Fishtown natives design T-shirts responding to nickname.
By Melissa Komar
With houses going for $700K and coffee shops popping up faster than you can brew that cup of Joe, “gentrification” has been the hot word for the past few years in Fishtown.
And, while the wave of change has earned one of Philly’s former predominantly working-class neighborhoods several accolades, including Forbes’ “America’s Hottest New Neighborhood,” (News flash: Fishtown has been ‘hot’ since halfies was played at Jacob Holtz), change isn’t always easy.
Look no further than the recent T-shirts for sale (and, all the good, bad, ugly and in between comments) that popped up on social media a few weeks ago.
The front of the T-shirt design lends little for controversy: an outline of a fish, with the word “Fishtown” above it and the neighborhood’s ZIP code, 19125, below it.
The back is the clapback, which reads “The Few, The Proud, The Left Overs.”
“I’m over 21, I’m part of the bar scene in Fishtown, and I’ve been hearing people call Fishtowners ‘leftovers,’ just like people are called ‘yuppies’ or ‘hipsters,’ and, it just didn’t sit right. And, people were getting angry, so we decided to make T-shirts,” said Erin Gallagher, one of the T-shirt designers. “Gentrification is inevitable, but this is still our neighborhood. We’re still here. We decided to take a sarcastic stance on it. It’s not so much to get people angry, but to get people talking.”
Gallagher, 25, said feedback has been mixed, with some believing the T-shirts are an attempt to divide the neighborhood.
“I’m proud to be born and raised in Fishtown. And, if people want to refer to us as leftovers, then why not own it? …Why let it be negative? Why not make it a positive?,” said Sam Gonzalez, 25, who grew up at Sepviva and Earl streets, and helped design the T-shirt.
Growing up in Fishtown is an experience neither woman would trade for the world, but one that’s hard to come by on today’s streets, according to Gallagher, who grew up at Thompson and Crease streets.
“Most of my friends, I’ve known them my whole life. Everybody around here knew who I was. And, that’s just a quality you don’t find anymore, where you can walk down the street, and people know you and your families,” she said. “My family has history here. My grandmom owned one of the most prominent penny candy stores, Doris’s Candy, and people still know it today. And, I feel pride being from this neighborhood.”
While different businesses have taken the candy store’s place at Thompson and Marlborough streets over the years, the support Gallagher has received from Fishtown residents she’s known her whole life hasn’t.
Gonzalez had a similar upbringing.
“Growing up in Fishtown was like family. My grandparents went to St. Laurentius School. I went to St. Laurentius School. And, it just breaks my heart to see St. Laurentius Church just sitting there and, hearing they’re thinking about turning it into apartments is heartbreaking,” she said, “because it’s a staple of our community. And, it’s not like a community anymore. It’s a bunch of people who live here. You used to be able to walk through Fishtown and everyone asked how your parents were, and how your grandparents were, and, it was just easy. It’s just not like that anymore.”
Like Gallagher, Gonzalez still carries pride for where she comes from despite the ongoing changes in the neighborhood.
“I’m so proud to be from this neighborhood, and that’s really what I wanted from these T-shirts,” she said.
Still, the sting of waves of change is hard to swallow.
“It’s great that Fishtown is this prominent place and people want to come check it out, but it’s just not the same,” Gallagher said.
“It used to be this no-name little neighborhood outside of Center City and now it’s turning into Center City,” Gonzalez added. “It’s so hard because people are saying it’s so beautiful now, but it was beautiful back then, too, it just looked different. Now, row homes that look like they’re made of plastic are being put up.”
And, while the Fishtown T-shirt addresses a current issue, the duo have been designing T-shirts together for 10 years.
From high school rivalry T-shirts, to shirts made to benefit a close friend who was in an accident, the “Left Overs” T-shirt is the one that has garnered the most attention.
“I want to get the message out there. This is not a negative thing. This is not us taking jabs at anyone. This is all fun to us. We think the shirts are hysterical. There’s obviously a deeper meaning,” Gonzalez said. “But, I just want everyone from Fishtown who reacts negatively to things they hear to just take it with a grain of salt. We’re still here. And, it’s fine.”
“This is far from hateful,” Gallagher said. “If people like our ideas, we’ll continue to make T-shirts for this neighborhood. Everybody loves a Fishtown shirt.”
Orders for the T-shirts are currently closed.