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A common assumption among first-year Penn students, perpetuated by the theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, is that West Philadelphia is a dangerous place. However, local businesses work hard to debunk the negative connotations associated with the neighborhood’s name and offer students a more individualized experience than they might find if they travel east toward Center City.

The question of how to get students interested in a new restaurant or coffee shop is one posed to every business, and The Enterprise Center — a social entrepreneurship organization based in West Philadelphia — exists in part to help start-ups find an answer.

Andrew Toy, Director of the Retail Resource Network at The Enterprise Center, described his role as assisting “minority high-potential entrepreneurs” in West Philadelphia. The Enterprise Center provides businesses such as Kaffa Crossing, a coffee shop at 4423 Chestnut St., with advice on marketing — an expense which many of the owners do not consider when planning their business, Toy said.

“[Businesses] might have a great product and they might have a great business, but if you don’t market it, then you’re not going to get anyone there,” Toy added.

Habtamu Kassa, a manager at Kaffa Crossing, said the shop is there “for neighborhood residents and Penn students,” and added that the company is “trying to grow.”

Engineering senior Deepak Prabhakar explained that different types of restaurants are better suited to certain events. For example, Prabhakar said, when organizing large dinners for his fraternity, a major factor is size and pricing, as well as whether it is a BYO. Like many students, Prabhakar said he is more likely to head downtown for these group functions.

But he said with smaller groups, he is more willing to try local restaurants to which he has never been. “If a restaurant is new to me,” he said, “it’s more of a draw.”

Penn students such as College sophomore Becky Havivi are willing and often happy to travel off campus to find the perfect coffee shop that is “a little more off-the-radar.”

In a community with myriad choices of coffee houses, cafes and restaurants, Toy said successful marketing can be the difference between failure and success.

Since its opening in March 2009, Lovers and Madmen has become a favorite for Penn students and faculty. Operations manager John Rivello believes that in addition to its food and drink, the regulars keep returning to the shop because of its status as a locally owned business and for the intimacy this uniqueness provides.

Toy hopes he can work with business owners across the entire community to help them market their businesses in a similar way. He believes that if Penn students “engage locally” as the Penn Compact urges them to do, “they’ll get something that’s unique and they’ll have a connection to a person or a family.”

“It’s all about supporting local businesses,” Toy said.

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