When Andrew Dougherty heard about a new venture at 1713 McKean a few months ago from his cousin, the address immediately sounded familiar. After a little digging, it all started coming back to Dougherty: The two-story brick rowhome was the site of his grandfather’s German-American deli during the Great Depression.
But for more than 40 years, the corner store that handed out grandpa Edward Dougherty’s famous German potato salad has been abandoned, a sign of blight at the corner of McKean and a dead-ended cobblestone section of Colorado Street. Yet soon, the 1,800-square-foot building will be feeding the neighborhood again, when the much-anticipated Rowhouse Grocery opens at the site in August.
For many Point Breeze residents, it will be a welcomed, much-needed addition to the neighborhood, which is notoriously starved for supermarkets and has watched multiple proposals for grocery stores come and go in recent years.
“It’s been a food desert, so everyone’s looking forward to [Rowhouse Grocery] with open arms,” says Anna Maria Vona of Carmana Designs, who owns 1713 McKean, the adjacent Abbott’s Alderney Dairy building, and a building in the rear of Colorado Court together with her husband, Carmen.
In recent years, Point Breeze has experienced tremendous change, with developers building new homes or rehabbing old properties block by block. Yet in an area that has seen revitalization and rapid gentrification, there is still a shortage of places for locals to buy fresh produce.
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the area surrounding 1713 McKean has low to no walkable access to healthy food. No access, for the purposes of the study, is defined as an area without even a corner store within two blocks.
“We live equidistant from two different ACME supermarkets, but they’re each about a mile away,” says Allison Hauptman, a Rowhouse Grocery partner who has lived on the 1700 block of McKean for a decade.
“Not all of our neighbors have cars,” she continued. “I’ve had neighbors ask me if I’m going and can pick stuff up. I’d really like them to be able to go down the street and get whatever they want.”
Hauptman and her boyfriend Travis Weissman, another Rowhouse Grocery partner, had their eyes on the vacant corner store a few doors down from their apartment for years. “I’ve always wondered what’s going on with that building, who owns it,” Hauptman recalls. “The building turned out to be available and [the owners] were so excited about the idea of having a market place to get something to eat in the neighborhood. We found a place before we even had a business plan.”
Until recent rehabilitation work replaced part of the masonry and evicted countless pigeons, the building appeared to be a typical derelict rowhouse. It showed no signs of having been a deli, although the restored Abbott's Alderney Dairy building next door provides a clue. According to oral histories from local residents the part-commercial, part-residential building has been used as a fish store, candy shop, children’s clothing store and, once, the storefront creamery for the adjacent dairy.
This culinary heritage meshes well with the intentions of Rowhouse Grocery’s four partners, which are to provide affordable fresh produce, meat, pantry staples, and yes, dairy products, to the largely Indonesian, Mexican and African American neighborhood that’s ripe with bodegas, but lacking in grocery stores.
Rowhouse Grocery does not aim to be a destination eatery, but rather satisfy the neighborhood residents’ appetite for produce and pantry staples. While there are plenty of bodegas that offer canned goods, “the most important thing to us is that we are carrying products that our neighbors want, and that are affordable to our neighbors,” says Hauptman.
Rachel Klein, a resident of the neighborhood and owner of a nearby vegan eatery, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, says Rowhouse Grocery will be a welcome addition to the area. “I think the neighborhood certainly needs it and can sustain it, and am excited for those who don’t travel far to get food to have a new selection nearby. I think we’ll soon see a point where we don’t have to cross Broad for a really rich food scene over here.”
At the Newbold Blues Festival in June, the Rowhouse Grocery will be previewing a selection of its offerings, which may include the Dougherty family’s heirloom potato salad recipe, served through the rear pie window once again.