Longtime residents of Germantown have seen major changes in the business district of Germantown and Chelten Avenues. Once the shopping destination of the city, the intersection has become a place where litter lines the street and metal grates cover the fronts of buildings.

Now they’re hoping for yet another change: Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Germantown United are working with a newly re-established Germantown Special Services District to come together to clean up the busy corridor.

This effort will build upon a series of tangible improvements planned by the Philadelphia Planning Commission:

  • Planting trees on West Chelten Avenue and the two adjacent blocks of Greene Street.
  • Upgrading the Coleman Library entrance on Chelten Avenue.
  • The first phase of improvements to Chelten and Greene Plaza.
The business corridor of Germantown Avenue and Chelten Avenue is inundated with litter because of a lack of trashcans on the street.

The business corridor of Germantown Avenue and Chelten Avenue is inundated with litter because of a lack of trashcans on the street.

Like all special services district, the Germantown organization’s budget will be funded by an extra layer of real estate taxes on commercial properties. In this case, it’s about 12 percent. Whatever the cost, most residents of Germantown are eagerly waiting for the clean up to get started.

Kim Sun, the owner of Sun’s Discount Center on Chelten Avenue, said he and his wife start every day by first opening their store and then cleaning up the trash that has collected on the sidewalk overnight. Son said he knows that if the neighborhood ever hopes get the streets clean, it has to be an entire neighborhood effort.

“If we are going to clean up, it has to be all together,” Sun said. “Sometimes I take one empty box outside for garbage but it doesn’t help. We clean two or three times a day. I’ve seen in Mount Airy, they have trashcans on the corner but on Chelten Avenue, we do not have a trash can.”

Kenneth Simmons, the assistant manager at the Family Dollar on Chelten Avenue, said he had not heard of the beautification plan, but believes it’s a good start.

“We need to start somewhere, especially if we don’t have anything around where people can at least pitch in and help out. It will be good for Germantown Avenue. I would really like to see all of that happen,” Simmons said.

Kim Sun opens his store early in the morning only to find his sidewalk full of litter.

Kim Sun opens his store early in the morning only to find his sidewalk full of litter.

Business owners all along the corridor say that the litter and the unwelcoming atmosphere have caused a decline in business. Many have taken the initiative themselves to invest in cleaning up and making the streets more welcoming.

Joe Martin owns Acclaim Academy, a child care center on Germantown Avenue. When he first opened three years ago, he painted his outside grates and awnings burgundy. Within the next few weeks, he said, business owners on both sides of Martin’s building also painted.

“Sometimes it just takes someone to start it. A lot of the time, it’s just taking the time or trying to find out who can do it,” Martin said. “If someone is available who can do all the research on something and creates the resources, then other people will take advantage of it.”

The metal grates that have been installed on almost every storefront along Germantown and Chelten Avenues are another eyesore that Germantown United hopes to change.

Andy Trackman, president of Germanton United, said the organization has been talking with the Mural Arts Program to get the grates painted.

“We wanted to see if there was any interest in helping us out, and there was,” he said. “Mural Arts has a pretty long process that you have to go through, which is understandable, so we’re still in conversation with them. But it is definitely something that we would like to see happen.”

Some businesses take initiative in the beautification effort and painted their storefront grates to make the corridor more inviting to shoppers.

Some businesses take initiative in the beautification effort and painted their storefront grates to make the corridor more inviting to shoppers.

Some residents have already seen some improvements to the area since business owners have taken some initiative to clean up the streets. Warren Haynes operates the Fastbreak Food Truck at Greene Street and Chelten Avenue. He’s seen a few people out cleaning up the streets already. And he says that’s good for business.

“They’ve been doing a lot better. I’ve seen a couple guys come out with brown bags and the store owners have been coming out cleaning up a little themselves,” Haynes said.

Philadelphia Vision Center employee Johanna Butler, who said she’s seen the district looking far worse in the past, has seen someone in the neighborhood out cleaning in the mornings.

“I don’t see it as being as bad as it was at one point in time,” Butler said. “Things were terrible at one point but they have gotten better. It’s nice to see people just trying to do better for the community.”

The Germantown Special Services District hopes that the beginning parts of the beautification plan will start in the spring of 2013. Once the primary areas of the business corridor have been cleaned up planning for similar efforts across the neighborhood will begin.

Published in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods