A holly, jolly trolley

Eight stops are helping to make trolley hopping a novel experience for the commercial expanse’s patrons.

Image provided by Breslin Realty Development Corp

Is that a trolley shuttling customers around Whitman Plaza?

Where did it come from?

Unless you’re addicted to that step counting app on your phone, the idea of walking around a roughly 300,000 square foot commercial space sounds like an exhausting task. Shopping needs to get done. Fighting the December chill blasting you in the face while trying to maintain a firm grip on those plastic shopping bags, you come to find the idea of taking a comfortable seat on a trolley does not sound so crazy.

Comfort seekers have boarded the ride every Thursday through Sunday since Nov. 17. Operating from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., the amenity comes courtesy of an agreement between Breslin Realty Development Corp., which serves as the managing agent for the South Whit Shopping Center Associates, and Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours. The latter entity came to Breslin’s attention through its Trolley Express Philly option that has proven a vital means for conveying area children to school. Because of increased use of the plaza, 330–500 W. Oregon Ave., during the holiday season, overseers wanted to ease travel for patrons, especially older adults, of the 27 businesses and thus secured their bond early last month.

“We loved the concept and definitely wanted the partnership,” Lisa Bass, the group sales and marketing manager for Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours, said of the 40-hour complimentary service that will run through New Year’s Eve. “The promotion of it has been growing, so we’re expecting for it to gain even more notice as December unfolds.”

This welcoming mode of transportation makes getting around a little easier for Arturo Mangeli, who on Friday, walked to Whitman Plaza from his home on the 400 block of McKean Street. This is the same soon to be 76-year-old who is two months removed from double knee replacement surgery. Mangeli wages battles with himself each day, wondering if he should accept his relatives’ requests to help him to secure means to travel or maintain the fully independent lifestyle that his wife Betty’s death five years ago inspired him to cultivate.

“Try as I might to stay stubborn, I sometimes have to admit that I need help,” the Pennsport resident said upon waiting for the white painted trolley outside of ShopRite, the center’s newest tenant. “I heard about this last week from my daughter-in-law, so I’m out here to grab a few things and see what it’s about.”

During the summer, Mangeli and 10 family members explored parts of the city through one of the double-decker buses for which Bass’ employer has acquired renown, so when his daughter-in-law Lilian explained that Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours is also behind the plaza experience, he finally felt compelled to give his new knees even the slightest break.

“I think this is great for fossils like me,” he said upon retrieving bags of fruit from his ShopRite cart. “It’s a pretty big space if you’re going from end to end, and many people my age can’t hack it, especially when there’s bad weather.”

Friday featured clear skies and a bright disposition from driver Jerome Jasper, whose career as a motorist has taken him all over this great country. Having a limited space in which to conduct his vocation does not bother the Frankford resident, whose has enjoyed the quick occasions to powwow with passengers.

“My job said to me, ‘Jerome, we have something new for you,’” Jasper said of the opportunity that finds him making pickups at ShopRite, Burlington Coat Factory, the Flaming Grill & Supreme Buffet, Party City, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Ross Dress For Less, S & K Jewelers, and Subway. “It’s all in the name of helping people out, and it’s the holiday season, so there’s that added bonus and encouragement to show goodwill.”

Due to the rapid pace with which many people conduct their lives, stopping for even a brief moment to inspect one’s surroundings can seem foreign to folks. After a busy day of shopping, Angela Ortiz wanted her children to enjoy such a reflective period.

“We drove here and could have just headed to the car to make all our stops, but they were curious to see what it’s like on board,” the Newbold dweller said early Saturday evening as Lucy and Manuel gave the trolley, one of five in the Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours’ fleet, a thorough examination. “I think the novelty is going to be a big draw for people, too.”

That sort of reaction will certainly sit well with Breslin personnel, particularly senior property manager Karen Siegel, whose interactions with another publication proved less positive, as it took shots at the existence of the service. She and her employer hold that the trolley will “assist shoppers and customers alike to navigate through the center’s busy roadways and parking lots while promoting excellent shopping and dining experiences at all of the tenants’ businesses. Whitman Plaza’s customers now may walk into, or drive to the shopping center and park their vehicle, and then travel comfortably on the trolley shuttle with family and their belongings throughout the day.”

“I get how people might want to make fun of this,” Mangeli said as the trolley made its way to Pearle Vision, where he needed to have his frames fixed. “I’m adjusting to these knees, and it’s not always easy, so I appreciate this. To those who want to resort to that kind of judgment, I say you’re just the type of humbugs that we don’t need this time of year.”

“We’re going to use this as a prototype to pitch to other shopping centers,” Bass said of the inaugural effort by Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours to align with a bustling business expanse. “There’s so much time left to see how this goes, so we’re going to keep a close eye on comments and other feedback.”

Hopeful that the idea, which establishments are touting through sandwich boards, will live beyond 2016 at Whitman Plaza, Bass also said that the addition of Santa Claus would certainly be a boon to spreading Christmas cheer. No matter the company this year or any subsequent ones, Lucy looks forward to taking more trips.

“We’re going to tell all the kids on my street to come with us,” the festive 5-year-old said. “I’m sitting in the front, though. I don’t care what my brother says. That’s my seat.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

The trolley service runs 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday, always busy occasions for the plaza’s 27 businesses.

Photo by Maria Young