Though it often seeks new innovation, Penn’s campus holds true to certain long-standing traditions — even those in the realm of retail.
So far in the 2012-2013 school year, campus retail space has seen a substantial flow of openings and closings, from TBowl’s closing this summer to the opening of Greene Street Consignment Boutique this month.
However, certain businesses have managed to remain on campus for more than 50 years, carrying with them a history and unique attachment to life at Penn.
Earning recognition as Penn’s “17th institution of higher learning” by Gerald Ford during his commencement address in 1975, Smokey Joe’s, colloquially known as “Smoke’s,” remains one of Penn’s most recognizable retail locations.
Smoke’s was originally located at 36th Street and Locust Walk, where it was purchased by the current owners’ father Paul A. Ryan in 1952. The tavern relocated once in 1963 to 38th and Walnut streets and then again in 1978 to its current location at 210 S. 40th Street. The bar is currently co-owned by brothers Paul and Pat Ryan.
Sixty-one years later, Paul Ryan Jr. attributes the bar’s enduring success to the satisfaction of his employees and necessary hours of hard work, but mostly to the student customers themselves.
“When people come here, it’s not about the drinks, not about the music, but about the people they’re going to meet,” Ryan said.
According to Ryan, Smoke’s is constantly adapting in response to feedback from student employees and customers. Yet, 1991 College graduate Chris Ohl, who has returned to the bar during Penn alumni events, said Smoke’s is “remarkably the same.”
It is this personal connectedness that seems to resonate with customers — both past and present.
“While as a senior, going to Smoke’s is pretty commonplace, coming back as an alum will be an opportunity to relive some of my time at Penn,” College senior David Beizer said.
Similarly, Penn Campus Hair Salon at 3730 Spruce Street, which originally opened as a barbershop at 3725 Spruce in 1916, is deeply rooted in Penn’s retail culture.
However, Chuck Giordano, who took over the business from his father in 2008, recently made certain changes in order to appeal to the ever-evolving desires of students.
Today, Penn Campus Hair Salon is a full service salon, offering women’s haircuts, manicures and waxing. Giordano, who made the shop a full-service salon four years ago, said the transformation was necessary because a barbershop targets a limited clientele.
“We could either close up and move on or try to make it 100 years here,” he said.
Despite such modifications, the salon has maintained features that preserve an air of tradition. An authentic barber chair stands alongside four modern styling spaces. Additionally, the business has retained the same phone number since the building on Spruce Street established a phone line.
According to Giordano, Penn alumni who are now in their 70s and 80s still come in for haircuts, and they have the phone number memorized.
Many of these historic locations are founded on a strong family legacy.
When Alex Yuen opened Beijing Restaurant at 3714 Spruce Street in 1988, he was following his grandparents’ example of working in the restaurant business. Yuen also has had personal connections to the Penn campus since 1970, as his brothers attended Penn Engineering and he attended Drexel’s engineering school.
Because of Yuen’s bonds to the area, he said Penn trusted the success of the business from the get-go.
“Background is important,” he said, “and we know a lot about Penn.”
Smoke’s owner Paul Ryan Jr. says the bar business “runs in [his] family.” When Ryan’s father retired in 1987, Paul Jr. became manager and has since hired yet another generation: Paul Ryan, his son, who graduated from the College in 2009.
Another family heirloom, Cavanaugh’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, was founded in 1934 at 32nd and Market streets by current manager Brian Pawliczek’s grandfather and moved to its current location at 119 S. 39th Street in 1988. After Pawliczek’s grandfather died, his father took over the business. Since then, Pawliczek and his three brothers have all worked there at some point within the past eight and a half years.
Giordano, whose father purchased the barbershop from another family in the late ’50s, said the family ownership could possibly be related to the salon’s success. When certain clients come in, he said, “they knew my father, they know me.”
Future of Penn retail
Penn’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services Executive Director Ed Datz recognized the long-standing locations around campus as part of Penn’s “retail fabric.”
“We want to see strong retailers that have recognition by the past and present Penn community,” he added.
Datz said retailers such as the Gap, which has existed at 3401 Walnut St. since February 1988, may have business goals beyond attracting the “day-to-day” transactions — an objective separate from that of other historical retail locations.
According to Datz, brands like Gap and Urban Outfitters seek to establish relationships with college students that will last years beyond their college careers.
While such business efforts create a firm basis for Penn’s retail landscape, Datz stressed that “retail is fluid.” Demographics usually remain consistent, but trends certainly change, he added.
As a result, FRES is currently analyzing surveys and focus group responses to determine the direction of a new retail plan for the next 10 years.
“The main goal is to provide a quality experience for all constituencies that use retail,” Datz said.