Local business owners react to Washington Avenue revamp project

Washington Avenue
Wally Giordano has been part of Giordano’s Produce on the corner of Ninth Street and Washington Avenue since 1965.
A.D. Amorosi

Proposed by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, the Washington Avenue Repaving and Improvement Project — a mixed lane configuration for Washington Avenue between 4th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue — is scheduled to begin in August.

And while the Washington Avenue plans have been well-received by most cyclists, some South Philadelphia business owners in the Italian Market are apprehensive.

Some are concerned the proposed plan will leave less room for load-ins, especially for outdoor businesses, adding that the construction will be time consuming, restrict traffic, and as a result, make the Italian Market as a whole much less accessible.

Wally Giordano has been part of 101-year-old Giordano’s Produce on the corner of Ninth Street and Washington Avenue since 1965. He says the current five-lane set up has been successful for decades and sees no reason to change it now.

“That’s when my uncle, Gaetao “Tommy” Giordano, who was in City Council from 1955 to 1965, proposed the additional lanes and widening of Washington Avenue, because the traffic was too horrendous then,” stresses the produce market’s current owner. “My uncle knew we needed more lanes to adequately do business. Now, there will only be one lane going east, one lane going west – as well as the bike-only lanes – which makes everything smaller, with traffic surely backed up from Columbus Boulevard all the way to Grays Ferry at its busiest.”

However, other business owners believe the lane changes are needed to create a secure environment for bicyclists and pedestrians. “I’ve always been in favor of anything that makes crossing Washington Avenue safer,” says Joe Ankenbrand, co-owner of Molly’s Books & Records on Ninth Street. “I’ve watched and helped elderly people try to rush across before the light changes. I don’t know if the timing of lights will improve with these changes, as well as “no turn on red” restrictions, which are also needed. We just expect more traffic down Ninth Street (during construction) which, yes, is already a mess. But I don’t think it will change anything business-wise.”

According to Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, restriping is planned to begin this month, and the corridor should be fully repaved within the next two weeks. Additional improvements will be implemented in the Fall.

Discussions about the road’s layout have been ongoing for years and hotly debated by residents and business owners.

Washington Avenue is part of the city’s high-injury network, the 12% of Philadelphia roads on which 80% of crashes occur. From 2016 to 2020, there were 169 collisions, including three fatal crashes, according to city data.

Giordano says he has made it clear to the city that any changes in traffic patterns and lane size will be bad for the Italian Market. “Every time we have gone to a meeting and stated our case, our concerns have been ignored. One lane going one way, and one lane going the other isn’t enough.”

Giordano sees no positives in the proposed changes to the Italian Market. “This Market is barely hanging on as it is,” he says.

“Giordano’s has switched, a lot, to deliveries as a way to survive,” says Giordano of navigating business during the pandemic. “But something like this? This could be one of the final nails in our coffin… We’re trying to come up with new ways to adapt, but, if the city puts up bike lanes on each side, and make this all smaller, this could be the end for all of us in the Italian Market. The city used to be our friends. Now, they’re going against us in a way that seems as if they don’t want us to be here.”

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