It’s Where All the Hippies Meet

So, the other night I was riding home from work on the 40 bus which runs from West Philly to Society Hill via South Street when I noticed a brand spankin’ new Starbucks at 9th. A Starbucks! That makes two! On South Street?!

Ai Chihuahua! South Street sure has changed. When I was a teenager, South Street was the destination of choice for me and my fellow suburbanite buddies. We all thought we were cool hanging out on what was then a disgusting and hopefully dangerous punk rock paradise. Bright green mohawks, black leather, tattoos, ripped fishnet clinging to pale punk rock chick legs… it was great. Stepping into Zipperhead, a one stop punk shop, was like stepping into a frightening and fascinating alternate universe. There was JC Dobbs, one of the great underground music venues of Philly, host to countless unknown punk and hardcore bands, and the bigger but no less cool Theatre of the Living Arts whose audiences knew how to mosh without beating the hell out of each other. There were great record stores and pizza and steak shops and everything was mom and pop — no chains.

Times, they have a-changed.

Was it Tower Records that first broke the mold? I can’t remember, but over the years South Street has changed dramatically from it’s grimy punk roots. Admittedly, the changes haven’t been all bad. Tower Records is, in fact, a cool music and video store. Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of restaurants in the Bella Vista and Queen Village areas such that, these days, anyone a bit peckish can easily find something tasty to nosh. And, ok, South Street is safer, I guess. But, it’s also slowly losing it’s identity.

The beginning of the end was definitely the Taco Bell. If I recall, there was an uproar amongst the locals that spread even to the Philadelphia Weekly and the City Paper when it was announced that a Taco Bell was to be installed at the West end of Philadelphia’s coolest drag. Surely, there must be some mistake. Don’t hold me to this, but I do seem to remember that there was even a group or two who tried to stop the opening. Anyway, the Taco Bell opened and Philly’s hippest hole in the wall lost that much of it’s mystique. Since then, it’s been a long slow walk down a road away from character towards, what, I don’t even know… corporatization? Homogeneity?

These days, South Street has expensive clothing stores, an upscale looking jewelry boutique, and, yes, two Starbucks. There’s even a Vespa dealership up near 11th. Though a ghost of it’s former self, Zipperhead fights on. Still, there are cool record shops. JC Dobbs is no more, but, thankfully, the TLA remains. I guess time marches on and takes me and South Street with it.

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