GERMANTOWN: It was hot on Friday, August 21 at the Fresh Grocer Grand Opening, but women dressed as giant fruit were on hand to pass out bottled water to the waiting crowd. If they could hold them, that is - the padded gloves that came with some of the costumes gave some of the women trouble.  Story below.   




Fresh Grocer Opens; First New E. Germantown Supermarket in Decades


First-time customers filled the produce section of the new Fresh Grocer at the Shoppes at LaSalle on Chew Avenue during the supermarket’s grand opening August 21. The full service market features a prepared food section and balcony dining area adjacent to the produce section. It is the first supermarket to open in the East Germantown area for decades.


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


On Friday, August 21, before the new Shoppes at LaSalle Fresh Grocer held its grand opening, scores of local residents waited outside the doors in mounting heat but seemed oddly content.


After all, it was quite a scene. Young women dressed as giant puffy grapes or bananas or apples passed out cold water to the waiting crowd as new store workers manned the doors. Inside, local politicians, city officials, media personalities and store executives soaked up the cool, pristine produce section at a ribbon cutting ceremony complete with the traditional remarks of victory before any maiden voyage.


All the while, picketers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) 1776 paced in the sun wearing body signs and passing out literature, which claimed unfair labor practices on the part of Fresh Grocer.


But there was something a bit more going on here than your typical store opening. It hit not only at the heart of East Germantown (the store is located on Chew Avenue between Wister Street and Church Lane), but at major issues of health and equity throughout much of inner city Philadelphia. And it all had to do with food access.


“We haven’t had a supermarket in this area for years,” said local resident Jackie Upshaw. “I’ve been here over 25 years and we’ve never had a supermarket.”


Like many in the crowd, Upshaw was excited to be within walking distance of a new, well equipped market for the first time in memory. Not to have to drive or take the bus for groceries would be a big improvement, she thought, not just for her but for the many seniors who lived in the area.


Inside the new market, the length of that East Germantown supermarket drought grew. Forty years was the estimate by store officials like Fresh Grocer Owner and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Burns.


Donald Hinkle-Brown, president of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), put that long dry spell in a larger perspective. Considering that low-income, inner city communities tend to have high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, he thought opening a store that would provide good quality fresh food in a neighborhood that hasn’t had it for so long could be nothing less than transformative. He hoped that greater access to healthy food might level out some of those health trends.


“This store sits at the center of an area that for miles in each direction did not have supermarkets,” he said. “This was the biggest food desert in Philadelphia and we’re happy to say that that’s cured.”


TRF is the primary lender for the Fresh Grocer project. It provided a $4.5 million loan along with a half-million dollar subsidy to the supermarket. In addition, the project received $3 million in a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, while Fresh Grocer was responsible for covering the rest of the overall $14.5 million undertaking, according to Burns.


The other businesses at the Shoppes at LaSalle so far include Dunkin Donuts, Game Stop, T Mobile, Beneficial Bank, Rite Aid Pharmacy and Americas Best Contact Lenses. But it was the possibility of providing a neighborhood grocery store to the community that sparked LaSalle University to give up the 8.2 acres (meant for an athletic field and a parking lot) in a long term lease to the Shoppes.


Bill DiVito, the executive assistant to the president of LaSalle, recalled the reaction when State Representative Dwight Evans (himself a LaSalle alum) suggested the development plan to the University.


“We were just crazy about the idea,” DiVito said.


And while Evans could not make it to the store opening, speakers at the ribbon cutting characterized him as the “spark plug” for the development. Yet they also noted how all the area elected officials played important roles.


State Senator LeAnna Washington (D, 4th) said the Shoppes at LaSalle were part of a plan to develop the entire Chew Avenue corridor. 


“We are on the move,” she said. “Chew Avenue is on the move.”


And State Representative John Myers (D, 201st), whose office was involved in the project from the beginning and played a central role in organizing the job drive that ultimately staffed the store with 210 mostly local employees, said the new Fresh Grocer, “is just the beginning.”


As for those union demonstrators outside, according to Wendell Young, president of the UFCW 1776, they were there out of concern for the new Fresh Grocer workers. They wanted to see them get a better deal.

“The project was built with a lot of taxpayer support,” Young said. “And I think that taxpayer support deserves a return on your investment.”


To Young that meant jobs with good wages and benefits, something he thought Fresh Grocer was not offering.


“The whole idea of these programs is to lift the community and you don’t get a whole lot of lift with low wage jobs and no benefits,” he said.


