Meet Our South Philly Heroes (Part 2)

In our last two posts, we told you about our uplifting new holiday windows, featuring 27 South Philadelphia Essential Workers (click here to read more about the project). We also introduced you to a dozen of our glowing subjects (meet them here).

The new view from our corner at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street in South Philly, with windows lit from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily through January 10.

Today,  we’ll introduce you to the remaining 15 local heroes lighting up East Passyunk Avenue’s popular “Singing Fountain” plaza.


Some you undoubtedly know from local restaurants and shops….

Heather was our longtime favorite server at Cantina Los Caballitos, while Jesus can be found delivering takeout orders from P’unk Burger.

Others are in the public service sector….

Still making house calls is Philadelphia Gas Works’ repairman Fnu. (And, yes, like all our conscientious subjects, Fnu donned his mask as soon as we snapped his socially distanced photo.)

Read on to meet them all….


Dean is the popular manager of Acme’s wine and beer department. He’s also a martial arts aficionado who is working towards his online organizational leadership and management degree from Southern New Hampshire University.
Scott is a 13-year Acme employee and South Philadelphia native who can most often be found helping customers in the self-service lanes.
Tom is the third-generation owner of Bertolino’s Pharmacy. He started running deliveries there when he was only 8 or 9 years old, and has been the store pharmacist since 1987.
Heather is the owner of two Halo Hair salons who sacrificed profits (and delayed the grand opening of her new Old City shop) for our safety during the long spring COVID-19 lockdown. She is a bike rider, dog owner, and punk rock bass player.
Eric is a CVS supervisor and has been a welcoming presence there for 17 years. You may also recognize this East Passyunk area native from his waiter gig at Broad Street’s Ristorante Pesto.


Shane is a Bing Bing server (and former Black ‘n Brew counter man) with a goal of making customers’ lives as normal as possible in these scary COVID-19 days. He enjoys kicking back with his family and pup in his spare time.
Nate is a Noord restaurant sous chef and Dallas native with a saucy alter ego as the drag queen Hyde Eclair.
David is the Tamalex restaurant owner who partnered with his brother-in-law Alejandro to donate 165 free food packs to Latino families in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. He then joined forces with several other South Philadelphia businesses to give away hundreds more food bags.
Heather is a longtime popular server at Cantina Los Caballitos who recently transitioned to her dream jobs of costuming and theater work. She performs drag as Grampy Knockers.
Jesus is the always reliable P’unk Burger bicycle delivery person. A native Californian, his hobbies including bike riding (surprise!) and music.


Steve is a 27-year U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, working against tough odds this year to deliver mail along with our full 19147 and 19148 post office staffs. (And yes, Jason, we’re looking at you, too….!)
Paul has racked up 30 years as an always-dependable Philadelphia Inquirer delivery man. He enjoys cooking and life in South Philly “with so many things to offer”.
Fnu is a cheerful Philadelphia Gas Works in-home repairman whose COVID-19 pastimes include biking around the Navy Yard.


Of course, there’s one more vital link in our neighborhood’s Essential Worker chain and that’s, well…the rest of us.

Nissa & Devin are our newest East Passyunk neighbors, who always keep their masks on to protect us and all these Essential Workers. Nissa is a social worker who loves puppeteering, reading sci-fi and speculative fiction, and biking the city. Devin loves computer programming, making music, playing with synthesizers, and watching cartoons.


Needless to say, our holiday windows barely scratch the surface of the thousands of selfless Philadelphians who have put themselves on the line for us this year in both medical and non-medical roles….

….or the many beloved service and restaurant people who continue to lose their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

We owe them all a debt of gratitude and honor this season.

Happy (safe) holidays!

Kate & Dave

Meet Our South Philly Heroes (Part 1)

In our last post, we told you about our new and inspiring South Philadelphia holiday windows, featuring 27 non-medical Essential Workers who are courageously risking their health for us in this COVID-19 world – everyone from local pharmacy and grocery employees, to restaurant staff, to sanitation workers.

