They vow to help 52nd & Market

Lewis Williams (left), state Rep. Thomas Blackwell and top cop Sylvester Johnson at 52nd and Market.

A week after the Daily News highlighted the violent culture that has threatened to consume 52nd and Market, a trio of officials stood tall yesterday and promised to fight back.

State Rep. Thomas Blackwell, Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson and Lewis J. Williams, head of the 52nd Street Business Association's crime-and-safety committee, gathered in the shadow of the Market-Frankford El on Market Street for an impromptu news conference and quickly drew a crowd of curious passers-by.

"We came here today because of the front-page story from last week," Blackwell said, as a train thundered overhead, shortly after 11 a.m. "It painted a very negative picture, but also a true picture of what's going on.

"We want to see this area be as vibrant as it used to be. We want people to be able to walk this corridor in a safe manner. And we're going to do it."

Once a thriving thoroughfare, business owners and residents have complained that the "Main Street" of West Philly has suffered greatly in recent years.

Many attribute the decline to three main factors: drug dealers who openly solicit business on the streets during the day, violent punks who tumble out of dive bars at night and begin blasting away and SEPTA's ongoing El reconstruction project, which has forced many businesses to close.

The numbers have backed up the complaints. Police said that since Dec. 24, there have been 11 shootings, including three homicides, and more than a dozen narcotics arrests in and around 52nd and Market streets.

Cops and residents also have complained about the Corral, a bar on Market near 52nd that has seen a homicide, a handful of shootings and more than a dozen narcotics arrests in the past few months.

Johnson vowed to work with officials from the Department of Licenses and Inspections to shutter the Corral.

"It seems to be a catalyst, so we'll try to stop it," he said. "Anything we can do to make it safer out here, we will do. If it's necessary to bring a foot beat out here, we'll do it."

Blackwell and Williams said they hoped to establish town-watch groups that could work with police to rid the area of drifters and drug dealers.

"We seem to draw a certain amount of people that we don't want and who aren't from this community," Williams said. "If we can make this a safe and hospitable area, people will come back in droves."

The pols' pledges instilled hope in some business owners who stopped by to listen.

"It means a lot for them to come out here," said Stacey Coleman, 45. "There weren't any entourages with them, so it wasn't a political thing. They were serious."

Coleman and his wife, Mary, recently moved their hair salon, Endless Options, to 52nd and Arch streets.

Johnson said he will personally return to monitor the progress. "This is a great community," he said. "These people deserve a good quality of life." *