West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative (WPCC) President Jabari Jones minced no words when describing the current state of businesses along the neighborhood’s commercial corridors still trying to navigate a pandemic and civil unrest.
“Some of the [most] tangible things you would see if you walked down any of our corridors is that more businesses are closed,” he said. “At any time of the day many businesses have gates down, lights off and are inactive. Many businesses are not allowed to reopen and have suffered seven to eight months without receiving any revenue.”
In the days following the killing of George Floyd by police, many West Philly businesses were damaged during protests that saw some storefronts vandalized and police using tear gas on residents. WPCC — a membership organization representing about 10 commercial corridors, such as those on Baltimore Avenue, Lancaster Avenue and 52nd Street — has spent much of the last four months helping those businesses rebuild.
In June, for instance, WPCC partnered with Councilmember Allan Domb to launch an insurance hotline to assist owners of damaged businesses with handling insurance claims for their property. And to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, WPCC has increased timely access to information about small business grants, different opportunities for funding and federal programs to help businesses. Programs like a virtual small business workshop allowed WPCC to walk residents through the process of searching for resources.
Restaurants along the West Philadelphia corridor are also a top priority for the organization. On Friday, Oct. 2, local restaurants were allowed to begin serving patrons indoor at up to 50% capacity. WPCC is pushing for restaurants to stay open later so they can make more money.
“A lot of restaurant businesses are already being capped,” he said. “You’re reducing the amount of revenue they can make at any hour, and reducing the hours. There are a lot of operating costs that restaurants have to pay: They have to catch up on back rent, replace inventory. They may have had to rehire new people.”
This past September, WPCC joined Community College of Philadelphia as one of four local organizations that received a part of a $180,000 grant from AT&T to help Black and other underserved communities. The organization is using its $30,000 for the Technology Repair Pop-Up initiative designed to increase technology access for three groups of West Philly residents: current employees of small corridor businesses whose workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to in-home technology; students who need adequate technology for virtual learning; and job seekers searching for work during the pandemic.
Having adequate technology like laptops during the pandemic is critical for residents, Jones said. Without local options to repair technology, many West Philadelphians would have to travel across the city for repairs — which presents an access issue in itself.
“We were very thankful for AT&T because this is a very significant problem,” he said. “It’s an issue that’s affecting the entire neighborhood. We saw a gap in the makeup of our corridor where people go to fix their technology. One of the biggest places you can go is Best Buy to the other side of the city. For people without cars, you’re using three forms of public transportation to get there.”
Repairs at a first pop-up repair shop, held Oct. 3 and 4 in Fairmount Park outside of the Please Touch Museum, were completed by the NERDiT Foundation, out of Delaware-based repair company NERDiT NOW. Samuel Consultancy Group also offered organizational support. More pop-ups are planned to be held outdoors soon.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-