Board members reflect on the past, present and future of the local institution.
In 1897, a coalition of local Jewish merchants drafted a charter to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, seeking official establishment of the then-titled South Philadelphia Business Men’s Association.
“The purpose for which the corporation is formed,” reads the 19th-century document, “is the mutual improvement, protection and advancement of business interests in South Philadelphia…”
While trades, infractures and populations may have shifted since these bedrock ideas were laid, the mission has remained unchanged more than a century later, as this year, the now-called South Philadelphia Business Association is celebrating its 120th anniversary.
“It was all about, back then, networking with South Philly businesses like we do today,” explained Louis Galdo, Sr., owner of Galdo’s Catering and president of the association. “As far as I see it, I think the mission has been the same. It remains the same . . . the mission has always been to support each other as South Philadelphia business people.”
While the organization remained present since its inception, in the mid-1960s, past-president Danny Olivieri, owner of Olivieri Jewelers, recalls the association revitalizing its activity. At 14 years old, Olivieri remembers attending the monthly meetings with his father during this period.
“Basically, what the organization was doing was forming as a group to stand together as a business organization to help each other, because we didn’t have any, if any, or minimal representation with the community or to the city,” he said. “So, standing as a group together, obviously, we had a louder voice, and we’re able to help each other with any issues and information, and we grew out from there.”
A core aspect of the organization entails encouraging the creation of new commerce in the area, especially assisting potential owners get their passion projects off the ground.
At monthly meetings, which are held once a month at different locations, a 13-member board, along with handfuls of the nearly 130 business members, advise rising businessmen and women with every facet of the process, ranging from zoning and licensing to advertising and marketing.
The room is often dense with a scope of skills, as members of the association span from realtors to jewelers.
“When you come into the association, you’re basically coming into a room full of experts,” said Jackie Fitzpatrick, senior vice president/South Group area manager of Univest Bank and Trust Co. and treasurer of the association. “It’s priceless information.”
This year alone, board members say 20 new businesses joined the association, but the organization still seeks to revamp some of its practices to attract younger individuals and avoid stagnant periods it has experienced in the past. Some of these ideas include starting “speed networking,” as opposed to speed dating.
One avenue to accomplish this renewal includes strengthening the organization’s other core value — charity.
For the past few decades, the association has distributed tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships to South Philly high schoolers. Every year, 10 to 15 seniors are given $1,000. All of the funds are built up by the business members.
Currently, the association is brainstorming other philanthropies, including a Christmas giveaway that will not only provide holiday meals for four South Philly families in need but will also satisfy wishlists to Santa.
“Moving forward, we’re doing a few different things. We’re definitely going after the younger people … the more younger people we get in, the fresher everything becomes,” said Gina Rucci, owner of Popi’s Catering and vice president of the association. “That way, we’re still doing the original mission of the scholarship, but we’re also trying to take care of people in need in our parishes, so that it affects two times a year versus once a year.”
The members say this major milestone feels like a fitting time to commemorate past accomplishments while looking ahead toward the next century of work. These thoughts were presented at the 120 years anniversary gala, which was held at the Down Town Club by Cescaphe earlier this month.
Board members say the event saw a turnout of more than 180 people, including Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who gifted the association a $2,500 grant.
“(The gala) really had to be something that said — this is a new beginning. It’s 120 years. We’re going to celebrate it, and we’re going to start doing even bigger things,” Rucci said.“It was really about a celebration of all of us — new, old, bringing in past presidents, everybody we can bring. It was just special, and I don’t think anybody left not feeling that way.”
To learn more about the association, visit www.facebook.com/SouthPhiladelphiaBusinessAssociation/.