by Jennifer Katz
The 26th Annual Philadelphia International Art Expo was held in the 7100-7200 blocks of Germantown Avenue over the weekend, drawing dozens of vendors and thousands of visitors, but the 72-hour closure of the Avenue drew the ire of the local business community.
“For someone to come in and close our street without talking to us is ridiculous,” said P.J. McMenamin, owner of McMenamin’s Tavern.
The event, organized by October Gallery, an African American art gallery at 6353 Greene St. and tenants of the former North by Northwest, was advertised far and wide. The logistical deatails however details were not clear until a week before the event.
Business owners said the gallery’s owner Mercer Redcross approached them several months ago about holding the expo at 7165 Germantown Avenue and the Sedgwick Theater at 7137 Germantown Ave., but after the success of the Night Market in August, the plan changed.
FitLife owner Joe Zeleznock said there were “blatant lies” told to obtain the permits necessary for the event.
“In nine years running this business I’ve never seen anything like this,” Zeleznock, said. “We were all told an absolutely different story.”
Historically, the art expo had been held at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, and crowd estimates were said to be approximately 15,000. Last weekend’s event drew far less with crowd estimates closer to several thousand for the three-day event. The rain on Friday could have contributed, but the rest of the weekend was preferable fall weather.
On the Friday before the event was to begin, organizers sent out notice of a meeting to be held the next day.
“It was already planned before anyone knew about it,” said Amy Lydon, owner of One Salon at 7119 Germantown Ave. “I’m not unhappy about the expo, I feel uninformed.”
Zeleznock said he had arranged for his physical therapy patients to be allowed to drive down the Avenue to the parking lot adjacent to his gym. However, when patients arrived on Friday, they were turned away by private security patrolling the street blockades.
“We had to call and call and have police here to force them to let the patients in,” Zeleznock said.
Several business owners expressed their consternation that Redcross was able to obtain a street closure permit for three days without their knowledge.
“He lied that he had community support,” McMenamin said.
On Friday, Jaselle Jones, deputy director of special events from the city’s Managing Director’s Office met with concerned business owners at Earth Bread Brewery.
According to several who attended the meeting, Jones was apologetic, but refused to alter the permit or force organizers to change course. The local community wanted to have the street reopened at night when the expo was not taking place. Jones did not return calls by press time.
“This was one of the last nice weekends of the year,” said Elizabeth Moselle, director of commercial corridor revitalization for Mt. Airy USA.
Moselle said she was extremely disconcerted by the planning of the event.
“No one ever sat down and talked with the business community or us (MAUSA),” she said. “We would never, ever, ever have been supportive of shutting down the street for three days. We would have stopped it dead in its tracks.”
Moselle said she expects that many businesses in the two-block radius lost thousands of dollars in revenue.
“The needs and desires of one business person took precedence over the entire business community,” she said. “And at a time when people are struggling to keep their doors open.”