If you can't beat 'em, throw a party.

That thought occurred to former detective Tom Gaylord, owner of the Lickety Split restaurant at Fourth and South Streets, after seeing raucous crowds yet again during last year's Greek Picnic, a formerly annual African American fraternity and sorority event.

So this year - with similar throngs expected Saturday night for Philly Greek Weekend, a substitute for the picnic, which is not scheduled this summer - Gaylord had a plan: close Lickety Split at 7 p.m., unveil a "Christmas in July" celebration for employees on the second level, and turn the ground floor over to police officers.

With stockings hung from the liquor shelves with care, officers stopped in for (nonalcoholic) refreshments and bathroom breaks over the historically long night on their calendar.

"They usually can't handle the mayhem," Gaylord said. "But I think they did a good job this year."

Most local business owners agree on both counts, with many commending the decision to shut down 11 blocks of South Street between 1 and 2 a.m. Sunday. As many as 20,000 people inundated the area in the wee hours.

On the same weekend last year, five officers had minor injuries and 17 arrests were made as police tried to contain crowds. In March, at least four people were hurt when about 2,000 youths descended on South Street on the first night of spring.

"They did a great job this time. That's what they ultimately have to do," said Donna Sarkisian, owner of Jon's Bar & Grille at Third Street and South. In past crowd dispersals, according to Sarkisian, gatherers - many appearing underage - had jumped the fence of its patio and swiped alcohol from the outdoor bar.

Given recent history, Philadelphia Lt. Frank Vanore said, police prepared for larger-than-average crowds, calling in a mounted unit as well as additional city and state police officers.

Attendees from the Philly Greek Weekend or, in past years, the Greek Picnic are rarely the problem, Vanore said. Most incidents stem from teenagers who congregate in the area on those weekends.

"It just turns into something to do," Vanore said.

Many in the crowd dispersed to Broad Street after 1 a.m. without issue Sunday, he added, though 15 arrests were made for offenses including disorderly conduct and underage drinking.

Some commercial operations on South Street continue to express concerns about security on busy summer weekends.

"It's mostly girls working in these stores," said Danielle Rosetti, manager of Unica Clothes. "South Street's just not safe for them anymore."

Bridget Foy, owner of - and, as a newborn 28 years back, namesake for - Bridget Foy's at Second Street and South, takes a cab every night to her home six blocks away as a precaution.

Safety considerations also may hinder bottom lines in the area. Foy thinks that while regulars who live nearby are unfazed by the episodes, those who think of South Street as a travel destination may be deterred.

Hunter Bush, an employee at Condom Kingdom, says the crowds represent a troubling population trade-off for businesses like his, which require identification: youths in, adults out. He also wishes police had given word of their decision far earlier.

"I understand shutting the street down, especially when they've dropped the ball a couple times on flash mobs," Bush said. "But businesses should have been informed - we would have closed a half-hour sooner."

As for Gaylord, who locked out customers six hours before police could do it for him, he still doesn't love the idea of shutting down an entire neighborhood, especially during the hours when spots such as his "make most of [our] money."

Of course, the former detective has no regrets about forgoing a full Saturday night's worth of business on this occasion.

"If I donate it to the police," he said, "I figure my place will be safe."

Contact staff writer Matt Flegenheimer at 215-854-5614 or mflegenheimer@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Allison Steele contributed to this article.