The Water Ice Storm

Rita's imminent arrival piques NoLibs purists.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 6, 2007

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Ice capades: New Rita's franchisee Chris Thude is flummoxed by the opposition to his business.

Click here to see extended coverage of this story on Fox 29

Northern Liberties, long touted as the city's next great neighborhood, is getting a Starbucks coffee shop. And a Pottery Barn. Maybe even a Banana Republic, a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, a Restoration Hardware and a CVS pharmacy.

Well, none of those chain operations has formally announced plans to open in the burgeoning condo wonderland that was previously occupied by scrawny, bearded artists and their pierced and tattooed girlfriends.

But the once-edgy 'hood is getting a Rita's water ice stand--the first national franchise business in the heart of the community--and some residents are saying the "Manayunkization" of Northern Liberties has begun.

Other chains will surely follow, if you believe the people posting on the neighborhood's online messageboard. Small businesses will be shuttered. Hummers will become ubiquitous. And high-end martini bars will sprout up on every corner.

"I have a deep hatred for corporate CEOs who lust to make a dime off of water-ice-craving yuppies," one anonymous poster wrote. "What's next, I ask? A Wawa? A Gap? Starbucks?"

The writer goes on to mock the "antibusiness hipster crowd" who fear the tight-knit community will lose its bohemian flair. But the reality is that the area has already evolved--$400,000 condos are commonplace, artist spaces have been eliminated and the legendary hipster hangout the Ministry of Information is becoming a French bistro.

Things will never be the same.

"I thought everyone would love a Rita's moving in," says Chris Thude, owner of the water ice stand at Second and Brown streets that's expected to open next month.

The 22-year-old Northeast Philly native has purposely mussed blond hair and diamond-stud earrings in both ears. On this steamy day he's wearing white pants, a pale green Polo shirt with blue stripes, and a pair of black Nike sneakers.

He bought the 900-square-foot corner unit rather than leasing it. It cost him another $30,000 to get the franchise license. And he's dropped about $50,000 renovating the space. When it's completed, the shop will have indoor seating--15 red, green and white barstools, and a 42-inch plasma television. There will also be outdoor tables.

"I think this adds to the neighborhood," Thude says. "Not too many Rita's have 15 barstools and a plasma TV."

The Archbishop Ryan grad attended Temple on a golf scholarship but flushed out during his sophomore year. He made his money flipping real estate. This is his first time running a business, but he'll have family working with him, he says, and they have years of restaurant experience.

The neighborhood association asked Thude to cooperate with their design committee, and the result is that the shop won't have ostentatious signs, and there won't be the traditional tricolor awning.

"They're very careful," Thude says. "I don't blame them. I try to be respectful of the community."

Thude works out at the local martial arts studio. He has an account at the neighborhood bank and he's a regular at a nearby family-owned convenience store.

He's currently living in Manayunk while waiting for his new condo to be built at Waterfront Square on the Delaware River.

"I'll be living close by, so I'll be here every day," he says.

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