According to Sheila Lajoie, Human Resource director for the Fresh Grocer, most of the jobs in the store will indeed be relatively low wage, starting at $7.25 per hour for clerks and cashiers. They will be relatively low hours too, typically 30 or less, she said. But since many of these positions are filled by young workers who are working while attending school, a flexible part time schedule is important, she said in an earlier interview. 


Moving up the ladder, managers at the store make between $8 and $12 per hour and meat cutters make $13 to $19 per hour, she said. But as far as union representation goes, Burns said, his workers were indeed unionized through the Teamsters Local 929, so he wasn’t sure just why the UFCW was making such a show.


In the end, labor questions and union relations did not seem like pressing concerns for many shoppers. They spilled through the door moments after the ribbon was cut, filling the produce section almost immediately. And within a half hour the checkout lines were buzzing with new workers and new shoppers in East Germantown’s first comprehensive grocery store in decades.


New Principal, New Look, New Spirit at Germantown High


Several dozen volunteers busied themselves on Saturday morning, August 22, in cleaning, painting, and otherwise giving a new, more welcoming look to the halls and classrooms of Germantown High School. 


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


About 40 of what incoming Germantown High School Principal Margaret Mullin calls “stakeholders” chipped in for the school Cleanup Day on Saturday August 22, and the meaning of the work went a bit beyond the jobs at hand.

From parents to students, from alumni to teachers and administrators, from representatives of local politicians to clergy or nearby community members, these stakeholders worked to paint the once drab school entryway hoping the new brightness would send a clear message to students coming through the doors for their first classes September 8.

That message: “Welcome to Bear Country.”


“I felt that the students left here and left this building one way, and as a new principal here I did not want them to come back in with it the same way,” said a slightly paint- stained Mullin in the newly brightened foyer.  


And there seems good reason for that view. Germantown High has averaged roughly a principal per year for most of the last decade, enrollment has declined almost every year, test scores have been persistently low, and the graduation rate for incoming freshmen at the school is only slightly more than 50 percent. On top of that, the school has made it onto the state’s Persistently Dangerous Schools List for the last several years.


With all of that, some might wonder just what Mullin and her stakeholders are welcoming the students to. In a way, Mullin faced that exact kind of skepticism when she expressed interest in the school’s top job over the last academic year.

“Some people were saying, ‘why would you want it? It’s in bad shape right now,’” she said. “But I love challenges.”


It’s a good thing, because Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s new vision for the School District of Philadelphia includes closing 35 of the lowest-performing schools over the next few years and offering them up to charter schools that want to expand, or to private school management firms. It is not clear yet if Germantown is a candidate for this but so far its numbers likely haven’t helped. 


Mullin knew all of this and yet she came to Germantown. She left her job for the last ten years as principal of George Washington Elementary School. Before that she was principal at McCall Elementary School. She has also worked as assistant principal for George Pepper Middle School, was principal for two summers at the Horace Furness High School summer program, and taught at Audenried High School. But beyond her 30 years of experience in education, if you ask the people she has been working with since coming to Germantown July 1, there is a reason to share in her optimism.

“This is my eighth year here, and I have never seen anything like this before,” said Beverly Barksdale, a Germantown assistant principal. “She is a dynamic woman. Not only is she talking, but she is doing.”


Mullin would be the first to say that she is not alone. In fact, local support abounds for the high school. With groups like the Germantown High School Alumni Association and the Germantown Clergy Initiative doing things like funding a parent’s resource room at the school over the last several years, and helping to raise funds for the school’s new library it’s easy to see the potential in Bear Country.


Then there are the alumni themselves. Numbered among them are Eighth District City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, State Representative John Myers (whose office has been central in organizing recent events at the high school, including the clean-up), and State Senator Dwight Evans. All have climbed on board to offer Mullin support in her efforts to turn Germantown High School around, and she is happy to take it. Leading a school, she said, is also about allowing others to take up their own mantle of change.


“You have to depend on other people to come through for you,” she said.


From these stakeholders, who also include teachers, administrators and school staff, comes the Germantown High School “team.” And a major team focus over the next few months will be to build a school culture that students love to be in. There will be an expanded orientation program for incoming freshmen, expanded mentoring programs teaming upperclassmen with first-year students, Germantown High School banners on all the streets surrounding the school, new uniforms for everyone, and over the next few months, a widespread effort to use community buy-in to help renew the school such as was done on Clean Up Day.


“The goal is to see the children succeed, but it starts with the environment,” Mullin said. “We have to show the children that we care about their environment.”


