Whenever I hear about violence in the Kingsessing neighborhood of Southwest Philadelphia, my heart breaks a little. That is where my father, Dr. Robert E. Quigley, and his family grew up and where they created so many good memories.
My dad was one of eight children in the family of Thomas Quigley and Sarah Auchinleck Quigley — otherwise known as my Pop Pop and Nana. The family moved into a spacious house at 5100 Chester Ave. in 1924. For the next 30 years, they owned and operated “Quigley’s Own Make” candy and ice cream shop.
My dad and his siblings — Tom, Mary, Sarah, Dolores, Rosalie, Jack and Dick — scooped ice cream, served up handmade chocolates and greeted customers. My dad said the store was successful even in the dark times of the Depression. People always managed to set aside a few pennies for an ice cream cone. Dad always managed to sneak a piece of candy from the case on his way to St. Francis of Assisi grade school or West Catholic High School for Boys. Today, at age 86, Dad’s memory is fading. But he still talks about the candy store and all the goodies within.
The Quigley kids were blessed with the Kingsessing Recreation Center and library right across 51st Street. They played basketball, swam in the pool (except during the polio epidemic) and went to the library. My Aunt Sarah loved nothing more than to take out a copy of “Little Women” every week and sniffle over Beth’s death.
My Dad liked to go swimming in the pool, even when there were so many children in the neighborhood that they had to swim in shifts. He said a rec center worker stood at the entrance to make sure the childrens’ bathing suits weren’t wet from already being in the pool. If they were wet, they couldn’t come back until the next day. To get around this, Dad said they put their bathing suits on the trolley tracks to squeeze all the water out.
My Aunt Mary met her husband while she was working at the store. George Knatz liked to play tennis in the Kingsessing Rec Center and one day, he stopped at the store for a drink. He got a wife in the bargain.
Of the eight Quigley kids, there are only two left now — my Aunt Rosalie Quigley Hutton in California and Dad, who is in assisted living in Northeast Philly. But the stories of their candy store and house on Chester Avenue stay with me. They had such fun in the Kingsessing neighborhood.
Unfortunately, Kingsessing is now a dangerous section of the city. As with other areas of the city, industry left and poverty moved in. In 2011, there was a bloody shooting of six people at the Kingsessing playground during a basketball game. Just last month, another shooting in the area claimed the life of one man and injured five others.
This makes me sad for the families and children who live in Kingsessing. No one should have to grow up near such violence. I know that Mayor Michael Nutter has tried to help the neighborhood — so have churches and community organizations. Lots of good people live there.
Bartram’s Garden and House, a 45-acre national historic landmark, still thrives in Kingsessing. The garden, located at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, is free and open to the public year round.
Quigley’s Candy Store closed in the mid-1950s. But a series of stores have operated at the location. Now, a hair salon called Peace African Hair Braiding is there. Christine Touglo runs the business, where customers can get a hairdo full of micro braids for $125, or Kinky Braids for $130. She also does cornrows. Touglo, who emigrated from the African nation of Togo, started running the business in 2009. She said she likes the Kingsessing area and her customers.
“I don’t have any problems with anyone,” she said.
I am glad there is still a store at the site of Quigley’s Candies. And I hope that someday the kids of Kingsessing can live in a safe, fun neighborhood like the Quigley kids did.
Kathryn Quigley is an associate professor of Journalism at RowanUniversity and a Philadelphia native. She can be reached at [email protected].