Gov. Shapiro visits West Philly Black-owned businesses to promote a $25 million budget proposal

Media Outlet


Aliya Schneider

Gov. Josh Shapiro visited Black-owned businesses in West Philly on Thursday to promote a proposed $25 million budget initiative to support small businesses across the state.

The potential program, called Main Street Matters, would support downtown areas across the state by offering grants to improve commercial corridors and the small businesses on them. The visit to Philadelphia was part of a statewide tour to promote his ambitious $48.34 billion proposal for the 2024-25 state budget.

The pool of $25 million would go toward infrastructure on main streets, such as outdoor seating or lighting, or directly to business owners to get equipment or a new facade, for example.

The details of exactly who would get the money and how is not yet clear.

“They’d have to meet certain standards in order to receive those funds,” the Democratic governor said. “I can tell you that those terms and conditions are being worked on right now.”

On Thursday afternoon, Shapiro visited Hakim’s Bookstore, an African American bookstore on 52nd Street in West Philly, along with State Sen. Vincent Hughes and State Rep. Amen Brown, both Democrats.

The store is the oldest African American book shop on the East Coast, according to its owner, Yvonne Blake, 72, whose father opened the business in 1959. Blake showed the officials around the store, which carries books written by Black authors and about the Black experience.

When Shapiro asked Blake what could help support her West Philly business, she said marketing to show people that there are “a lot of things of quality and culture” on 52nd Street. She also wants people to feel safe in the neighborhood, and thinks better lighting and shelters for bus stops could help.

When Shapiro asked Blake if she knows the name of the local police officers or sees them walking around, she said no, though she sees their cars occasionally.

Blake also said that more free parking in the neighborhood would help local businesses.

“People are in here browsing books and they’re watching their cars,” she said, adding that she feels bad when people get a ticket for shopping in her store.

Shapiro said creating a parking lot where drivers can show a receipt from a local business for a free spot would be “a super worthwhile investment.”

Blake, who grew up helping with the store, runs the store herself with help from family and one volunteer, told The Inquirer that being able to hire staff would also help.

After his visit to the bookstore, Shapiro was joined by Enterprise Center President Della Clark and a host of local elected officials at a news conference at Two Locals Brewing Company, in University City, to talk about the initiative.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski, a Democrat who represents University City and other parts of West Philly south of Market Street, said local entrepreneurs are increasingly facing barriers through prohibitive start-up costs, loans and equity, and competition with big chain companies.

He said that when he walks down the 52nd Street corridor in his district, he feels its history...