Around Fairmount, there are plenty of opinions about what to do during Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, which begins next week.
Dara Forsthoffer, 33, has a simple plan: get out of town.
“I live right in the no-drive zone, so I planned to work in a different city that week,” she said. “I heard it’s going to be like a blizzard but with no snow. I can’t ski on it, so I’m out of here.”
No matter what the final turnout for the festival is, it’s certain that massive crowds will be on the Ben Franklin Parkway during the weekend of Pope Francis’ visit and his mass, expected to be held at the Art Museum — right on Fairmount’s doorstep.
The entire neighborhood is within the secure area known as the “Francis Festival Grounds,” formerly known as the traffic box, which will stretch from Girard Avenue to South Street. Vehicles aren’t allowed to drive into the box.
“Pope is the Pope. Doesn’t faze me. I’m a truck driver,” said Michael Stewart, 49. “They’re just taking it a little too far. If the president came, they wouldn’t go to the same extremes.”
For the mostly small businesses that populate Fairmount Avenue for several blocks up from the Parkway, the popularity of Pope Francis could mean either dollar signs or headaches, given the challenges of stocking up to feed hungry pilgrims.
Mick Houston, owner of the neighborhood institution Jack’s Firehouse, is somehow optimistic and relaxed about everything to do with Pope Francis.
“Worst-case scenario, we sell out and we have to close,” Houston said.
He pointed out crowds coming to see the Pope won’t be as tough to manage as the huge crowds in Fairmount every year to see Fourth of July fireworks.
“Even if you have double that amount of people, it wouldn’t scare anybody from the neighborhood,” Houston said. “Papal visitors are going to be respectful, a little bit older crowd, more low-key, not trying to get drunk and party.”
Just this month, Made in America 2015 brought 130,000 music lovers to the Parkway.
“The neighborhood is not unfamiliar to hosting really large events,” said Kevin Moran, executive director of the Fairmount Community Development Corporation. “I do expect spillover onto Fairmount Ave from folks who want to remain out of the highest security zone or who are just looking for coffee or sandwiches.”
Most locals’ biggest concerns are the essentials, stocking up on groceries or getting access to medical care, Moran said. His advice: plan for it like you would for a blizzard.
“It’s nothing to be fearful about,” was Houston’s takeaway. “If you are, get out of town.”