The Tasker Street view, lit nightly from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

You’ll find them smiling from our windows through January 10 on the corner of East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street, across from the iconic “Singing Fountain”. 


Starting today, and continuing in our next post, we’ll introduce you to these South Philly heroes who daily put themselves on the line.  Some you can’t miss as they roll down the avenue…

Stepping out from behind their masks for a quick photo: Captain Brian (in truck) and firefighters Jason, Brendan and Matt from the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 10 station.

Others, like Adam Leiter, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, are working miracles behind the scenes. Adam’s keeping local businesses apprised of COVID-19 regulations and opportunities — and promoting a wide variety of socially distanced events for Avenue fans. (Click here for the latest list.)

Adam takes a rare break to pose for our windows.


So read on to meet the first dozen Essential Workers whose images appear in our 2020 holiday windows….


Tyrone is a city sanitation truck driver who overcame daunting odds this summer to keep our trash pick-up timely with crew mates Drissa and Ransell (below). He’s also a personal trainer and a former collegiate basketball player.
Drissa is a hard-working, 14-year city Sanitation Division worker who enjoys watching and playing soccer.
Ransell is another member of our neighborhood’s crack sanitation team. A West Philly resident, he is also a mechanic and creates custom jewelry.


Jason is a four-year firefighter with the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 10 who enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with family, and watching movies with his girlfriend.
Matt has served two years as a PFD Engine 10 firefighter. His interests include working out, cooking and skiing.
Officer Jim, our always helpful avenue bicycle officer since 2018, has been a member of the Philadelphia Police Department since 2003. He’s a father of two and a native Philadelphian.


Ed is a Philly native and a 26-year SEPTA bus operator. You can catch him on the 45 line running along 11th and 12th Streets.
Deneen has been a SEPTA employee for 31 years – 28 of them as a Broad Street subway line operator. Her not-so-secret collecting passion? Shoes!
Otis has been a SEPTA bus operator for 10 years on routes including the local 29 line that runs along Tasker and Morris Streets. He’s a native Philadelphian who enjoys deejaying in his spare time.


Adam is the executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, and is the hard-working hero who’s kept local businesses informed of COVID-19 rules and opportunities. When not on the job, he enjoys spending time with family, cycling, skiing, and the local music scene.
Leroy is a member of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp. (PARC) team that daily cleans and maintains our local commercial corridor. Energetic and fun, his pastimes include football (Fly Eagles!) and working out.
John is another dedicated PARC team member who makes our avenue sparkle. He enjoys basketball and cooking in his spare time.


In our next post, we’ll profile the remaining 15 Essential Workers who are gracing our holiday windows.  In the meantime, please do your part to help them and the many other courageous souls who are selflessly helping us:  Pull up those masks!

John and Leroy at East Passyunk Avenue’s “Singing Fountain”


Kate & Dave (Click here to meet more of our South Philly heroes)

Deck the Walls With South Philly Heroes!

Several years ago, we started an improbable (even to us) holiday tradition by filling our 27 windows with lighted photos of South Philadelphia neighbors and merchants. 

Home for the holidays at East Passyunk Avenue & Tasker Street — but definitely not alone!

And this being South Philly,  everyone brought their dogs – lots and lots of dogs….

A half-dozen enchanting subjects show off their favorite humans.


This spring,  COVID-19 tore a hole in the familiar workings of our East Passyunk neighborhood. But while we safely cocooned at home,  we couldn’t stop thinking about the Essential Workers who courageously kept us going.

Some – like grocery and pharmacy staff,  sanitation and utility workers,  bus and delivery drivers,  mail carriers and firefighters – put their health on the line simply by showing up for work.

Tom Bertolino has been on the front lines of S. Philly’s pandemic response as the pharmacist and third-generation owner of Bertolino’s Pharmacy.

