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AME Church celebrates 200 years in Philadelphia

This religious institution, birthed in Philadelphia, celebrated its bicentennial this week.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by a freed slave who created a new religion rather than endure racism from white worshippers, is marking its bicentennial in its birthplace of Philadelphia.

As many as 30,000 people are estimated to be in the city for the AME Church's general conference, which started July 6 and runs to July 13. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stopped by the conference Friday, courting the black voting bloc that will be key to her success in November.

From its roots more than 200 years ago, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has been embedded in the struggle for freedom and equality, and draws on its rich past to remain a powerful political and religious force in American culture.

"There's a recognition that this is a denomination that represents African-American excellence, independence and autonomy," said AME historian Christina Dickerson Cousin. "The AME Church is pretty much as old as the country itself. What other African-American institution can say that?"

...The church stands today as an example for social justice leadership, said the Rev. Mark Tyler, Mother Bethel's current pastor.

"[Founder] Richard Allen was 'Black Lives Matter' before there was 'Black Lives Matter,'" Tyler said, referring to the movement launched in recent years around the police shootings of largely unarmed black men and boys. "As opposed to simply starting a church, they began a movement. It's not just about worship, it's about educational opportunity, economic empowerment and raising the community. Self-determination is so critical to our identity."


Original source: Associated Press via The New York Times

Showboat in Atlantic City reopens under Bart Blatstein

The erstwhile casino has had a bumpy road over the last few years. Now it has new life under a flashy Philly developer.

The Showboat reopened to guests with 852 hotel rooms and suites. The building will keep the Showboat name, for now, but no longer offer casino games.

New owner Bart Blatstein told reporters Friday that he plans to rebrand the hotel by next year, but didn't disclose possible new names.

"It removes one of the eyesores," Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a big day for the city of Atlantic City. It's a win."

The opening was done without much pomp or circumstance and Blatstein told The Press of Atlantic City he didn't want to "over promise and under-deliver..."

After a disastrous sale to Stockton University, and a failed effort to flip it to another casino owner, the Showboat was sold in January to Blatstein, a Philadelphia developer, who last year bought and re-branded the former Pier Shops complex into The Playground.


Blatstein's plans to make that property into an entertainment destination have hit some rocky moments, including news Friday that a nightclub there will now become a comedy club, the Inquirer reported. The nightclub opened in March to replace a concert space that failed last summer.

Original source: Associated Press via The New York Times
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The New York Times celebrates an 'African art summer' in Philadelphia

The Times checks out multiple exhibits showcasing African art across Philadelphia, finding plenty to like.

People talk about Africa as if it were a unitary thing, one culture, one mind, which it’s not. That’s my only problem with “Creative Africa,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and my complaint stops with the title. The project itself, a set of five small, tight, concurrent exhibitions of African material, is richly textured, and in one case sensational.

Add to it a fine survey of work by the Afro-Caribbean conceptualist Nari Ward at the nearby Barnes Foundation, and the foundation’s pioneering and under-known collection of “classical” African sculpture, and this city can lay claim to being in the middle of a full-fledged African art summer...


One show in particular draws praise. 

Cultural tides move in many directions, and Africa gets as much as it gives. It got something fabulous when, a century or so ago, a modest Dutch textile manufacturer began sending brilliantly colored and patterned fabrics its way. This story is told in “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage,” by far the most vivacious of the “Creative Africa” shows. Vlisco is the modern name of the company, which is in the Netherlands and still producing wax-printed fabric styles so closely associated with West African and Central African fashion that most people assume that they are African-made...

It’s a terrific display. And to top it off, a platform in the center of the room is crowded with mannequins dressed in couture made from such fabrics by some of Africa’s top fashion designers: Lanre da Silva AjayiLeonie Amangoua, Pepita Djoffon, Josephine Memel and Ruhimbasa Nyenyezi Seraphine, with Philadelphia’s Ikire Jones thrown in.


Original source: The New York Times
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Prepping for protests at the DNC

Philadelphia is preparing for protests in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention -- local leaders hope to keep them peaceful and permitted.

Philadelphia officials say they will respect the First Amendment rights of all protesters during the Democratic National Convention, but they are sticking with requirements that all demonstrators have permits.