Over the last year, retired principals Ozzie Wright and Dr. Jose Lebron agreed to be co-principals of Germantown High temporarily so the district would have time to find a new principal who was committed to the school for the long haul. Wright and Lebron reported solid progress improving the school environment and reducing violence by focusing on cleaning house and removing students “who are recalcitrant and students who were interested in attending school only to be disruptive,” Lebron said in an earlier interview.


The school district’s new, more aggressive expulsion policy, which allows school principals to remove students prior to a School Reform Commission decision on expulsion, would tend to support this approach to maintaining an academically-focused school environment. Though Mullin did not voice any opinion on this policy, she, like Lebron and Wright, expressed a strong desire to get Germantown off the Persistently Dangerous Schools List and on to much better things.


To do that she sees a critical part of her role as being part of a long-term solution for the school instead of another in a series of short term leaders.


“I need to see Germantown on top of the heap,” she said. “It’s not gonna be fast. I don’t do miracles. It takes time to build the school.”


Mullin seemed to view two things as critical to the Germantown High turnaround: real commitment and action. To this end, she has a kind of motto for what it takes to live in Bear Country.


“Don’t talk about it. Be about it,” she said.



Dogfighting Arrests in Germantown


By KARL BIEMULLER

Editor


On Sunday, August 23, a Humane Law Enforcement agent from the Philadelphia branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) investigated a report of a dog-fighting operation near the intersection of Bringhurst and Wakefield streets in Germantown.


Investigators reported finding two dead dogs and five other injured dogs tied up nearby.


According to PSPCA spokesperson Gail Luciani, three arrests were made; court documents from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office show two arrests, of James Hargrove, 42, and Tyrik Carr, 18, who faced preliminary arraignment on August 24 on charges of cruelty to animals and criminal conspiracy.


The investigation was in response to a tip, said Luciani. Such tips are common, she said. “In terms of statistics, in 2008 we got 237 and so far this year we’ve gotten approximately 400.”


To file reports of dog-fighting and other animal cruelty, contact the Pennsylvania SPCA at 1-866-601-SPCA or cruelty@pspca.org. Reports can be made anonymously.



Second Structure Set for Demolition on Collom St.



By late last week the demolition process for 21 East Collom Street (top left) was well along. Next to be demolished: the roofless house at 41 East Collom (bottom left).


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


The city’s emergency demolition of the long blighted industrial building at 21 East Collom Street was nearly complete by Friday, August 21. The work started about two weeks ago after a section of the building collapsed into the rear alleyway.

The next building to come down on the unit block of Collom, where upwards of ten obviously blighted and abandoned structures adorn the neighborhood, is the roofless row home at 41 East Collom.


Neighbors claim the home has sat in its current condition for close to four years. It was purchased two years ago by California investors seeking to remodel abandoned Philadelphia buildings for profit. That company only completed one of seven homes before falling on hard times, according to an earlier interview with its owner.


Chief of Emergency Services for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, Scott Mulderig, said the demolition to 41 East Collom should be on the fast track.


“They’re supposed to start next week,” he said. “Hopefully, this one will run as smoothly as the last one did.” 


Ramadan Observance Begins

On Saturday, August 15, Muslims from Germantown started to observe the holy month of Ramadan with Muslims from all around the world. The timing of Ramadan varies according to the first sighting of the new moon.


Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and occurs once a year. It lasts for 29 to 30 days. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it marks the time more than 1,400 years ago when the first words of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.


The fast begins at sunrise and ends at sunset each day. Muslims have to abstain from food, drink and sexual relations for the duration of this time. The reason is to purify their body and soul, and to improve their devotion to God. The absence of food and drink and other pleasures provides an opportunity to concentrate on prayer, remembrance and worship. Not having the luxuries of life makes it possible for the rich to sympathize with the poor and experience their hunger. 


Ramadan ends with the first sighting of the new moon or the completion of 30 days. It is brought to a close with a celebration to signify the end of the fast, known as the Eid.


During this month, Germantown Masjid, 4944-46 Germantown Avenue, will offer an evening prayer each night. Both men and women can attend. At sunset the community comes together to eat and experience the delight of breaking the fast.

The Masjid is open all day for the five daily prayers. There are informative classes during the month to educate anyone who desires to learn about the rules and regulations of fasting, or any other aspect of the religion. For questions, contact the Germantown Masjid at 215-848-2615 or -2614, e-mail contact@germantownmasjid.net



SRC: New Media Must Replace Current Leaders


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


After two earlier vote delays from the School Reform Commission (SRC), the embattled New Media Technology Charter School got an answer about its future: keep teaching, but do it under new leadership.