Others – at restaurants, salons and gyms – took major financial hits by closing their doors for months or opening them at limited capacity. Heather Garden was only days away from the grand opening of her second Halo Hair salon when pandemic restrictions shuttered salons throughout the state.

Halo Hair is back open in East Passyunk and Old City with new COVID-19 protections. (And, yes, that’s Dave sliding in for a quick shot of Heather touching up Kate’s natural blue highlights.)


This summer,  we decided to photograph a cross-section of South Philly’s non-medical heroes.  Some – including bike officer Jim,  CVS manager Eric,  and Acme manager Dean – we’d already met.

Others – like our local trash collection crew and SEPTA drivers – had kept our lives humming for years,  even if we didn’t know their names. 


And,  yes,  we went out of our way to keep them safe,  photographing them from afar and having them remove their masks only for the seconds it took to snap their smiling faces.

Three of 2020’s hardest-working (and most essential) local workers: Tyrone, Drissa and Ransell from the Streets Dept.’s Sanitation Division.

On Thanksgiving eve,  we proudly lit their photos in our annual holiday windows….

David Piña of Tamalex was among the many Passyunk area restaurant owners who donated free food to needy residents during the pandemic shutdown.


Need some inspiration?  You can visit our holiday heroes at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street, across from South Philadelphia’s “Singing Fountain”.   They’ll be smiling there through January 10,  lit daily from 4:30 pm ’til 2:30 a.m.

As always, we’ve posted a sign on our corner door telling you who everyone is – and how they spend their spare time (everything from deejaying to shoe collecting!) when they’re not working for all of us.


Can’t visit in person?  Check out our next two blog posts to read about all 27 of our glowing window subjects.

In the meantime, tie on those masks,  stand 6 feet apart,  and wash those hands for 20 seconds when you get back home.  We want to see you  (and them!)  around the fountain for many holidays to come.

Nissa and Devin, our newest neighbors, always mask up in public. (And, yes, someday we hope to see what they actually look like!)


Kate & Dave (Click here to see our next Essential Worker blog post!)

Deck the (South Philly) Walls With Neighbors – And So Much More!

Family responsibilities have kept us from blogging regularly this year,  but there’s one tradition we can’t abandon:   lighting up our South Philadelphia corner with smiling neighbors and their irresistible dogs.

So,  if you’re dining or playing near the restaurant-packed “Singing Fountain” between now and January 6,  check out our well-decked windows at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street….

18_11_29 1 Neighbor Windows DC_0177We’ll keep the lights on for you ’til 2 a.m.


It all started  in 2013 when we sat in our third-floor kitchen,  waving to neighbors who couldn’t see us.

“Maybe we should put life-sized photos of ourselves in the windows to let people know we’re here,”  Kate joked.   “Then we wouldn’t feel like we’re spying on them.”

Within seconds,  it morphed into something bigger.

“Wow – what if we took photos of the neighbors and put them in the windows, too?   We could do it for the holidays!”

18_11_29 2 Dave Holiday Windows CM_3953Another family tradition:  Kate captures Dave’s best side as he lifts a photo into our windows.

And so,  15 months after moving to South Philadelphia,  we found ourselves explaining to people we barely knew why we wanted to photograph them.

Fortunately,  South Philadelphians have a sense of humor – even if they did roll their eyes after we left.

That first year, we signed up 26 neighbors,  4 dogs and a baby.  The baby moved on,  but – this being Passyunk Avenue – our dog population has grown….

17_12_01 3 Dog WindowsClockwise from top left:  Lucia,  Barney (twice),  Amelie,  Bella,  Milli and Maizy show off some favorite humans.

And after worrying that it’d be a total bust (you mean we need to clean our windows — and light them?),  we landed on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Christmas Eve and a family tradition was born.


