Shortly before 11 Thursday morning, Leslie Smallwood did something she hasn’t been able to do since moving the company she cofounded, Mosaic Development Partners, to Brewerytown in 2016: go to a bank in the neighborhood.
As the once-bustling commercial corridor of Girard Avenue began looking more like a ghost town and gunshots became disturbingly familiar, Brewerytown lost its allure for banks.
The last one was Fidelity, which pulled out about 35 years ago, if local memory serves.
So when rumors became a blue-and-white Fulton Bank branch reality at 27th and Girard Streets last month, Smallwood was “thrilled,” she recalled Thursday when she stopped in to take care of some business.
“It’s important in these types of communities, especially [those] that have been marginalized as long as they have, for these neighborhoods to be seen as important enough to have branches,” said Smallwood. Her company, headquartered at 30th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue on the border with the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, just closed on a $3.9 million construction financing deal with Fulton for a mixed-use development project in Wayne Junction. “It’s uplifting to the community.”
At his Spot Gourmet Burgers restaurant on Girard Avenue a little more than a block from the new Fulton branch, Josh Kim had an even stronger assessment of its meaning.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Kim, who advanced from a food truck, which he started in 2012, to a full-blown restaurant in 2016, selecting Brewerytown for the locale because “I didn’t want to risk going to a high-profile rent area.”
As a Lancaster-based $20 billion banking company, the largest headquartered in eastern Pennsylvania, Fulton’s moving into Brewerytown “says that there is some interest above and beyond the individual entrepreneurs. It says big money is now interested in this area," Kim said.
Time will tell how much that actually translates into loans and lines of credit for small businesses, a sector Fulton intends to prioritize in Brewerytown, said JoBeth Mauriello, regional consumer executive.
At more than 3,000 square feet, about double its standard branch size, Fulton has established a small-business center within the Brewerytown office to offer one-on-one coaching and other resources for local entrepreneurs and small-business owners. It is a first for the banking company, and will include a small-business development officer (who was hired in December) as well as a small-business coach, a position yet to be filled.
That’s in addition to a small-business virtual adviser on the bank’s website, a tutorial that covers such topics as starting a business and managing cash flow, that can be accessed from a designated section just inside the entrance. The site was once home to the discount store One+One.
Fulton cited the more than 50,000 residents and 1,000 businesses of Brewerytown, its “renaissance of growth,” and the absence of any banks as key factors in opening a branch in Brewerytown, one of three the bank opened in Philadelphia within 90 days as part of an urban market expansion, Mauriello said. The two others are at 1220 N. Broad St. and at the Comcast Center at 17th and Arch Streets. Grand opening festivities are planned for all three sites on Friday.
Among those insisting that Fulton needed to be in Brewerytown was Reggie Fuller, who runs its commercial lending operation in Philadelphia and has an especially informed perspective on the neighborhood: He grew up there. Now 59, Fuller spoke of a valuable lesson on the importance of fiscal responsibility gained from growing up seeing his parents go to the bank, which was just two blocks from their home.
It’s something that two generations after him in Brewerytown have not gotten to see, he said.
With the North Philadelphia community now in revitalization mode, Fulton, as the only bank in the neighborhood, is uniquely positioned to “help it as it moves forward and basically own the market,” Fuller said.
Uncharacteristically “excited” about its arrival is Jonathan Scott, a finance professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business and formerly chief financial officer at Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas.
“There’s a lot of potential in Brewerytown," Scott said. “I think this is evidence.”