The SRC was scheduled to make its decision on the renewal of New Media’s charter late in the spring but it twice postponed that vote to give school district staff more time to investigate questions regarding the school.  It finally handed down its decision on August 19. 

“In the past… some questions were raised during our initial audit,” said Benjamin Rayer, associate superintendent for the Office of Charter, Partnership and New Schools. The School District of Philadelphia undertook an in-depth forensic audit of the school’s records, which in turn has “led to the conclusion that staff is recommending a renewal of this charter with a large number of conditions,” Rayer said.


Numbers One and Two of those conditions are that the school’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ina Walker, must step down or be terminated by September 1, and that the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Hugh Clark, must also resign. In addition the SRC resolution requires the school to find a replacement for Walker by September 1. School begins in Philadelphia on September 8.


The third and fourth conditions call for the complete replacement of the existing board by October 1. Still more of the 25 conditions spell out all the ways the school must sever ties with Clark, Walker and all of their ventures, including the private school that Clark founded, the Germantown-based Lotus Academy.


Concerns over the school leadership came about following allegations of conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement involving Lotus Academy and two Mt. Airy businesses operated by Clark and Walker, the Black Olive restaurant and health food store.


The resolution also requires the school to maintain building code regulations at its middle school and high school buildings, located in Germantown and Cedarbrook, provide meals to eligible students, supply adequate numbers of text books and make timely contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Retirement System for its teachers – all things the school is already bound to by law.


The SRC renewed New Media’s charter until August of 2014 for grades 9 through 12, but because of school district policy changes, and the fact that New Media was never approved by SRC resolution to serve grades 5-8, it requires the school to apply at the end of the next school year if it wants to continue its middle school.


Walker was present at the SRC vote but declined to comment. Efforts to reach Clark for comment were not successful.


When Rayer was asked to provide the SRC with clarity about its options should New Media decide to oppose any of the requirements, Rayer said that in that case, “you could revoke this charter at any time.”



Youngblood Has Temporary Office

State Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D., 198th), announced on Wednesday, August 19, that her temporary constituent service office located at 5520 Wayne Avenue is now open.

Youngblood said the phone number for her constituent service office will remain the same, 215-849-6426. She stressed that it may take until Friday for the phone lines in the temporary office to be connected, but constituents who need assistance can visit the office to talk to her staff.


In July, Youngblood was forced to close her former constituent service office located at 5736 Greene Street due to water damage.


Youngblood said she continues to look for a permanent new office and will notify the public when one has been found.



Start Smart Back to School at Janes

Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, 47 East Haines Street, will present its fourth annual “Start Smart Back 2 School” event on Saturday, September 12, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Janes Church, 47 East Haines Street. This year’s event features books bags filled with school supplies, entertainment by Philadelphia youth poets and Janes anointed Hands, a career roundtable for students in grades 7-12, arts and crafts projects for students in grades K-6, lunch and refreshments, workshops for parents, and PHEAA workshops for college applicants. This is a free community event.


Janes Memorial United Methodist Church has been part of the Germantown community for over 135 years. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Andrew Foster III, Janes invites guests to join in worship at  the church every Sunday at 10:45 a.m. For more information call 215-844-9564.


Mt. Zion 2009 Fall Revival

The 2009 Fall Revival of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Germantown kicks off with its “Don’t Come Alone – Bring Your Family And Friends“ morning worship service  Sunday, September 13 at 10:30 a.m. This year’s theme is “It’s Time To Pray and Praise.” Speakers include: Sept. 13, 10:30 a.m., Rev. Dr. Robert A. Emberger, Whosoever Gospel Mission; 4  p.m.,  Rev. James Edlow, Faith Memorial Baptist Church; Sept. 14, 7 p.m.   Rev. Julius Renwick, Mount Ephraim Baptist Church; Sept. 15, 7 p.m.,  Rev. G. Edward Griffith, Gibson Temple Baptist Church; Sept. 16, 7 p.m.   Rev. James A. McGruder, Faith Immanuel Baptist Church; Sept.17, 7 p.m.,  Rev. Dr. James S. Allen, Vine Memorial Baptist Church. For more information, call 215-844-7614.


