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How Night Market Came to Lancaster Avenue

August 13, 2014 Category: PeopleUncategorized

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The revitalization of Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, which cuts through distressed neighborhoods like Mantua, Saunders Park and Belmont, has taken place gradually. The growth of University City has brought student activity and new construction to the southern end of the avenue. Meanwhile, tireless community development corporations such as the People’s Emergency Center have worked for decades to attract new businesses and activity up and down the corridor.

But changing the perceptions of Lancaster Avenue has been a process in of itself.

“People really didn’t see Lancaster Avenue as viable as they do now,” said James Wright, commercial corridor manager for PEC. It’s not that revitalization wasn’t happening, he noted, but people are able to see it now.

The Night Market event this Thursday, August 14 on Lancaster Avenue is further evidence that old perceptions may be changing. The quarterly event, organized by The Food Trust and community partners like PEC, brings together food trucks, vendors and outdoor seating to different neighborhoods throughout the city, often drawing tens of thousands of people.

Night Market launched in 2010 and has alternated between Center City neighborhoods like Old City and Chinatown to lesser-known neighborhoods such as West Oak Lane in Northwest Philadelphia. For Lancaster Avenue, which was denied in 2011 from hosting a Night Market, this week’s event represents nearly four years of progress as a community and as a corridor.

“We feel like that area of Lancaster Avenue has been going through a revitalization,” said Diana Iskolsky, project manager of Night Market, referring to Lancaster Avenue between 35th and 39th, where the Night Market will take place. “They [PEC] are really working hard to highlight the good things that are going on there.”

Mural and bust of Martin Luther King at intersection of Lancaster and Haverford avenues 

Years in the Making

So how did this revitalizing West Philadelphia commercial corridor become the location of one of the city’s most popular events?

From our Partners

The Food Trust looks at a number of factors when deciding where to locate a Night Market. Much of the decision, according to Iskolsky, comes down to whether or not the corridor is accessible, safe and commercially active. However, a community partner is essential regardless of the neighborhood.

“Its really important for us to have a strong community partner because the last thing we want is to come into the neighborhood and have the businesses and residents feel like these non-members of their neighborhoods are coming in and taking over,” Iskolsky said.

The Food Trust has partnered with either a community development corporation (CDC) or a business improvement district (BID) for all previous Night Market events.

“These are the people that really have their finger on the pulse of the community, that know their businesses, that know their residents,” Iskolsky said.

Lancaster Avenue

Mural at Lancaster Avenue and 40th Street

A community partner must also have resources. The Food Trust makes clear from the beginning of any partnership that Night Market requires a significant commitment of time and money. Community partners are expected to pay for one-third of the total costs and to devote staff time to planning and running the event. These costs can discourage organizations from pursuing a Night Market, while others see the benefits as outweighing the costs.

“When you can get 20,000 people to come to your neighborhood in one day, to kind of see what’s happening and what shops you have and to see the results of your revitalization efforts, that’s something that anyone would want,” Wright said.

PEC has wanted to bring Night Market to Lancaster Avenue since 2011, but was initially denied. One of the reasons is that working around the trolley line that runs the length of the avenue seemed like too much of a logistical difficulty. This was solved by working closely with SEPTA to divert the trolley line.

Wright said that the corridor was also in a different place in 2011.

The past few years have seen high-profile changes to the corridor and to the surrounding communities. PEC received a $750,000 grant last year from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation to implement a neighborhood plan which includes Lancaster Avenue. The plan involves bringing street improvements such as lighting and landscaping to the corridor.

There have also been 25 storefront facade improvements, according to Wright, and around the same number of new businesses in the corridor in the last five to six years.

“It’s everyone coming together and collaborating to see how they can help to move the avenue forward,” Wright said.

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Lancaster Avenue and Spring Garden

More Than a Party

Night Market is more than an outdoor party. As anecdotes and now hard analysis have proven, it is an economic force.

A report from the consulting firm Econsult, released in 2012 and updated for 2013, showed that a high proportion of Night Market attendees are likely to return to the site of the event. The report concluded that Night Market events have created $15.7 million in economic impact between 2010 and 2013, in addition to creating hundreds of jobs and generating tax revenue.

“Although Night Market is a one-time event, there’s this ripple effect where the community is being noticed,” Iskolsky said.

She added that The Food Trust would like to bring this benefit to communities outside of economic hubs like Center City and University City, but concerns about safety and accessibility limit where Night Market can be located.

Despite this, Iskolsky hopes that more neighborhoods fit the bill for a Night Market in the future.

“There are a lot of great neighborhoods that we would like to work with,” she said. “Some of these neighborhoods might have some issues now but might be on the cusp of revitalization and may be ready for a Night Market in the next year or two.”


Night Market Philadelphia

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