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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Man in Fishtown (From my Star Column)

While not a beer drinker, I was interested in the story of Tim Patton, an Internet developer, who tried unsuccessfully to open a nanobrewery in his home on Richmond Street and Marlborough in Fishtown. Although Patton seems like a very careful and well intentioned guy, his proposal was voted down (36-32) by the Fishtown Neighbors Association recently.

Reports indicate that the majority of FNA members had fears about the smells that might come from such a brewery, even though Patton had gone to great lengths to prevent any odors from escaping into the neighborhood. Other objections to Patton’s plan included concerns about traffic, litter and public drunkenness.

The traffic complaint has become something of an all-purpose excuse. It was used when Sugar House was first proposed. At that time the prophets of doom warned that if a casino was built in the area our heretofore cozy streets would be clogged with stalled cars and exhaust fumes. That didn’t happen. If anything, Sugar House officials are worried because there’s a decided lack of traffic going in their direction.

The traffic boogeyman scare was also used in Port Richmond when Wal-Mart wanted to build a multiplex store near Northeastern Hospital. People cited the design of the proposed Wal-Mart parking lot as potentially interfering with pedestrian (or vehicle) access to the hospital.

“We don’t need monster Wal-Mart so close to our hospital,” many people said then. So Wal-Mart, which would have been an interesting commercial option for the neighborhood, was voted down in favor of a hospital that eventually turned around and “liquated” itself.

I call this an opportunity lost.

As for the litter and public drunkenness fears concerning Patton’s project, they also lacked substance.

Litter in every conceivable form has been epidemic in the neighborhoods for years now, despite well intentioned periodic community cleanups. Litter, in fact, has become as standard here as the corner mailbox or the local abandoned house. The stretch along E. Thompson Street by Rite Aid and Wawa that some in Port Fishington now refer to as Trash Boulevard, shows no signs of changing anytime soon. How Patton wound up being compared to people who litter is a mystery of the first order.

As for public drunkenness, I bet this argument was used decades ago when beer distributors first sought permission to open in the neighborhoods.

As for “smell” fears, need it be said that what makes life in the city so interesting is its variety of smells?

Whether it’s the smell of frying bacon, cedar wood, herbal soaps or Indian food along Girard Avenue, if you’re a person who wants the air to be as bland as milk toast, you’d better pack your bags and head out of town. (You could go to the country but then you’d risk encountering the smell of barns or cows). The city is all about a variety of smells, from sneeze-inducing women’s perfume, to the odor of spilled grape soda on the 15 trolley.

Take my tiny Port Fishington Street, for instance. Here there are likeable bakery smells, while further away there’s the steak sizzling aroma from Applebee’s. And while there may be no such thing as Dollar Store smells, or Citizen’s Bank smells, you’re sure to sniff a variety of odors en route.

Smells are so persuasive in the city you can’t even escape them in the comfort of your own home. I’m thinking of the pleasant aroma of brewing coffee that wafts into my house every morning from the neighbors next door.

Not long ago I discovered some information about a neighborhood named Fishtown in Leland, Michigan. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, this other Fishtown seems to have a healthy tourist trade. One of the tourist draws, besides the water, is the town’s olfactory fame.

“Fishtown is small in size,” The Webner House Family website boasts, “but is still a real treat for the senses. The smells are the kind of smells you associate with the waterfront, like the smell of fish and decaying plants…or Whitefish being smoked.”
And yes, people love it.

I think Patton deserves another chance.

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