"There is no intended 'crackdown' on un-permitted protesting," City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante wrote in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The letter, dated June 17, was in response to the ACLU's concerns about how the protests would be handled.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected at the July 25-28 convention...

When asked to provide details on how the city would handle protests without permits, Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said no protesters will be arrested solely because they don't have a permit.

Scott Williams, an organizer with the International Action Center, said his group applied for permits to march but won't be deterred if its applications are rejected.

"The First Amendment is our permit," he said.

The city wants to avoid a repeat of 2000 when it arrested more than 400 protesters at the Republican National Convention, only to see most cases end in acquittals.

Earlier this month, a City Council committee passed legislation letting police issue $100 civil fines rather than make criminal arrests for many nuisance crimes. The offenses include disorderly conduct, blocking a street and failing to heed a request to disperse.


Original source: The Associated Press via The New York Times
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Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia ReStore hits $1 million in sales

The nonprofit home improvement store and donation center on Washington Avenue exceeded its year-one projections.

Within ten minutes of opening its doors to the public for shopping on its first anniversary today (June 23rd), the ReStore sold a dining table and a leather sofa. And little did shopper Victoria Wilson know she would be the customer to officially put the store over the million-dollar mark in its first year with these items.

The event kicked off with brief remarks from Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Frank Monaghan, future Habitat homeowner Clifton Carter, ReStore employee and Habitat homeowner Audreyelaine Coleman, and the lucky customer who was rewarded with a $100 gift certificate to the store.

The store sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home goods, and building supplies, including items donated by higher-end furniture stores such as West Elm and Crate and Barrel as well as home improvement megastore chains like Home Depot. Habitat then uses all of the ReStore profits to build and repair homes for low-income Philadelphia families. The $1 million in sales over the past year has allowed the nonprofit to construct two homes, create seven jobs and redirect 900 tons of home goods toward homes instead of landfills.


Original source: Philadelphia Magazine
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Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival returns, hopes to learn from its mistakes

?Last year's fest was a bit of a disaster, but organizers have learned from those missteps and hope to mount a more successful -- and tasty -- event in September. 

Xfinity Live! will host the second-ever Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival on Saturday, September 17 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, July 12 via the official festival website.

This year, the number of tickets is limited to just 5,000 total — down significantly from 2015’s event, which sold 20,000 passes and overwhelmed promoters and workers alike. Now, with fewer guests and guidance from Xfinity Live!, organizers hope some of last year’s issues will be alleviated.

At 2015’s festival, folks complained of high drink pricing, too few samples, and long lines, among other issues. According to a release, drink pricing will be “more reasonable” for 2016, and volunteers will be supplied to vendors in an attempt to keep things moving more smoothly.

“This year we are addressing all of the operational aspects to maximize the value of the event for paying customers,” said organizer Kevin Baxter of the festival. “We listened to the public and our vendors and took their suggestions in planning for this year.”


Original source: Philly.com
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Public pools open across Philadelphia

Trying to escape the heat? Philly's plethora of public pools are opening over the next few weeks. Take advantage of this urban amenity before its too late.

A full calendar of openings can be found here. All dates are subject to change.

Original source: Philly Voice
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Vogue lauds Fishtown's food and drink favorites

The fashion magazine makes an argument for this neighborhood's myriad awesome dining and nightlife options.

First came the artists, then the musicians, then the enterprising new chefs, and just like that, Philly’s low-key working-class neighborhood of Fishtown (so-called because of its history as the center of the shad fishing industry) evolved into the city’s latest hub of cool. The focus of this area’s renaissance? Really good food (and drinks too).

Like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg did five years ago, under-the-radar Fishtown has become home to nationally acclaimed restaurants (including a pizzeria deemed the best in the country by Bon Appétit) and lively bars. Here, a field guide to the very best spots to eat and drink in Philly’s coolest new hood.


Original source: Vogue
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The New York Times hits up Hershey Park

A New York Times travel writer comes to terms with his hatred of roller coasters, while still learning to love theme parks during a trip to Hershey. 

