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La Fourno has closed, creating another restaurant vacancy on South Street

South Street itself seems to struggle while the surrounding blocks thrive.

La Fourno, which opened at 636 South St. in 1994 (despite what the sign reads), closed in September 2019.
La Fourno, which opened at 636 South St. in 1994 (despite what the sign reads), closed in September 2019.Read moreMichael Klein

La Fourno, which dispensed brick-oven pizzas and other Italian fare from its storefront at 636 South St., has shuttered after a quarter-century.

Building owner Tom Vasiliades, who built the restaurant, which had two ownership changes over the years, said it needed to be refreshed to compete, a common factor in an era in which people are seeking new experiences. He plans to renovate and open a simple eatery serving pizzas and salads next spring. Vasiliades posted a notice in the shop window steering customers to South Street Souvlaki, his popular Greek restaurant.

Unlike the thriving nearby blocks in Queen Village and Society Hill — with popular, new spots such as Fiore Fine Foods, Cry Baby, and Bloomsday Cafe — the eastern end of South Street has seen mixed fortunes. Vacancies abound on the stretch, home now mainly to a revolving door of boutiques, vape shops, nail salons, and variety stores. Rental prices or properties on the street itself are part of the problem, say Realtors.

The Starbucks at Fourth and South went out over the summer, darkening the otherwise lively corner where Copabanana, Jim’s Steaks, and MilkBoy hold forth. The vast Downey’s, once a hot spot at Front and South, is empty. Jon’s Bar & Grille at Third and South has been down for a year, and the Legendary Dobbs next door has been empty for four years. Bincho, a Japanese robatayaki restaurant, closed recently after less than six months at 228 South, and will be replaced soon by a boiled seafood house.

Bright spots include Serpico, the sleek Peter Serpico-Stephen Starr restaurant that Inquirer critic Craig LaBan says is one of the city’s best, which is going on seven years at 604 South. Brauhaus Schmitz (718 South) and Banh Mi & Bottles (712-714 South) draw crowds. Federal Donuts opened a year ago at Sixth and South, and Spread Bagelry plans to occupy the former Johnny Rocket’s at Fifth and South later this year this winter. And Bridget Foy’s, which was destroyed in a 2017 fire, is coming back at Second and South, across from a Giant-owned Heirloom Market at Abbotts Square.