In the age of coronavirus, some of Philadelphia’s communities have been taking advantage of adaptable opportunities full force. And that sentiment certainly rings true for Northern Liberties. The eclectic and ever-evolving neighborhood of the city is known to be a niche area flourishing with businesses, eateries, music venues and hotspots such as Piazza Pod Park. But lately, like many other areas around the City of Brotherly Love, life in Northern Liberties has looked quite different.
“Certainly, COVID has been trying for everybody,” says Kristine Kennedy, Executive Director of the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District.
NLBID was created over two years ago with the main goal of augmenting city services and promoting the neighborhood while also providing a vibrant way to work, shop and live in Northern Liberties. After the unprecedented impact of the pandemic hit, however, the organization’s function became more paramount than ever.
“BIDS can come in and sort of augment city services to mitigate [a] situation,” says Kennedy. “Collectively the BIDS now have an alliance formed over the Winter where we had already started debating on how we might streamline some of these things. So, things were already on our radar a little bit, and we were able to kind of step forward and help shepherd the process for city agencies and help our businesses get set up for them. We were already blessed here in Northern Liberties with a number of restaurants that already had pretty extensive outdoor seating, so they were well prepared to step into that situation. Places like the Abbaye, El Camino Real and North Bowl already had pretty good setups going on prior to the new streetery program. But everybody else, I think it was contagious. They saw what their neighbor was doing and they wanted to kind of one up them, so it’s been really nice to see the streets come alive and the neighbors come out and support it.”
One of those neighborhood spots is Jerry’s Bar. The gastropub has been a neighborhood staple for years offering an assortment of menu items spanning from pierogies to pork Milanese to lobster stuffed shells plus beer, spirits, cocktails and wine all in their laid-back and comfortable atmosphere. When the pandemic first hit back in March, owner Bill Proud decided to close the doors of the eatery to re-vamp the bar for re-opening—and the additions included the $20,000 to $30,000 addition of plexi-walls.
“We went into the mode where we had no intentions of closing down, we wanted to get everything fixed up for when we were ready to open again,” explains Proud. “We took the three months to more or less refresh the establishment, and then after that, we started doing the take-out in June—that was working out pretty good. Then, with outside seating, we took a parking lane up and put some cool furniture out there, umbrellas, the whole bit and we’ve been doing pretty good, except in the rain and the heat.”
Proud, who also is a self-contractor with his own masonry company knows the ups and downs of a business, but all in all is still nervous about what the road ahead looks like, even with the expensive additional safety precautions added to his establishment.
“For the interior, we really have it spaced out where people can come and bring their families in [and], at our bar we have it spaced out where every two stools you have plate glass. One thing for me as an owner, I’m [also] a clean freak and this has actually tightened everything up for me, and I love it. The staff, it’s a whole different environment. Everyone stepped up and I think they’re all working together and making everything happen so we can stay in business, so that’s pretty cool” says Proud. ” I am a little nervous about what’s going to happen in the future, if we’re going to be able to stay open. The other thing is, what is going to be allowed? Only 25% of customers or 50%? So, for us to operate on that, I don’t know how it’s going to work out with our chefs and management. It’s going to be difficult.”
Philadelphians who head to the northern neighborhood of the city can expect traffic shut down to allow for more than a dozen eateries to offer al-fresco dining. Other bars and restaurants pulling out all of the stops in Northern Liberties with open-dining include El Camino Real (Tex-Mex and Southern smoke house), Rustica Pizza (neighborhood pizza parlor), SET NoLibs (gastropub with eclectic cocktails and Asian-inspired fare), Añejo Philly (brand new eatery open with a vast tequila selection and interesting Mexican-fused fare) and more.
“It’s interesting timing for us because we have a major street closure at second and Germantown that we’ve had for quite some time. I think there was a lot of fear and anxiety about that street closure and how it would impact business, it’s just an interesting coincidence of events where it ended up calming traffic quite a bit on 2nd street and I hear a lot from people on how pleasant it’s been to walk down the street and to dine outside. A number of people have come and asked me if there’s some way that we can do a more regular, permanent street closure to come enhance that. It’s a lot more pedestrian-friendly now I think,” adds Kennedy. “When outdoor dining started, it became apparent just how hyper-local dining had become. People were sort of staying within their own neighborhoods to begin with, so it was really nice to see neighbors come out and support businesses in that way.”