Vote May Avert ‘Doomsday Budget’ Cuts


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


With luck Philadelphia could get a final answer on its budget related requests from the Pennsylvania state legislature as early as this week. With still more luck that answer  might allow the city to avoid what has been dubbed the “Doomsday Budget,” which would involve massive layoffs and the closing of all libraries, rec centers, park facilities and more.


“Now it’s been approved by the House and there’s a version that’s been approved by the Senate [Finance Committee], so we’re hoping that it goes through,” said Rob Dubow, city finance director, on Tuesday August 25.


The full Senate could vote on House Bill 1828 as early as Wednesday, August 26. The bill would allow the Philadelphia to defer payments to the city Pension Fund and raise the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, two options critical to its proposed non-doomsday budget.

But since the Finance Committee amended the bill, it will have to come back to the full House for a final vote after the Senate makes its vote. 


Barbara Fellencer, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, thought it likely that the House would approve the Senate’s amendments. The changes simply open up pension deferments and sales tax hikes to smaller cities, she said. 


In Philadelphia budgetary terms, though, the timing is cutting things fine. Philadelphia is required by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), the state agency that oversees the Philadelphia budget, to submit an alternate budget by August 30, one that does not rely on state action. Hence the “Doomsday” scenario.


Yet it is entirely possible that the state legislature won’t be done with its work by then. So then two budgets could be at play, the Doomsday Budget and the one city officials hope will eventually take hold.


In addition, there is the problem of lost revenue do to the time it has taken the state to get as far as it has. Since Philadelphia has not been able to raise its sales tax to the requested 8 percent, PICA Executive Director Uri Monson estimated the city has already lost about $20 million in revenue for this fiscal year. Even with speedy state approvals from here on in, the city will need to do something to get that money back, Monson said. And if previous city communications are any indication, that will likely mean more cuts.


‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

The first female president in Temple University’s 125-year history will be a guest at a one-of-a-kind event that’s helping revitalize the Mt. Airy community.


Supporters of Northwest Philadelphia are invited to enjoy an evening with Dr. Ann Weaver Hart, president of Temple University, at Mt. Airy USA’s annual signature fundraiser Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.


Dr. Hart will be amongst the 35 Philadelphia-area celebrities who will host tables for a festive evening of food, drink and conversation with some of the region’s most intriguing personalities. Dinner will feature a decidedly Spanish flair and the chance for attendees to choose at which celebrity’s table they’d like to dine. The event is scheduled for Saturday, October 24, at the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen Street. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception, silent and live auction, and a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bar. Tickets are available at www.guesswhoscomingtodinner.org or by calling 215-844-6021.


Mt. Airy, USA’s mission is to preserve, empower and advance a vibrant and diverse Mt. Airy by stimulating development responsive to the community. It seeks to improve the quality of life for Mt. Airy residents through three program areas: Real Estate Development, Commercial Corridor Revitalization, and Neighborhood Programs. For more information, call 215-844-6021 or visit www.mtairyusa.org.


Trails to Devil’s Pool Closed for Repair

The Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) will begin work on trails leading to Devil’s Pool in Wissahickon Valley Park in August as part of their ongoing Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI). The project includes the lower trail between Valley Green Road and Livezey Lane, crossing at Devil’s Pool, along with a section of the upper trail from Livezey Lane to the switchback near Cresheim Creek. The lower trail is a pedestrian-only trail that is not open to equestrians or bikers, while the upper trail is open to all park users.


These trails will be closed from late August until mid-winter while trail work is being conducted to ensure the safety of park users.


“In recent years, FOW has seen a dramatic increase in visitor use of this beautiful natural area,” says FOW’s Executive Director Maura McCarthy. “The planned trail work will help to minimize the impact of this use and reclaim damaged habitat.”

 STI is a three-phased, multi-year project to make the 50 miles of National Recreation Trails in the Wissahickon a physically and socially sustainable system that works for all park users. It is a project of the Friends of the Wissahickon in partnership with the Fairmount Park Commission with support from IMBA. 



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From the Chronicle • Germantown News Stories

August 27, 2009

Fresh Grocer Opens; First New E. Germantown Supermarket in Decades



New Principal, New Look, New Spirit at Germantown High School


Dogfighting Arrests in Germantown


Second Structure Set for Demolition on Collom Street


SRC: New Media Must Replace Current Leaders


Youngblood Has Temporary Office


Start Smart Back to School at Janes


Mt. Zion 2009 Fall Revival


Vote May Avert ‘Doomsday Budget’ Cuts


‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’


Trails to Devil’s Pool Closed for Repair