A Corner Store Museum in Philadelphia? Why Not!

The corner store.

Ahem. Let me start again.

The amazing, agile, ubiquitous corner store! We’re been thinking about them for a couple of posts now: It’s 1901: Time to go Grocery Shopping in North Philadelphia and Grocery Chains and the Origins of Philadelphia’s Food Deserts. Regular readers know that, once upon a time, there were thousands of them in Philadelphia: grocery stores, butcher shops, barber shops, pharmacies, variety stores, luncheonettes, book stores, record shops and more. The corner store was the glue that held the city’s neighborhoods together.

In her thesis “Philadelphia Corner Stores: Their History, Use, and Preservation” Lynn Miriam Alpert pointed out how this vernacular urban genre stands “in stark contrast to the concentrations of commercial structures in shopping districts,” and yet is still part and parcel of the city’s rowhouse neighborhoods. Alpert relays that the corner store played an essential role in the employment of women. (In San Francisco at the start of the 20th century, “ninety percent of female grocers lived at the same address as their stores, allowing them to remain at home while also earning a living.”) And we learn that despite the fact that “Philadelphia’s historic row house neighborhoods have undergone intense changes since their creation,” corner stores still play “an active role in the vibrance and vitality” of their communities. They served as economic drivers.

Indeed. The Bodega Association of the United States confirms that in 2002 alone, the small grocery stores in New York City “generated annual sales of over $7 billion and provided over 65,000 jobs with an annual payroll estimated at $750 million.” And when undocumented workers are factored in, “the actual number of jobs and the aggregate payroll may be closer to twice the official figures.”

When we consider the story of immigration in urban America, the corner store was and remains an essential and compelling feature in the community. According to Fernando Mateo, the neighborhood store faced the onslaught of competition brought on by the supermarket, survived, and to this day serves as a gathering spot, a place “where people get together and go over their daily news, and…become part of their communities.”

The story of the modest corner store in Philadelphia is part and parcel of a robust, inclusive narrative. Yet, with all of our collective interest in place, in food, in identity and in the life and character of our communities, there is no corner store museum.

Maybe it’s time to change that.

I mean, what better way would there be to connect community and memory?

1). Southwest Corner or Gratz and York Streets, Ed Bonnem Prime Meats, May 4, 1905

2). Southwest Corner 7th and Porter Streets, April 6, 1960

3.) Northwest Corner, 17th Street and Washington Avenue, February 7, 1917

4.) Southwest Corner, 25th and Kimball Streets, May 3, 1916

5.) Northeast Corner, Cumberland and Marshall Streets, La Vencedora Groceries, November 9, 1960

6.)  Trenton and Susquehanna Avenues, May 11, 1900

7.) Kimball Street and Grays Ferry Avenue, July 30, 1924

8.) 47th Street and Woodland Avenue, Luncheonette, March 28, 1951

9.) 43rd and Pine Streets. The Great Atlantic Pacific Tea Company, August 21, 1924

10.) Southeast Corner of Spruce and Camac Streets, Camac Food Market, March 2, 1959

11.) Northwest Corner, 8th and Moore Streets. Milano’s Groceries, November 25, 1949

12.) Southeast Corner of Thompson and Lefevre Streets, July 14, 1930

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