A Broad Street bully battles local business owners in Francisville.
Broad Street doesn’t really start hoppin’ until around 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Hip-hop bumps from polished low riders parked in the lot at the BP gas station, while across the street employees carry enormous speakers into Cobre Restaurant and Bar. A few doors down, massive security guards stand outside Coo’s Sports Bar, awaiting the rush. More and more cars arrive, parking on both sides of Broad and on the side streets. This stretch of North Broad Street, though a magnet for nightlife, is also known for its plethora of homeless services in the area. Attracted by prospects of food and shelter, crackheads and vagrants wander the streets, begging passers-by for money and cigarettes. Homeless men hustle to wash cars in exchange for a few dollars while soiled newspapers, napkins and discarded food packages blow slowly down the street.
Undeterred by the area’s bleak reputation, Cobre and Coos have claimed territory in what they hope is the foreground of North Broad’s revitalization. In the last year, the two clubs have begun attracting hundreds of people to the street on weekend nights. Developers hope the popularity continues so the street can become a more vibrant, lively destination better fitting the “Avenue of the Arts” label that is supposed to cover Broad Street not just south of City Hall but also north to Glenwood, up past Lehigh Avenue in North Philly.
“The vision for that corridor is to have venues that provide an opportunity for dining, nightlife, amenities that people who live in the neighborhood and beyond can enjoy,” says Penelope Giles, president of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation. “Cobre is such a venue. The sports bar is such a venue. We need more of that sort of thing.” No new establishments are currently in the works, although several storefronts currently sit vacant on the block and could have potential to become new bars or clubs.
Not all neighbors are thrilled with the prospect, including one who is very, very angry about changes to the block. Jim Stix, a 15-year resident of the Matthew Baird Mansion set in between Cobre and Coos, has history of conflict with various neighborhood establishments. Now he’s focused his anger on Cobre owner Diana Guzman, who he says turned her back on an informal agreement to be a restaurant, not a club. The conflict has escalated to profane shouting matches and alleged death threats by both sides—and shows no signs of cooling down.
This spring the feud reached a peak. Stix says that Guzman’s son threw a bucket of water on him while he was sitting outside, while the son claims that Stix chased him inside with a knife. Furious, Stix smashed the bar’s front window with a shovel and now has a stay-away order barring him from the premises.
Neither side is backing down.
“This is my neighborhood. I was born and raised here,” Guzman says. “You have a restaurant, you are allowed to play music.”
But Stix says the customers litter and urinate in front of the building, and that the music goes too loud, too late. Guzman says she has gone to great lengths to keep from bothering the neighbors, including employing security to keep patrons away from the apartment and installing a decibel reader inside the apartment building to ensure the music from the club remains unobtrusive. But Stix is unmoved.
“She told me she wanted to be a Puerto Rican restaurant,” Stix says. “Then when she didn’t make any money, she turned it into a club.”
It took two years for Guzman to receive her live-entertainment license after initially deciding she wanted to hold parties in 2007, shortly after opening the bar. She also received a series of electrical , lighting and nuisance violations in the meantime. L&I confirmed that all her licenses are now in compliance and up to date, but people familiar with the dispute say Stix’s objection’s to the zoning change were the main cause of the live-entertainment delay.
Having failed to stop the club from getting licensed, Stix is trying other tactics. Two television monitors in his fourth-floor apartment show a man in a white shirt sitting on the front steps of the building. “Get off the stairs please,” Stix speaks into a microphone, his words projected outside through a loudspeaker. “If you don’t live here, please get off the stairs.” The man on the steps stands up, looks around and walks away.
If people don’t move promptly, neighbors say, Stix is prone to screaming and throwing water on them, though Stix claims he only throws water next to loiterers to encourage them to move.
Others share his complaints about bargoers. “People sit on the stairs and drink, and leave their bottles. They piss all over the door,” says another resident of the Baird Mansion. “Drunk people try to follow me inside, say ‘Can I get a date?’ or ‘Can I use your bathroom?’”
“The bars are a disturbance,” says Shaheed Hudgins, who lives nearby. Similar complaints are found online: “Since the place started “poppin’, the area has been littered with broken glass, people pissing everywhere, light drug dealing going on, fights all the time, and everything else you can imagine,” a resident writes on the PhiladelphiaSpeaks forum.
But bar owners say that some noise is to be expected on a commercial corridor.
“You’re on Broad Street, in a business district, and you’re upset with business?” asks Tom Fario, owner of Coos. “It’s a four-lane highway, not a cul-de-sac.” Fario says he opened the bar in the anticipation of more development coming to the block, converging from both directions. “There’s traffic coming up from the Convention Center, and Temple coming down from Girard,” he says. “The only dry spot is right here.”
Coos opened in November last year, but after a shooting outside in February, the bar was named by Councilman William Greenlee as an inspiration for this spring’s “promoter bill,” aimed at reigning in club violence. Fario says the fight did not start in his bar, and points to his heavy security detail to show his dedication to safety. So far, Coos hasn’t had the same problems with Stix that Cobre has.
“I just try to be respectful of where he lives,” Fario says, making a point to keep his patrons away from the Baird Mansion.
Four stories above, Stix watches the street, vowing to continue the crusade against Cobre and anyone else he feels degrades the block, including any future businesses that disturb the peace.