Vegan food, coffee and a cultural hub at South Philly’s The Pharmacy (soft opening tomorrow)

From the outside, The Pharmacy looks like an old decrepit warehouse. Soon, though it’ll be a vegan café with visions beyond coffee, built in true DIY spirit. However, with opening a new business comes many municipal loopholes to pass through.

It’s been just a little more than two years since Gary Viteri, lead singer and guitarist of South Philly punk band Le Yikes Surf Club, got the keys to the former in-patient care office. It’s essentially a “fixer-upper” since it’s been empty for decades – and Viteri has handled most of the remodeling himself with a crew of friends – but as far as he’s concerned, the hard part has been getting the neighborhood on board with turning the corner building into a commercial business.

“I started the process last summer,” Viteri says. “That involves petitioning and getting approval from the neighborhood councilman. And for example, since we have churches on our block, we needed their approval too and they had to notify their congregation. It all really puts you on blast. Plus people from the public were at meetings accusing us of potentially turning the spot into a bar or a nightclub because our application mistakenly said there will be ‘alcohol, a DJ and live music regularly’ and that’s just not true.”

He believes that some people at the meetings simply viewed him as a delinquent; they simply didn’t believe that he’s capable of producing a business with a positive outcome on the community. But the building has been empty for years until Viteri bought it. He’s already gained support from his immediate neighbors – including a woman who’s outspoken goal is to rid her block of the unsightly empty facade.

Still, Viteri had to go to meetings repeatedly just regarding The Pharmacy’s location. It stands on the southwest corner of 18th and Wharton Streets; 18th is the border between the Newbold and Point Breeze neighborhoods. Consequently, Viteri had to get approval from both districts. But the payoff, he believes, will be positive. Continue reading →