Town By Town: Port Richmond is getting younger
There's one thing, available in abundance, that continues to draw people to Port Richmond from other city neighborhoods and the suburbs.
Even if you grew up, as I did, in a factory town where 75 percent of your peers were second-generation Polish, you might still need translations for just about everything on the menus here other than pierogi and kielbasa.
At the Staropolska restaurant of Krakus market on Richmond Street, they also have nalesniki (cheese blintzes) or placki (potato pancakes), which you can wash down with cold Zywiec beer.
"Everything here comes with a Lipitor prescription," joked Jim Skowronski, who has lived in Port Richmond for all but six months of his nearly 60 years. For 35 years, he has sold real estate at the firm his family founded in 1942.
Although retirees still have loud arguments over dominoes in Campbell Park, and there are kielbasa wars at Easter and Christmas as lines snake down the block to Swiacki Meats and Czerw's Polish Provisions, Port Richmond continues to change, Skowronski said.
One thing that hasn't changed is the argument over neighborhood boundaries, which community activist Patty-Pat Kozlowski likened to the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
"We still order 'square cheese' and like our pickles fished out of a barrel," she said.
Port Richmond is getting younger, more so since the real estate recovery began. Houses are less expensive than in tonier Fishtown or Northern Liberties.
"The neighborhood is affordable by comparison, even though it isn't as close to Center City," Skowronski said. "Here, a halfway decent three-bedroom starts at $75,000 and runs all the way up to $170,000, with the higher end probably having a driveway or garage."
Trulia, the real estate search engine, reports that the median price in Fishtown and Northern Liberties was $245,000 between March and May.
Chris Somers, owner of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties, also sees movement northward along the river.
"The sections of [zip code] 19125 that are not really Fishtown still get more attention, such as East Kensington west of Frankford Avenue and north of York Street [Old Richmond]," Somers said. "[Yet] Port Richmond as well as Bridesburg attract the younger buyer, too, and the price points are quite affordable."
Greg Gillespie, whose 200,000-volume Port Richmond Books occupies a century-old former movie theater and hardware store on Richmond Street, confirmed moves are underway.
"As Fishtown has gotten more expensive, a lot of people in their late 20s and early 30s, artist types, have been buying here," said Gillespie, who grew up in Narberth and noted that Port Richmond has the same small-town feel.
Unlike those neighborhoods, though, Port Richmond didn't see extensive building during the last decade's real estate boom.
"Investors did come here, but it took them a long time to sell them," Skowronski said.
The housing market in Port Richmond was as bad as elsewhere in 2011 and 2012, but a demographic shift was occurring at the same time.
"Three years ago, houses that were coming on the market were part of estates, or the sellers had the power of attorney for a parent or a grandparent," Skowronski said.
Then, many houses had a couple of generations living in them, and when the last parent died, the children listed with Skowronski so they could move on. Now, it's about 50-50, he said.
Economist Kevin Gillen, of the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government, said that for the last 20 years, the story of "what's the next hot neighborhood" has been one of outward expansion from Center City.
The economic downturn put the brakes on that trend, but the recovery is starting it up again, making Port Richmond, East Passyunk, and Point Breeze "the Next Hot 'Hoods."
Outward gentrification disproportionately occurs along major transit lines. Port Richmond is gentrifying faster "because it is abetted by the presence of the El," Gillen said.
Port Richmond is changing in any number of other ways, too, although civic and business groups strive to keep things moving forward.
"Each time we think this will be our last production, we decide to keep going," said Maude Doran, manager of the nonprofit Theater Company of Port Richmond, whose members put on a musical at the Lithuanian Music Hall each spring.
"We do it for the kids and for the older residents of the neighborhood, who come to our productions year after year even though they have to climb all those steps," she said.
Business owners organized as the Richmond Corridor Association take on projects such as purchasing security cameras to deter illegal dumping.
Working as Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic Association (ProPac), Kozlowski, Maryann Trombetta, current president Ken Paul, and other activists fight for the neighborhood, these days to keep Camden Iron & Metal from locating here.
Kozlowski said she does not want to "sugarcoat" Port Richmond's problems but to emphasize how proud its residents are.
"We still fly our flags, still have flower planters on our porches and windows," she said. "And the epitome of a good neighborhood is seeing an old lady, babushka on her head, housedress and slippers, sweeping the front of her curb."
Town By Town: Port Richmond, By the Numbers
Median income: $46,866
Homes for sale: 116
Settlements in the last three months: 47
Median days on market: 71
Median sale price (single-family homes): $102,000
Median sale price
(all homes): $102,000
Housing stock: Mostly rowhouses, median age 70 years
School district: Philadelphia
SOURCES: City-Data.com; Trulia.com; Movoto.com; Penn NIS
Town By Town: >Inquirer.com
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Port Richmond, go to www.inquirer.com/portrichmond
Contact Alan J. Heavens
at 215-854-2472, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @alheavens at Twitter.