It was at Coney Island’s Freak Bar, in the summer of 2010, where I last thought that riding a roller coaster was a good idea.
What followed would forever be known as “the Cyclone incident,” at least to my loved ones and me, including the friend who, after we shared a steady stream of sangria, convinced me that Coney Island’s creaky landmark was the perfect “beginner’s coaster.” It wasn’t...


But as a recent trip to Hersheypark to reclaim some lost childhood joy confirmed, amusement parks, and theme parks in particular, can still be fulfilling, especially if you can shed the shame that often accompanies those of us who prefer both feet on the ground...

While Disney has Mickey and Universal Studios has Harry Potter, Hersheypark and its related attractions have a common thread with even more widespread appeal: chocolate. I just happen to really like chocolate, as does my wife, who joined me on this trip, so you can imagine our joy in being able to build our own custom chocolate bars, right down to the label’s design, at Hershey’s Chocolate World...

“We’re really three parks in one,” said Kathleen McGraw, director of communication for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, referring to Hersheypark, its Boardwalk section’s water attractions and the 
ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park.

Original source: The New York Times
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Museum of the American Revolution sets opening date

Construction at the new Old City site is moving fast, and the museum is set to open next spring.

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia has announced it will open on April 19 next year. It's the anniversary of the opening battles in 1775 between British troops and American colonists in Lexington and Concord and the "shot heard round the world."

One of the marquee exhibits will be Gen. George Washington's headquarters tent during the Valley Forge winter of 1777-78. It will be viewable through a glass wall and in a completely sealed environment.

The museum has built up a large collection, including guns and other artifacts from the first fighting of the Revolutionary War.
Officials say they were able to set an opening date after philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest gave the museum a $10 million donation on top of his previous $40 million matching gift.


Original source: The Associated Press
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Philadelphia named top city for millennials, even if they don't know it yet

While millennials tend to crave a New York lifestyle, a recent survey finds that Philadelphia would actually be a much better place for them to live and work.

In a recent survey one-in-five Millennials said New York is their ideal city. Less than 1% said the same of Philadelphia. Ironically, however, the city of Ben Franklin and cheesesteaks outranks its more popular brethren when it comes to qualities the young purport to value.

Millennial-run apartment search site Abodo set out to determine what their generational-peers look for in a city to call home by surveying 2,000 people born between 1982 and 1998. Respondents rated 20 qualities on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 connoting the highest importance.

It turns out, the top three qualities Millennials want in a city are economic in nature: a thriving job market (average score: 8.19), affordable rent (7.94) and affordable home prices (7.55). Beyond those core three, the ratings for quality of life metrics were fairly evenly dispersed. Rounding out the top third of the list were parks or hiking trails (6.52), non-chain restaurants (6.49) and quality pizza (6.11). Meanwhile, items ranging from top-rate public schools (6.07) to an LGBTQ-friendly environment (5.47) to access to music venues (5.38) all have above average ratings. In fact, the only quality not achieving a score greater than five was the presence of a local college or university (4.99)...

The company judged Philadelphia as the best city for Millennials in part due to solid marks on job market (the Philadelphia region’s unemployment rate was 20 basis points below the national average when the data was pulled) and average home prices (sale and rental) of at or below 30% of average income. 


Original source: Forbes
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41 million people visited Philadelphia last year -- the most ever

?Last year set a new benchmark for Philadelphia tourism and things show no sign of slowing down thanks to the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

Visit Philadelphia released Philadelphia’s tourism statistics today, and the numbers are record-breaking: 41 million people visited our city last year, up from 39 million in 2014.

But to some extent, the results are unsurprising -- this marks the sixth year in a row that Philadelphia has broken the previous year’s tourism record. And with the city playing host to marquee events like the papal visit in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention this year, why should we be surprised? Philly’s a city on the rise. (The New York Times shouted us out in its "36 hours" series in May).

And while Philly rises, its economic fortunes do, too. According to Visit Philadelphia, visitors to the city generated $10.7 billion in economic impact, or, put another way, $29 million every single day. 


Original source: Philadelphia Magazine
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PA liquor laws take step into the future: Wine in grocery stores!

Pennsylvania's liquor laws have long contained vestiges of prohibition -- especially when it comes to wine sales. Now that is changing.