While you’re here,  don’t miss these truly fabulous displays that make South Philadelphia the city’s hottest holiday neighborhood:

  • 1600 block of South 13th Street,  between Tasker & Morris (2 blocks from us)

15_12_09-02-miracle-on-south-13th_9828Click here to read about the annual  “Miracle on 13th Street”.   (And,  yes,  they add new surprises each year!)

  • 2700 block of Smedley Street,  between 16th & 17 and Moyamensing & Oregon

2015_12_28-2-smedley-cm_0763The 2700 block of Smedley Street is always a traffic-stopper.   Click here to read our past post about it and Colorado Street.

  • 2700 block of Colorado Street,  between 17th & 18 and Moyamensing & Oregon


Leave time to explore the whole area between Oregon,  Moyamensing,  16th & 18th Streets,  where you’ll literally find hundreds of homes and front windows festooned for the holidays,  each grander than the last.


Although we’re not posting as frequently,  we still have fun planned for the new year:   Kate is wrapping up her research on that great 1960s South Philadelphia photo album before handing it over to Temple University’s Urban Archives….

18_11_29 3 Fabian“Oh, wait – isn’t that….?”  Check out the 1960s album photos here on our website and read the stories behind them in this group of blog posts.

And we plan to unveil another improbable Philadelphia Dumpster Diver house tour this spring — this time featuring our own South Philly home….

18_11_29 4 Kitchen Ceiling Stars CM_8850We are definitely in a pre-home-tour improvement panic,  plastering stars on our kitchen ceiling and constructing a valence of toy cars and postcards for the living room.


To quote Kate’s mom, “You two always did have more guts than brains…!”

18_11_29 5 Catherine MellinaCatherine Mellina – 1922-2018  (Miss you, mom!)

Happy holidays to all!

Kate & Dave


The Great Photo Album Adventure (Part 13): Who Are We?

If you’ve followed the story on our blog,  you know that a friend gave us a fabulous housewarming gift:  a 12-pound photo album from the 1960s,  packed with images from nightspots in and around South Philadelphia.

You also know that we’ve been on a grand hunt to identify the hundreds of entertainers,  sports figures,  business people,  politicians and  “just plain folks” cavorting on its pages, with the goal of donating them to Temple University’s Urban Archives for safe-keeping.


The photos were collected by South Philadelphia newspaper columnist Arthur Tavani, and many are already on our website,  along with whatever identifications we have.  

In September,  2015,  we added our  first section of “Who Are We?” photos,  asking for help in identifying the many unknown women in them.   Today,  we published 27 new photos on our website,  all showing at least one person we can’t identify.

Some photos include famous Philadelphians….

17_02_02-1-197-waw2-al-martinoYes,  that’s South Philadelphia singer Al Martino second from right,  with columnist Art Tavani (far left) and Philadelphia council president Paul D’Ortona (far right).   But who’s the man with the flower in his lapel?

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Holiday Windows Are Back – & Don’t Miss These Other South Philly Displays!

They’re back!  This evening,  we lit our 27 holiday windows with portraits of the many great neighbors,  shop owners,  and dogs  (lots of dogs…)  we’ve met since moving to South Philadelphia in 2012.

So,  if you’re dining or playing near the  “Singing Fountain”  between now and New Year’s Day,  we hope you’ll check out our windows at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street.

Our first holiday display in December, 2013.

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Flip the Script (Part 11): And So This Is….Thanksgiving

It’s been two weeks since the presidential election,  and we’d like to thank the more than two dozen artists,  writers,  and performers who offered words of pre-election encouragement from our South Philadelphia windows….

16_10_21-1-vote-tasker-side-dc_8280Click here to learn about the 28 inspiring Philadelphia artists who spent the pre-election month smiling  from our windows.

…and the hundreds more warm-hearted souls who let us photograph them for our blog….

composite-photoClick here to scroll backwards through all 11 of our pre-election posts,  starting with this one.


