Kensington’s famous milk bottle building might just come back to life as a creamery

Business owner Yoav Perry, who received $126,039 in state funds to purchase creamery equipment, is looking into leasing the building for his artisan cheesemaking business, Perrystead Dairy.

After operating for more than 100 years in the heart of Kensington, Harbisons’ Dairies – the building with the giant milk bottle on top – closed in the 1960s. But believe it or not, it could open back up as early as this spring as a creamery. 

That’s because business owner Yoav Perry, who received $126,000 in state funds to purchase creamery equipment, is looking into leasing the building for his artisan cheesemaking business, Perrystead Dairy.

A press release from state Sen. Larry Farnese says the grant was given to Perry “to help restore the former Harbison’s Dairy,” but Perry told the Star that Farnese’s office jumped the gun on that just a bit.

“I don’t have a lease on the property yet,” he said. “But I really hope for that to be my space.”

Perry told Star he’s looking into other properties in the Fishtown/Kensington area, but the former Harbison Dairy building – which is still owned by Harbison Dairy – is his “first choice.” He hopes to sign a lease within 30 to 45 days.

Back in 2018, the milk bottle was historically designated by the city. In its historic designation nomination, the milk bottle was recognized for being an integral part of the neighborhood’s culture. 

It has appeared on drinkware, T-shirts and the homepage for the East Kensington Neighbors Association’s website. 

It’s even been painted on one of the interior walls of Atlantis: The Lost Bar, a local watering hole.

“While milk consumption has waned over the years, the demand for gourmet cheese and other upscale milk products is growing, especially in Philadelphia neighborhoods,” Farnese said. “Perrystead will fill this need and restore a neighborhood tradition. I’m happy to support this state investment in urban agriculture.”

The press release says the grant was created “to serve the growing need for high-end milk products.”

Not much has been reported on the subject, but the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee in the Pennsylvania General Assembly called the growing need for high-end milk products “an ongoing crisis facing many Pennsylvania dairy producers” in a September 2019 report

In simple terms, the report basically says that the supply of Pennsylvania farmers’ raw milk is too high to meet demand. The relatively low demand has resulted in an extended period of low milk prices, which is hurting Pennsylvania’s farmers to the point where there has been a 19.2-percent decline in the number of dairy farms in the state from 2008 to 2018, including a 6-percent decline from 2017 to 2018 alone. 

“Supporting the dairy industry in Pennsylvania means helping our incredible dairy farms,” said state Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-175th dist.). “This grant will support the dairy business in our commonwealth by funding the equipment for Perrystead Dairy to process exceptional PA milk into high-value dairy goods that can be sold in other states.”

Perry said he hopes to have settled in a new creamery by spring and process about 5,000 pounds of milk per week. By next year, he hopes to double it. He plans to obtain a pre-fabricated creamery built inside a shipping container that “slides right into the building.”

“It’ll be a Grade A creamery, which means we can export the products to any other state or country,” he said. “We’re going to do some really cool things.”

According to a 2018 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the plant was founded by an Irish immigrant named Robert Harbison, who delivered glass bottles of milk twice a day throughout the city.

Currently, the space at 2041 Coral St. is being “redone from scratch,” Perry said. Workers can be seen and heard doing construction inside the building.