Barely a day after it sped through the House and unexpectedly landed on his desk, Gov. Wolf on Wednesday signed a law to let hundreds of restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores sell wine.

The bill takes effect in 60 days, though it might take months for consumers to see the impact.

Besides granting by-the-bottle wine licenses for stores that already sell beer, the measure takes steps to loosen the state's oft-criticized control of the alcohol market.

It permits direct shipments of wine to homes, and removes restrictions on when State Stores can open on Sundays and holidays. It also gives the Liquor Control Board flexibility in pricing, and provides licenses allowing casinos to sell alcohol around the clock.

"For the last 80-some years we have not been able to do this, so this truly is historic," Wolf said in an afternoon signing ceremony...

The LCB operates more than 600 wine and spirits stores, and consumers can also purchase bottles at wineries or through a state website.

The law expands the roster of potential wine vendors to include about 10,000 holders of restaurant licenses - including more than 300 grocery and convenience stores now allowed to sell beer - and about 1,200 holders of hotel licenses, according to Elizabeth Brassell, an LCB spokeswoman.

Any of those businesses could seek a permit allowing them to sell up to four bottles of wine per customer for off-premises consumption until 11 at night.


Original source: Philly.com
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Has the farmers' market movement hit a plateau?

?As the local food movement matures, farmers' markets are trying to figure out the perfect formula. While some new markets have opened in recent years, others have closed or retooled. Philly is now home to about 40 markets.

Headhouse, arguably the city's most venerable farmers' market, is marking its 10th year. A lot has changed in that time...The number of markets has nearly doubled since 2006, to 8,476 last year.

But there are signs the movement might be plateauing.

Farmers' overall sales at markets, after climbing dramatically, declined about 1 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

And though there are several new markets this year, others have closed.

"The landscape has changed, in that there are a lot of places for folks to get local food," said Lisa Kelly, who manages Headhouse for the nonprofit Food Trust. Competition includes CSAs, boutiques like Green Aisle Grocery, and even Walmart. "We're not the only game in town anymore."

Jon Glyn, farmers' market program manager at Farm to City, said the business has been maturing.

"I feel like we're hitting the second wave of the farmers' market movement," he said.

"For 10 or 15 years, we've had a lot of interest in farmers' markets. Every neighborhood wanted their own, and even old-school farmers that gave up on farmers' markets in the '80s and '90s are now coming back. Some of our markets are on their 10th year, and they've actually inspired this new generation of young people who are getting into farming. But they're having trouble finding spots at farmers' markets that already have established vendors, and everyone is fighting for the same dollars."


Original source: Philly.com
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Philly closer to becoming first major city to pass soda tax

The New York Times takes a look at Philly's soda tax proposal, and why it might succeed where others failed. 

If the measure passes a final vote next week, as it is expected to do, it will impose a tax of 1.5 cents for every ounce that includes sugar or artificial sweeteners — about 30 cents for a 20-ounce drink or $2.16 for a 12-pack. On Wednesday night, it was passed on a voice vote by the City Council’s “committee of the whole,” which includes the entire council.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s original proposal was to tax sugary drinks at 3 cents an ounce, a rate that would have doubled the price of many sodas. Aware of the political challenges, he tried a novel strategy to promote his tax. Instead of selling it as a nanny state measure meant to make the city healthier, he presented it as a big untapped source of revenue that could be used to pay for popular initiatives, including expanded prekindergarten, and renovations of city libraries and recreation centers.

That choice appears to have paid off, but it may come with some consequences. Because the measure was cast as a revenue-raiser, the final deal is not exactly what public health experts might prefer. Council members, in negotiations, altered the spectrum of taxed products to hit budget targets. The measure that passed Wednesday taxes not just sugary drinks but also diet drinks. It exempts juice drinks from the tax as long as they have 50 percent juice, even if they also have added sugar. Minutes before the final vote at 8 p.m., the city’s finance department revealed that some soda-tax revenue would also be used to plug a budget shortfall...

“There has been much discussion around the world and within the U.S. to adopt soda taxes,” Kelly Brownell, the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and a soda-tax advocate, said in an email. “Philadelphia has now created an entirely new level of momentum.”


Original source: The New York Times
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