a tour of south street

August 27. 2000

scenes from South Street:

A mural on a building

A mural on a building


Mom at Starbucks

Mom at Starbucks

I love South Street, and I really missed it. I would call it the equivalent of the Village in NYC, except it's only a street. It houses tons of great shops of many varieites, including Pearl Art Supplies, which is a favorite destination for me. It also has a number of long standing and unique eateries, such as Lorenzo and Sons Pizzeria, where you can get an enormous slice of pizza (I would say the pies there are twice as big as any I've ever seen) and a large soda for 3 bucks. Take the Broad Street Line down to South and Lombard, walk about 7 blocks east, and you're there.

It was a Saturday night, so the whole place was packed and the police were out in full force. All of the street parking was closed, so I was glad Mom and I had decided to take the bus and subway.

I led Mom through all my favorite stores. A Garland of Letters, a new age bookstore with the most beautiful leather covered journals I've ever seen. There's designs burned into the covers: trees, Celtic knots, dragons. I've been drooling over them ever since I saw them last year. The atmosphere is very laid back and peaceful, and the staff seems to be composed mostly of aging hippies. The foyer before you enter the store has large glass display cases, with a life size fiberglass statue of a Lion in the middle of the walkway to the store. Around its neck are usually all manner of flowers and necklaces.

The Book Trader, on the corner of 4th and South (I think) is a huge, wonderful used book store that sells not only books, but also vinyl LPs and a small selection of CDs. It's two floors, and the stairs are narrow and creaky. The place is generally in a state of organized chaos, with chairs and benches strewn all over, convenient for sitting for hours on end, reading a book. Occasionally one of the many cats who live in the bookshop will come up and give you a friendly rub. You can hear all the noises of the street below through the windows above the bookcases.

Johnny Rocket's is across the street from the Book Trader, and is an all American restaurant, kind of like TGI Friday's but not nearly as annoying and with a much more limited menu. There are nickel jukeboxes at each table. The entire staff wears little paper hats and white aprons like a 1950s diner. And they are the only I know of that sells actual lemon Cokes, with the lemon syrup. Yum.

Then, of course, there's Pearl, friend to every artist and art student in Philadelphia. There's only one other art store I know of that can even start to compare, and that's Utrecht, on Broad Street. But I think Pearl is better. Three floors, great prices. First floor is paint, ink, pencils, that sort of thing. Second floor is craft supplies and kids' stuff. And the third floor is my heaven - paper, journals, and desks. They have the best selection of journals I have seen anywhere in my life, and a selection of papers that blows my mind.

The rest of the stores on South Street fall into a couple categories: punk stores, used record stores, erotic/condom stores (my favorite being the Condom Kingdom...I have got to take a picture of it), and the large corporate stores, like Tower Records and Starbucks. There's also the Theater of the Living Arts (TLA), which plays groups like Eve 6, Weezer and Maceo Parker.

The outsides of the buildings are just as beautiful as the insides. I couldn't take any pictures on his particular trip because it was too dark, but I will soon. Several buildings are covered completely in a mosaic of mirror, glass and ceramic, affixed to the buildings by brightly colored grout. They sometimes spell out things, like "South Street is a Garden" and "Art is the Center of the Real World". Farther down, entire building facades are covered with murals, and businesses often paint the sidewalks.

South Street is such a beautiful place, one of the best things about living in an otherwise dirty industrial city. It's one of the few things I'm going to miss whenever I leave Philadelphia. It's more than the stores, it's the atmosphere.

One Year Ago:
I start this thing.