Cultural Fabric of Philadelphia, Dominican Community, Bodega's

The Dominican community in Philadelphia is very entrepreneural.  Many small businesses in the City were started by Dominicans.  These include hair salons, tire/auto stores, restaurants and most importantly Bodega's. 

A "Bodega" is a small corner grocery store.  The history of the Dominican Bodega stores goes back to the 50's and 60's.  There were corner stores in the city and many were owned by one group, Frankford Markets.  As these stores got older and less profitable, they were closing.  Many Koreans then took over these corner grocery stores, along with increasingly the Puerto Ricans.


In the late 80's and early 90's, the corner stores in the City were again dying.  At this point, the incrreasing Dominican immigrants started to buy up these dying corner grocery stores, many from Koreans.  But the Dominicans buying these stores worked farms back in the Dominican Republic. 


They knew nothing about running a corner store. But the key to the rapid growth of Dominican Bodegas was the bond in the community itself.  Some Dominicans took the risk and started Bodega's.  Then, when they began to grow, rather than keep their secrets to them selves, they helped other Dominicans to the same thing....but in another part of the City.


This continued and the Dominican Bodega stores multiplied dramatically.  At that point the Dominican Grocery Association was formed.  This group then formalized the help that Dominicans would give to other Dominicans in starting a Bodega business. 


With this help, the total number of Dominican Bodega's in the City is probably over 1000. An incredible amount and a real tribute to the contribution of the Dominican community to the economic growth and well being of the City of Philadelphia.


Here's some shots of Dominican Bodega's:







Cultural Fabric of Philadelphia - 9.19.16 - Baseball and The Dominican Community

I am working with the Dominican immigrant community in Philly for my "Cultural Fabric" photo book project.  The Dominicans are a large, and growing, immigrant community in the City.  They contribute much to the City, from their Dominican businesses (most corner Bodega's in the City are Dominican) to their food, music and nightlife.

One very important part of the community is baseball.  In the Dominican Republic, every kid grows up wanting to play in the US big leagues.  And many do.  But many don't.  This doesn't deter kids from wanting that "one shot" at the big leagues.

Here in Philly, Dominican kids still have that fire to play professional baseball.

Willy Otenez lived the "Dominican Dream".  He was drafted right from the island into the big leagues, where he played for Baltimore, Toronto and other minor league teams for over 20 years.  Now living in the Philadelphia area, his "Baseball Academy" helps Philly Dominican kids work to build their baseball skills.  But he not only builds baseball skills.  He also is a mentor and helps to build life skills for many Philadelphia Dominicans.

Here's some shots of Willy's Baseball Academy practices, both in the batting carge (6th and Somerset St) and on the field.  And this program is tough.  Having played baseball myself when I was young, I never heard of having to do pushups for messing up on your swings!!






Cultural Fabric of Philadelphia - Kensington Street Festival, 8.12.16

Kensington Street in North Philly can be rough and maybe "scary" to some people.  It's a tough neighborhood in the City and it looks the part.

But this weekend the tough street of Kensington took on a much kinder feel, a "festival" feel.  The Rock Ministries church, located on Kensington Avenue, held a block long festival that was loaded with things to do for kids.  Games, bouncies, water, games...... things for kids were everywhere.  Being a kid in this neighborhood must be tough, but not this weekend.

I've attached some shots of kids having a great time on one of the toughest streets in the City.





Road Trips - 8.5.16 - West Virginia Old Coal Towns

I've always been fascinated with the old West Virginia coal towns.  As an environmental consultant for many years, I did a bit of work for mining companies and I've worked in West Virginia many times.  So I started seeing these coal towns many years ago, in the 90's.  And the look as a consultant working for the mining companies was closer and deeper than I got this weekend.

But I decided to do a photo safari into southern West Virginia this weekend.  I went to Bluefield and worked my way up through Beckely and up to the New River Gorge Bridge.  Much of the area to the west of the Gorge is prime mining territory.

It's just sad to see this area now.  So "broken", so devastated.  Both the environment and the people.  With the collapse of the coal mining business, for the most part, these old town are disintegrating.  And poverty is rampant.  It's so sad.  The mine owners are gone now.  They made their money and moved on. 

But the people, who worked so hard, for so little, with all of the various added problems, like health, their environment, their livlihood, they're really the ones who took it on the chin.....again.  It's just so sad.

Here are some shots that I liked:

This old school appeared as if everyone just left, all at once.  Like an alien being just took everyone and let the building rot away.

The small mining towns in southern West Virginia are all small, very small.  And the area is so hilly that they appear to be bolted to the side of the hills.  The streets are so very small that only one car can go through them at one time. Lots of backing up.

I loved this scene.  It's a porch of a church, that for some reason had a table and chairs on the front porch.  I loved the yellow flower.

In Beckley, I took the underground mine tour.  It's a real mine and the tour was given by a retired miner.  So it was as realistic as it could be.  I'll tell you, you would have to pay me a lot of money to be a miner.  It's so cold, and dark, and wet, and dirty, and dusty, and........there's no good word that I can think of that I can use to describe a mining job.

West Virginia is such a pretty state...until you see the rape and destruction of the mining areas.  This barn, along Route 219 around the middle of the State, was so pretty in the early morning light.  It was so quiet, and felt so "soft" all around.  For a minute I almost forget what I'd seen the previous day further to the south.

Weddings - 7.30.16; Russian Wedding Party

It was not a part of my ongoing Immigrant Community Photo Project, but I nonetheless shot a Russian wedding party event last night.  Now that I'm shooting so much related to immigrants, a Russian wedding party event (not a reception, but a dinner party for a small crowd) was a thrill to shoot.

The event was at the Emperor Restaurant in Northeast Philly.  There's a large russian and eastern european community in the Northeast, that I've done some shooting in already.  The Emperor is a totally russian restaurant, where Russian is mainly spoken, wth some English.  I love to hear the Russian language, I feel it's very "melodic".

The restaurant has a live Russian band, which was also a thrill to listen to. Not only were they good musically, but they had a light show that was great for shooting.  I love this kind of light for creative shots.

Again, doing so much work with Immigrants, it's great to do a wedding event that's Russian.  Here's some shots:






Philly Cultural Project - "Pure Dominican" - Baseball

Most of Philly's immigrant communities take care of themselves.  One way that they do this is taking care of their kids.  And nothing takes care of Dominican kids like baseball.  The national game of the Dominican Republic, it's something that every Dominican kid thinks about.

They all want to be like Willy Otenez.  Willy went from the neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic to the Major Leagues.  While most of his 25 year baseball career was spent in the minors, he's still a hero to Dominican kids.  So when Willy holds one of his Baseball workshops, Dominican kids come.  And speaking with some of the mothers who were there with their kids, there's genuine appreciation for Willy keeping kids off the streets and doing something productive.

And Willie's practices are long and hard.  I mean, I played little league baseball and I never had to do push-ups for messing up batting practice!!



Weddings - DeFreese-Gulezian; From Engagement Session to Wedding Shoot

This was a fun couple who I had the pleasure meeting for an engagement shoot, then the wedding.  This works so well for me, because I can really build a relationship with the couple that helps a lot during the hectic wedding shoot.