South Street is an east-west thoroughfare in the city of Philadelphia, running from Front Street at the Delaware River through the downtown area, ending at the Schuylkill River. The most popular and lively part of South Street is located between Front Street and 10th. Parts of this area are also sometimes known as the Headhouse District.
The street now labeled as South was originally called Cedar Street and it represented the southernmost boundary of the city of Philadelphia. When neighboring townships were added to the city, the street's name was changed. In the early to mid 20th century, South Street was akin to New York's Garment District and consistently mainly of stores that sold fabric, men's suits, and other similar handmade garments.
In the early 1960s, South Street and the garment district were threatened with extinction when a proposed cross-town expressway was to make its way through that portion of the city. Both businesses and residents began moving out and property was cheap, attracting starving artists, musicians, and others looking for affordable housing. Many of the warehouses were turned into studios. The expressway never came to be but the neighborhood remained a haven for artists of all kinds.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the South Street of today began to take shape. Numerous small restaurants and night clubs opened and the area became popular with young adults. Bar hopping was a regular pastime and some of Philadelphia's young musical acts got their start in the clubs on South Street, including Robert Hazard. As the years waned, the tourist population took its toll on the residents of the area and most moved out and sold to businesses. Today, the neighborhood is more a tourist attraction than a place to call home.
The area is quite popular with local teenagers who like to shop in South Street's quirky stores, but especially young adults, who arrive from other parts of the city and suburbs to enjoy the nightlife just about every day of the week but especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. Some 50 restaurants and bars line the street and the little side streets off South, so there's a huge choice of cuisine. Nighttime means live music at many establishments, featuring a variety of types of music from jazz to ethnic fare.
Pieces of the Garment District, now dubbed Fabric Row, still exist, especially around the area of 4th and South Streets. Fabric stores, drapery workrooms, interior decorators, furniture stores, and more can be found in this general area and the prices can be quite good in comparison to similar stores elsewhere.
Also along South Street patrons can find nail and hair salons, the occasional art gallery, flower shops, bakeries, electronics stores, coffee shops, and much more, most located on the first floor of buildings that once functioned as residences for earlier Philadelphia residents.
But South Street also has its slightly sleazy side. It's not unusual to find the occasional sex shop as well as tattoo parlors and body piercing establishments. For a long time, it was the center of the punk movement in Philadelphia and there are still shops that cater to those who prefer similar styles.
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