Workers, volunteers begin revitalization efforts for small businesses in West Philadelphia

"We need more support and community involvement," said owner Jessie Joseph of Brown Sugar Bakery and Restaurant.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It was once the crown jewel of West Philadelphia, but the 52nd Street corridor has seen its share of challenges in recent decades, which has been tough for minority business owners.

On Tuesday, they got a big boost that aims to bring the area back.

"We need more support and community involvement," said owner Jessie Joseph of Brown Sugar Bakery and Restaurant at 52nd and Locust streets.

The Caribbean restaurant has been there since 1999. In that time, Joseph has seen the area deteriorate.

He and other minority business owners have been hoping for a boost, and on Tuesday, they got it.

"I saw the decay, the lack of investment capital," said Della Clark, president, and CEO of The Enterprise Center. "We created a plan for 52nd Street."

The nonprofit partnered with Wells Fargo to help revitalize the area. Their efforts included a day-long cleanup that covered everything from sweeping sidewalks to repairing the facades of buildings.

James Townsend had a broken window at his storefront, and contractors made quick work of it.

"If the outside looks good, the inside must look good, so I think it's a great look," he said.
Tuesday's efforts were part of Wells Fargo's Hope USA program, bringing help and revitalization to cities across the country.

They chose to focus their efforts in Philadelphia on the 52nd Street Corridor to help return its once-thriving hub for minority businesses.

"Access to capital is an issue for a lot of small businesses," said Stephen Briggs, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo.

Briggs was raised in West Philadelphia and used to make cheesesteaks in a restaurant along the 52nd Street Corridor.

He and a crew of about 40 Wells Fargo volunteers spent Tuesday cleaning in the area. Construction workers did heavy lifting projects such as reinforcing awnings and painting.

The area will also be outfitted with Christmas lights to help draw in more shoppers for the holidays.

Clark estimates that Tuesday's work was an investment of about $1 million in one day. It's just the boost businesses in the area need after surviving the COVID-19 pandemic and the looting and rioting that happened in 2020.

"That was painful," said Congressman Dwight Evans (D-3rd Congressional District). "At that time, it looked rather bleak, but you look today, and you see a different sense of hope."

He adds the area will also get federal dollars from the Building Back Better Plan and the American Rescue Act.

Tuesday's work didn't just help minority business owners along the corridor. It also helped minority contractors.

"This work here is all being completed with 100% minority contractors," said Clark.

One of those workers was Aamir Bailey, who grew up in West Philadelphia. He was proud to be part of the revitalization effort.

"Oh, it's going to be amazing," he said. "Like brand new!"

Clark adds that the efforts to revitalize the area won't end with Tuesday's project. They're planning to work until the entire 52nd Street Corridor is improved-including food and music as part of the plan to draw in visitors.

"This is not the end," she said. "This is the beginning."
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