South Street: What’s all the smoke about?

Many business owners’ dreams of a South Street on the rise are going up in smoke.

In the past six months, three head shops opened on the strip within six blocks of one another, all operated by owner Rocky Keid. Their neon-lit windows are crammed with glass pipes, hookahs, vaporizers and even gas mask bongs. Keid’s reason for the deluge? A family feud.

“There’s a big competition with my family. Everybody tries to be better than the other, that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Keid, whose relatives own a mini-mart between Sixth and Seventh. “They own only one and I own three.”

But his choice of wares have many upset.

“I don’t want South Street to be known for this. When a person sells hookahs, someone else will sell something to put into it and I don’t want those kinds of people around here,” said a neighboring business owner, who asked not to be named.

According to Hot Diggity owner Keith Garabedian, L&I announced at a recent business association meeting that it had unsuccessfully taken Keid to court. “We want more arts and culture. [Keid’s markets] are not on board with that,” Garabedian said. “South Street has always been a place for teen and college kids, but it shouldn’t be a block that facilitates drug use.”

“I never went to court and nobody sued me,” Keid said. “I have all my licenses and everything, no problems with the city.”

Not all businesspeople want to see Keid shut down. With the past decade’s exodus of South Street anchors like Pearl Art & Craft Supply and Tower Records, many see any development as a good thing. “Anything’s better than an empty storefront,” said Ray Baxley, manager of Benjamin Lovell Shoes.

Nobody’s really sure on zoning

Recent and proposed changes to the city’s antiquated zoning code are confusing to area business owners — and to the city itself.

“Philadelphia has, at times, attempted to craft laws regulating sales of paraphernalia and repeatedly lost on the state level,” the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections spokeswoman Maura Kennedy. “The state says these things are permissible business uses. I can understand the neighborhood’s frustration, but unfortunately, the state can rule against us.”

When asked about the portion of zoning code stating that a commercial zone such as South Street required a special use certificate following community input for stores selling such wares, L&I would only state, “We’re looking into the matter further.”

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