By Beth U

Razor’s is a speakeasy in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia, on a block once vibrant with bakeries, butchers, and florists. Decades of redlining, structural racism, and orchestrated economic decline have taken down most of the other buildings on the block.  Open spaces are good for gardens and barbecues, until gentrification claims them one by one.  Meanwhile, residents pile into Razor’s for talk, news, jobs, gossip and love.

I am here with Amber Art and Design, collecting oral histories and doing fieldwork to ensure that community perspectives are considered in new ‘redevelopment’ efforts.

Residents are mapping the businesses that once stood on the block and when they closed, and introducing us to neighbors whose family members owned or worked in these shops.  Local kinship–both blood and fictive–remains strong.

John Coltrane lived around the corner, Nina Simone a few blocks away.  Up the street is Sly’s – the oldest barber shop in Philadelphia where Mohammed Ali got his hair cut when in town.


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