We dreamed up our non-partisan photo project this summer,  during a depressing campaign week that painted America as a failed experiment — with a candidate who somehow made it okay to overlook insults against minorities,  women,  the disabled,  the armed forces,  prisoners of war,  our allies – seemingly against basic human kindness itself.

And we did our best to put aside our own political leanings to remind people  (including ourselves)  of the goodness that built our country and the goodness we can still create together.


But healing is largely missing from the holiday menu this year:  No one could have predicted that the candidate with almost three million more votes would be declared the loser,  and that the Ku Klux Klan would be planning a public victory parade – or that the election results would be hailed with racist graffiti and taunts against children and adults in cities all around America,  including our own.

This Thanksgiving  will be an especially hard one,  with families split along ideological lines and feelings so raw.

So where do we start?   There’s only one clear path….



And so this Thanksgiving – when radio stations all over the country traditionally play “Alice’s Restaurant”,  that rambling folk ballad – what better musician to quote than self-described “folkslinger”  Arlo Guthrie,  in a fun-but-true riff built off a comment by fellow musician Pete Seeger:

 “If the world was perfect and everybody had money,

everybody drove a BMW,  nobody was homeless,  nobody ever got sick,

everybody was smart and…happy all the time,

you’d have to go an awful long way out of your way

to make a difference in this world.  

You’d have to do a whole hell of a lot to improve the way it was.

“But in a world that sucks,  like this one,

you don’t have to do very much at all.


“There was never a time in the history of the world

where you could do so little and get so much done.”

Amazing Grace”:  Check out Arlo Guthrie’s fun,  inspiring,  and always rambling riff here on YouTube .

Time to get moving again….!

make-america-kind-againAnd,  yes,  we’ve been handing out dozens of these pins,  available at Via Delia,  to make ourselves feel better.   Sometimes,  you just have to get back in the game.

Happy Thanksgiving to all,

Kate & Dave

Flip the Script (Part 10): Nov. 8 Is Here, & It’s Now or Never

Well,  it’s come down to this….and there’s no do-overs after Election Day….

16_10_02-4-passyunk-windows-cm_5590Corny perhaps, but indubitably true:  Click here to learn more about these smiling faces in our South Philly windows – and about the hundreds more big-hearted Philadelphians we’ve photographed for our blog this month.

And,  yeah,  it’s easy to say that both major candidates are flawed,  and you don’t want to vote for either of them.  But their agendas are polar opposites,  and one of them will be elected this week.

And you  – and all the other smiling faces on our blog – will be living with the consequences for years to come.

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Flip the Script (Part 9): 48 More Ways to Beat That Pre-Election Stress

Over the past four weeks,  we’ve photographed scores of optimistic Philadelphians in our home studio,  as part of our pre-election,  anti-angst photo campaign…

16_10_25-01-vote-corner-view-dc_0137Click here to learn more about the smiling artists in our windows at E. Passyunk Avenue & Tasker Street – and our quest to show hundreds more upbeat Philadelphians on our blog.


Today we’ll stroll our South Philadelphia neighborhood to introduce you to just a handful of the equally upbeat business people and customers we’ve met during our four years here….

Metro Mens Clothing,  Halo Hair

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Flip the Script (Part 8): Our VOTE Windows on ABC’s Nightline &!

They say that a bad day is when you wake up and find a  60 Minutes  crew on your lawn.

Fortunately,  the same didn’t hold true for  ABC’s Nightline  last week.

16_11_4-3-nightline-kate-dc_5307_No warrants in sight:   Kate (second from left) with Nightline’s Ignacio Torres,  Jasmine Brown and Dan Harris.


Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris and segment producers Jasmine Brown  (the lead producer that day)  and Ignacio Torres were in town to gauge the pre-election stress level in our hotly contested swing state.   (Hint:  Think high – very high.)

They also offered relief in the form of a daringly co-ed  (i.e., mixed Democrat and Republican)  meditation session.

In between,  they talked to us about our upbeat South Philadelphia window display….

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