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Lancaster Avenue between 34th and 38th streets is slated for revitalization projects by the University City District as part of a $440,000 grant. [Ben Rosenau/DP File Photo]

Three garbage cans may seem like a small purchase, but it signifies a leap in the economic development of Lancaster Avenue. Since July, the University City District has been working to assess the needs of the communities surrounding Baltimore and Lancaster avenues. The goal is to turn these neighborhood commercial corridors into central shopping locations for area residents. In addition to an initial grant of $440,000 from the William Penn Foundation and a grant from the Local Initiatives and Support Corporation, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce also announced in December that it would make a $25,000 contribution. According to Allison Kelsey, the senior director of the UCD's marketing and communications department, this money has been earmarked for the development of a database that will allow the UCD to facilitate communication between businesses interested in the area retail market and property owners who have space to lease. "We'd like to see more of the discretionary funds of the 100,000 or so people who live within a mile of the avenues spent in the neighborhood," Kelsey said. The project aims to attract both local consumers and new retail operations to the avenues. When Eli Massar, the UCD's Baltimore Avenue corridor manager, began work, a business association and a planning group already existed. Lancaster Avenue was less organized. Tanya Washington, the corridor manager for Lancaster, is changing that. So far, most of the work for both has focused on surveying the needs of business owners and consumers. Kelsey explained that shoppers on Baltimore said they wanted a bookstore, a music store, a grocery store and a live entertainment venue. Hair Lounge Records & CDs -- a combination salon, music store and cafe -- opened about five months ago at 4702 Baltimore, replacing a barbershop that used to stand in its place. Jamar Ferrell, a DJ who owns and operates the new store along with his brother Jason, saw his shop as attractive to a student population and decided that Baltimore Avenue would be a perfect location when he got wind of the commercial survey the UCD conducted. Still, Ferrell was not aware of the Baltimore-Lancaster development project when he began construction on his store. "As we started opening the store, we learned about the revitalization project, which gave us more ideas about what we could do with the store," Ferrell explained. Though Lancaster Avenue's consumer survey is not yet complete, Washington has ideas about what people in the neighborhood need -- a supermarket, drugstore, bookstore, bakery, clothing stores and an ice cream shop. "Really, the type of businesses that people want around the corner," Washington said. The UCD has hired Real Estate Strategies, Inc. to conduct a market study assessing what image Lancaster Avenue should be presenting to the public. Cindy Romero is the corridor manager for the People's Emergency Center Development Corporation, a group working in conjunction with the UCD to revamp Lancaster. While Washington focuses on 34th to 38th streets, Romero deals with the blocks between 38th and 42nd streets. Though the populations of the two segments vary a bit, both women stressed the need for the projects to work in tandem. Romero's group also worked with consultants from Real Estate Strategies, Inc. on plans for Lancaster Avenue. Romero feels the most important aspect of the project is the sustenance of pre-existing businesses. For her, the neighborhood requires a new image. "Suburban America has skewed our idea of how we shop," Romero said. "Like Canal Street in New York where you buy each item in a different store -- you don't have to go to Macy's for everything. Having a variety of small businesses [is] what neighborhood corridors are all about." All parties agreed that whatever the final results may be, the revitalization of these avenues will mean good things for local residents and West Philadelphia as a whole. And though they have not decided where exactly to put them, Lancaster's garbage cans will be arriving sometime this month. Twenty more will arrive for Baltimore Avenue as well.

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