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Mount Airy baker energizes Germantown Ave. block

Little Jimmie Reed is big man in a neighborhood revival.

Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, says Little Jimmie's businesses, which now include a new bake shop, are a natural for community revitalization. MEAGHAN POGUE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, says Little Jimmie's businesses, which now include a new bake shop, are a natural for community revitalization. MEAGHAN POGUE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERRead more

AT 6 FEET, 207 pounds, Little Jimmie Reed is not little.

Still proudly bearing his Southern-boyhood nickname, Reed, 38, stands 10 feet tall these days in Mount Airy, where his new Little Jimmie's Bake House, directly across Germantown Avenue from his Little Jimmie's Bakery Cafe at Springer Street, is the glue that holds a formerly desolate block together.

"The new bake shop was the most blighted building on Germantown Avenue," said Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, which developed the historic but deteriorated house.

"That building was in such bad shape, it was about to fall down," Gupta said. "We put scaffolding on the interior and on the exterior just to keep it propped up. Any private developer wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole."

Today, Little Jimmie's Bake Shop and his tiny cafe across the street anchor the block of Germantown Avenue between Hortter and Springer streets, which has had its share of bad times.

"The whole impetus for starting Mt. Airy USA in the early '80s was to revitalize Germantown Avenue, which had a high vacancy rate, high crime rate, litter, graffiti, the whole nine yards," Gupta said.

"Over the years, through the efforts of business owners and Mt. Airy USA, things started to change. But when I began this job in 2010, the . . . blocks of Germantown Avenue [between Upsal Street and Meehan Avenue] still had high vacancy, a lot of blight and significant criminal activity. Five o'clock comes and there's not a soul out on the street."

Gupta said Mt. Airy USA is changing that by developing Little Jimmie's Bake Shop, the Vivid Hair Salon on the block of Germantown Avenue between Upsal and Hortter streets and a wholesale bakery soon to occupy the historic former post office on the block between Westview and Meehan avenues.

Reed's new bake shop, Gupta said, is a natural for Germantown Avenue revitalization.

"Jimmie's become an integral part of the East Mount Airy neighborhood," he said. "People love him and see his cafe as not just a place to get a good croissant or a good muffin, but as a community gathering space. It made sense for him to grow here."

Reed, whose original cafe is housed in an 18th-century, one-room schoolhouse, agreed.

"I was baking 300 pieces a day - pastries, cakes, pies - in a 50-square-foot area for three years," he said. "I said to myself, 'You know, Jimmie, you need more space to grow.' "

When Reed heard that Mt. Airy USA was rehabbing the 700-square-foot building directly across the street, he was thrilled.

"I moved to Philadelphia from North Carolina 16 years ago and I fell in love with Mount Airy," Reed said. "Being from the South, I'm used to greenery, trees. What a paradise within the city this is! It's like a small town and it's very diverse. If you love everybody, you love Mount Airy."

Reed wants his cafe and bake shop to have that small-town, friendly feel. "When you walk through the doors, I want it to feel like you're walking into my kitchen at home," Reed said. "And you can sit around and talk to me."

The differences between most homes and Reed's bakery/cafe include his signature cinnamon-cream coffee cake, his lemon cake with curd and cream-cheese frosting, his sour-cream-raisin-walnut pie, his . . . well, there are many belt-loosening differences.