often where a night out will start.
For weary office workers, Center City plays host to rooftop bars offering scenic views of Logan Square and the Fine Arts Museum. Center City draws in residents who want to live as close to work and the nightlife as possible and who like the bustling noise of a busy city. Peter is a recent transplant to Philly from New York City. He chose Center City because he was used to the buzzing activity of city life.
“There are so many great options for food and entertainment. Everything is less than a five minute walk away from my apartment, including my work. You can’t beat a commute like that. Coming from New York City, living in Center City made it easy to make the transition.”
Peter notes that the options for food and entertainment bring in a wide mix of people.
“Not just from Philadelphia, either. People from other parts of the state will end up in Center City because of the train station being right there.”
That variety of options includes some of Peter’s favorites: Sampan, an upscale asian fusion tapas place near City Hall, and the old-school haunt Oscar’s for cocktails and gastropub food.
South of Center City and Old City, Queens Village is a prime location for people craving proximity to everything.
Because of its location, it’s walkable to the historical beauty of both the Old City and the foodie mecca of East Passyunk to the South. Queens Village is a blend of accessibility, affordability, and amenities, drawing in a wide variety of residents — from young professionals to retirees. Inspire CTO Mike Durst has lived all over Philly and thinks that Queens Village is one of the best neighborhoods in Philadelphia for families.
“I lived here with my wife before we had kids, and after having them, I didn't want to move. I think this is a great neighborhood because there's a nice variety of people in different life stages, and they are all very friendly.” Mike cites its location as prime for exploring other parts of the city, but is quick to point out that it doesn’t “feel” too much like living in a big city. “If you want a bit of nature, the bike paths along the Delaware River are right here,” he says. “It's where I taught my kids how to ride. We didn't have to worry about traffic at all. There’s also actually a really good school here that my kids attend, so I'm grateful that they have access to that.”
Mike mentions that they are spoiled for choice with the amount of good restaurants and cafes in Queens Village, which can sometimes be problematic when taking their kids other places to eat. “The Hungry Pigeon is one of the best spots in the city for breakfast. They have their own pastry chef that makes really good croissants. The only problem is, now my kids won’t eat croissants anywhere else.”
South Philly/East Passyunk
South Philly is one of the larger neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
Its roots are Italian, and for many years was the center of operations for the Philly-based mob. Over the years, this gritty reputation turned into something more eclectic. Because South Philly covers a wide area, the various sub-neighborhoods have developed their own unique feel. Take East Passyunk as an example. It gentrified around the same time as Fishtown but because South Philly wasn't an industrial hub like Fishtown was, its hip new restaurants and cafes are much closer together. East Passyunk has become known for its high-end culinary options, rivaling that of much larger metropolitan areas.
“East Passyunk is arguably the best neighborhood in Philadelphia, and perhaps the East Coast, for foodies,” explains Lindsay, also a former resident of East Passyunk. “Places like Will BYOB and Laurel could give some of the best chefs in New York a run for their money.”
Lindsay also loves how East Passyunk embraces diversity in its offerings for both food and retail.
“There is this amazing mix of old and new in this neighborhood. Modern businesses like Bing Bing or Plenty Cafe line the streets among old school family run businesses that have been there for decades.” For groceries, East Passyunk residents fill up their baskets at Green Aisle Grocery and pick out their craft beer of choice at The Bottle Shop to be shared with the house next door. “Neighbors are still sitting outside their row homes on the sidewalk with lawn chairs people watching as older millennials with their young kids head out to brunch at Noord. It’s just a fantastic place.”
University City has become a mecca for green spaces in Philadelphia.
Green City Works2 is a subsidiary of the University City District that maintains nearly 1 million square feet of green space within the area. One of its projects involved turning a congested parking lane and empty sidewalk into a lively outdoor space called “The Porch” featuring covered picnic benches, bright flower planters and custom porch swings. Its abundance of parks and community gardens draws in middle-class families, old hippies, and graduate students with children.
Chris is a resident of University City, attending Drexel University. He hails from a small town in New Jersey and was especially drawn to University City’s balance of green and urban landscapes.
“A few years back when I was visiting colleges, I became enamored by the idea of attending school in such a unique urban setting,” says Chris. “Drexel ended up being an easy choice.” He notes that coming from a small-town mindset, he never felt unsafe in the University City neighborhood.
“I think a big plus for University City is the extra sense of safety and security I feel from the Drexel and UPenn police presence. Even if I'm walking home late, I still see a few of them out patrolling on bikes, and there are blue emergency stations lining pretty much my entire walk home.”
For students, having access to amenities and connected cafes with plenty of coffee is a major plus, as Chris explains. “A big plus of living here is Drexel's Recreation Center. It’s one of the best facilities I’ve seen in Philly. While free for students, community members and alumni can get pretty reasonable rates there as well.”
His favorite coffee shop is Saxby's on the Drexel Campus. For a night out, he enjoys Wahoo's on 32nd and Chestnut. “The food is awesome and the drink specials are reasonably priced. It makes it a great place to unwind after a hard day of classes.”
Situated outside of the main city, Manayunk is a haven for those who enjoy the cultural benefits of Philadelphia but don’t want the bustling city lifestyle.
Once a hub of industrial factories, Manayunk now offers nightlife amenities and local shops within easy walking distance. The compact and cozy Main Street runs parallel to the Manayunk Canal, and is a huge draw for young couples who are looking to purchase their first row home in a more affordable neighborhood.
For Walter Palmer, owner and distiller of W.P. Palmer Distilling Co., he wanted to establish his business in Manayunk because of his own personal connection and history to the neighborhood. “My wife and I bought our first house here. We built up a close group of friends and wanted to be close to that. One of the great things about Manayunk is that it draws a diverse set of people — students, retirees, young couples — who all have something in common: making things. Manayunk is a neighborhood of makers and do-ers and we wanted to be a part of that community.”
When asked about local favorites in the area, he’s quick to offer suggestions.
“Volo is a great cafe for coffee and lunch. Lucky’s is an establishment for burgers, ‘dogs and beer. SOMO for cocktails and during the week, my wife and I love to go to Henry James for beer and pork sandwiches.”
One thing Philadelphia does not lack is local pride. These neighborhoods all have their distinct look and feel, even if they share common backgrounds. Fishtown’s grit is different from that of Manayunk’s, even though they both were industrial hubs back in the day. Center City is more corporate, while a few blocks away, Old City thrives on its historical charm. University City focuses on green spaces that attract people of all ages, while the accessibility and coziness of Queens Village keeps Philly locals coming back for more. South Philly holds onto its legacy restaurants — the places that have been come landmarks — while being open to new culinary trends. The one thing they all have in common though? Connection to Philadelphia.
While different in each way, they all contribute to towards Philadelphia's unique city feel, which is why Inspire is proud to have its roots in a city that values the connections to its past and to the people who live in and around them.