S. Philly jeweler launches Passyunk Penny Pendant
Joe Sermania crafts E. Passyunk necklace featuring neighborhoods iconic Indian Head.
TEN YEARS AGO, when Joe Sermania and his wife Janice opened their mom-and-pop Sermania Jewelry shop on East Passyunk Avenue near Morris Street, they gambled that the dying block of too many vacant stores would turn around someday.
"When we came here, other storeowners on the street asked us why," Sermania said, smiling. "Abe, who owns the clothing store on the corner, just said, 'Good luck.' "
Luck arrived in the form of the East Passyunk restaurant and retail revival that resuscitated the moribund avenue and gave young professionals a reason to flock to the South Philly neighborhood.
Sermania, who handcrafts his full line of jewelry in his shop, celebrated his reborn neighborhood this year by creating the Passyunk Penny Pendant.
"The old Indian Head penny has the same Indian as the one that is the symbol for this neighborhood on everything from manhole covers to signs saying, 'Turn here for East Passyunk,' " Sermania said.
"So as far as we're concerned, the penny's Indian represents East Passyunk," he said.
"I had some of those old Indian Head pennies from when I was a kid. So I thought, 'I'll call it the "Passyunk Penny" and make a necklace out of it.' "
Sermania, 57, knew how to pierce around the image of the penny's Indian head because he'd been honing that technique since he was 12, practicing on Lincoln pennies in his brother Sal's shop on Jewelers Row.
"And he has the fingers to prove it," said his wife Janice, laughing.
Sermania held out his callused jeweler's hands and wiggled his battle-scarred fingers.
"I've had cuts over the years," he said. "You use a real fine saw blade. Sometimes you slip.
"Sometimes the blade breaks," he said. "The polishing wheel wears out your fingers and you get a little burn here and there."
The Sermanias have been pals since St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Grade School at 7th and Christian. "We met hanging on the corner at 7th and Salter, half a block from the school," Sermania said.
The friendship continued in high school. "He's a Neumann guy; I'm a Goretti girl," Janice said.
They married, had three children and have been in the jewelry business since 1981 - first on Jewelers Row, now in the old neighborhood where everything old is new again - like the "LOVE" necklaces that Sermania has made for years.
"So many people come in saying they're getting married in front of the LOVE statue," Sermania said. "It's their theme so they give LOVE jewelry as gifts to the bridesmaids."
LOVE necklaces are always in demand, Sermania said. He hopes the same will be true for his Passyunk Penny Pendant.