OF COURSE Tom McCusker believes he has one of the best, if not the best, Mexican eateries this side of the Rio Grande.
What he didn't know, however, was that a good number of his Spruce Hill neighbors also agreed. Honest Tom's Taco Shop was named "most favorite site" in that bucolic West Philadelphia neighborhood, according to a just-released retail survey conducted by the Spruce Hill Community Association Business Attraction Committee.
"I couldn't be happier about it," McCusker said of the cozy house shop on 44th Street near Spruce. "I'm pumped."
In addition to favorite haunts, the questionnaire asked the 483 respondents what types of retail they would like to see in the neighborhood (clothing), what they'd be averse to welcoming (chain stores) and what locations and corridors needed improvement (Walnut Street between 38th and 46th).
Lee Huang, chairman of the business committee, said he undertook the project after former board president Andy Locherie approached him about doing the survey last year.
"People like having choices, but more importantly, retail is very visual and it tells you something about the neighborhood whether you have vacancies or thriving stores," Huang said.
"I don't shop, as I suspect a lot of respondents don't, but even if we don't frequent businesses, we like the retail. We like the thriving business, the traffic and the vitality of the neighborhood," he said.
The survey, which was conducted in the fall and also included residents of nearby West Philadelphia neighborhoods, is a way to get out in front of developers who may have ideas about what they'd like to see in the area, Huang said.
"It absolutely helps developers because it gives some indication of what a neighborhood is interested in," he added. "It's a form of market research and [informs them] of what will succeed."
Local, local, local appeared to be the way residents felt, with many of them indicating that they like shopping in their neighborhood.
Jeanne Chang, neighborhood resident and owner of Lil' Pop Shop, which was voted third most favorite site, said she'd like to see a local toy shop. Birthday get-togethers are a given for Chang and her child so "every weekend I have to go to Target," she laments.
"I would love to support someone local to do that," Chang said.
Resident Kate Kramer is excited about the survey and the possibilities in her beloved neighborhood, she said.
"One of the beautiful things is that there are so many locally owned enterprises," Kramer said. "We don't want chains to come in when local people can do it."
Here are some of the results:
* Rounding out the top six favorite neighborhood sites were: Local 44 (2), Tampopo (4), Mariposa Food Co-op (5) and Green Line Cafe (6).
* Respondents indicated that more attention and investment is needed in corridors on 40th Street between Baltimore Avenue and Market Street, as well as 46th Street between Market and Spruce.
* Favorite corridors were: 44th Street between Locust and Spruce (1), Baltimore Avenue between 45th and 50th streets (2) and 45th Street between Walnut and Locust (3).
One area respondent said help was needed at 49th and Spruce streets, where a parking lot was in disarray. City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said Orens Brothers Real Estate bought the lot and planned to fix it up for use by the occupants of one its nearby properties.
"What makes this area unique is we look different," Blackwell said, adding that she looked forward to reading the survey. We don't need to look like other areas," she said. "We want to have the things we like."