SPIRO’s: “Keeping The Faith In Parkside”

by Michael Burch

In order for a community to grow and survive, it needs several active components: committed residents, good schools and a thriving business sector. Parkside has seen its share of challenges dating back several decades even when businesses thrived in our area.

Talk to any of Parkside’s long time residents and they can tell you stories about the restaurants, markets and schools that have closed over the years due to the downturn in the economy, crime, the continued exodus of residents from the neighborhood, and the spread of drugs in our community.

However, one of the few businesses that has stayed in the neighborhood through the good times and the bad has been SPIRO’S BAR AND RESTAURANT, located at the corner of 40th Street and Girard Avenue in East Parkside. Spiro’s first opened its doors as a restaurant in Parkside in 1969, and it has been in business at that location ever since, changing as the neighborhood changed. Today, the owner and operator of Spiro’s is Jerry Fokas. It was his father who first opened the business at this location. Over the years, the small family business has expanded by adding a pizzeria in 1981 and a bar in 1987, thus becoming a fixture in East Parkside.

When talking to Mr. Fokas, it becomes clear that he has a deep pride in the neighborhood and the people who live here. He relates to many of his customers, seeing them almost as an extended family. Unlike many of the small corner store businesses that operate in East Parkside, Jerry Fokas hires residents from the community.

Like many of us, he has watched the neighborhood change and not always for the better. Walking outside of his restaurant onto Girard Avenue, Jerry can recall the names of fellow businesses that have long since closed and boarded their establishments. He can remember the former cleaners, the laundry mat, the movie theater, the pharmacy as well as the names of the owners of these past Parkside businesses, something I cannot do. In view of all the changes the neighborhood has experienced, one has to ask why he has stayed. When I asked him that question, he responded that “it was mostly due to my father”. It was his father’s dream to stay and take part in the renaissance that he (the father) believed would come to this neighborhood. Now years later, that dream has been handed down to his son, Jerry Fokas.

Mr. Fokas frankly admits that he has considered selling his business but due to his father’s influence he has remained in the neighborhood. Now after years of waiting, maybe that renaissance is finally beginning to happen. Mr. Fokas certainly thinks so. He has become a member of the newly formed Centennial Park District CDC chaired by Christopher Scott.

The new CDC is an organization dedicated to: “protect and implement the planning vision for East Parkside, partnering with residents to improve quality of life in the neighborhood”.

In talking to him about ways to speed change in the neighborhood, Mr. Fokas revealed his own unique idea. He has a theory that bringing Syrian refugees into the neighborhood may help to repopulate Parkside. These new immigrants could bring in new skills into the community, and the neighborhood has a history of immigrant populations as Parkside was first populated by German immigrants at the turn of the 19th century.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.38.46 PM
A look inside one of the new apartments above Spiro’s Restaurant.

To add to his investment in this neighborhood, Mr. Fokas has begun to rehabilitate the apartments located above his restaurant. He took me on a small tour of the property. There are nine one and two bedroom apartments, all with new appliances, cabinets and fixtures.

I was really impressed with the quality of these apartments. Clearly Spiro’s is much more than a local eatery. He and his family are truly vested in the community. To quote what he is fond of saying, “Parkside is one of the best places to live in the city. From here you have quick access to Center City, I-95, King of Prussia and much more”.

Stay tuned to what is happening on this corner. One of Mr. Fokas’ future plans is to build new housing on the parking lot next to his property! We wish him luck with this ambitious project.

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