The Care Nest Home Care Agency. (GIH | Rasheed Ajamu)

The blocks of Chew and Chelten Avenue in East Germantown are busy with foot traffic, and many of the neighbors in the area have been there for decades. It’s also an area that has seen the impact of gun violence–a 12-year-old and two older men were shot and killed last summer right near Chew Avenue and East Locust Street. Community stakeholders, faith leaders, and elected officials have been working together and separately on solutions to support neighbors, provide jobs and mentoring, and reduce gun violence in the area.

New business revitalization and development and how that affects the neighborhood is one of the conversations held by community organizations like Chew and Chelten CDC, led by longtime neighbor Douglas Rucker. At a recent virtual meeting held by the CDC, Rashidah Robinson, a local entrepreneur who grew up in East Germantown, presented her Lavish Real Estate company’s current projects and plans for business transformation right on the blocks. 

Rashidah Robinson was born in South Philly but moved to the Germantown area when she was about two years old. She spent her fall and winter months in Germantown, gaining knowledge during her years at Pastorious Elementary School, Ada Lewis Middle School, and Central High School. During the summer months, she was in South Philly, helping at her family’s different shops, including a penny candy store and a sporting goods store. She took that entrepreneurial spirit into adulthood after gaining a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh.

“I was slated to be a physician, but I quickly realized that the pharmaceutical industry was my niche,” said Robinson. “But growing up, you know, it was always fun, right? It was a community. My parents would task me to clean the marble steps every Saturday and sweep the front. So we knew about being responsible and accountable for the look so that we could have clean streets at that Chew and Chelten corridor.”

“When I grew up in the 80s, despite being plagued by drugs, people knew each other. There were churches in the neighborhood, there were bars in the neighborhood. So, the adults had an opportunity to get to know each other. And I think that’s missing in our society and in our neighborhood now,” she continued.

Robinson currently owns and operates Care Nest Home Care Agency on Chew Avenue and is opening up three businesses within the next two years. One is a daycare; another is a commissary kitchen that provides catering and prepared food services for schools, personal care homes, and daycares. The third is a coffee shop for the community, especially the older neighbors. 

“For me, I wanted to invest my money back into the neighborhood that I grew up in,” said Robinson. “When you talk about revitalization, I know people always think, let me think of the next hot spot, but why not have that new hot spot be my old neighborhood? So I really honestly didn’t think of any other neighborhood.” 

Robinson said one of her first challenges was identifying who owned the storefronts at Chew and Chelten to put in offers for the properties. Another challenge she ran up against was finding the right kind of businesses that would support the neighborhood but also feel inviting for folks outside the neighborhood to become customers. 

Robinson remembers growing up with storefronts like a bakery giving out shortbread cookies after school, a pizza shop, a thrift store, and an ice cream shop. She hopes the commissary kitchen and coffee shop bring that variety to the business corridor and welcome all kinds of neighbors.

She also hopes to help serve food with playstreets nearby through the commissary kitchen services and for the coffee shop to be an inviting community hub for folks to relax and enjoy coffee, light food, and even some “adult” drinks (she’s currently applying for an alcoholic beverage license at the location).

Yolanda Lewis Boykin, a co-block captain on a nearby block, moved to the area about nine years ago, but her husband’s family has had a house here since the ‘80s. She wants to ensure new businesses work alongside the nearby residential neighbors in their business plans.

Lewis Boykin attended the virtual meeting where Robinson presented her business plans. She liked the business ideas but wondered about parking and other impacts on nearby residential neighbors, saying that revitalization could bring an influx of people from other areas.

Lewis Boykin says, “That’s good because that’s what you’re looking for. But you also have to keep in mind other persons that already live there and the situations that we already currently are facing. How are you going to integrate that into what you’re proposing?” 

She also wondered about local businesses providing job opportunities for the nearby community.

Robinson plans to provide jobs with the businesses but stresses the importance of the social connections and community building the businesses can provide–for both younger and older people. 

“I’m hoping that it’ll help with employment by hiring baristas and cooks and chefs for the coffee shop, but it’ll also bring some sense of social gathering and entertainment to the neighborhood for our aging adults and even our more senior adults, giving them an opportunity to get out of their homes for 30 minutes to one hour to come in and have a cup of tea, sit and watch the news, read the newspaper before they go back in for the rest of the day. And they can bring their caregiver, or they can bring their family member with them.”

Thus far, Robinson has worked with Chew and Chelten CDC and other neighborhood groups to present her business plans and current real estate projects, and local elected officials like State Representatives Stephen Kinsey and Darisha Parker and City Councilmember Cindy Bass are aware of her plans. 

She wants to stay engaged in the community she grew up in as her business projects move forward, with her overall vision of a business corridor with various stores that provide all kinds of goods and services.