HomeNewsA new neighbor in Rhawnhurst

A new neighbor in Rhawnhurst

Ilona Keller’s Dugan’s, at Roosevelt Boulevard and Borbeck Avenue, went out of business earlier this year. The site will soon become the home of a Bottom Dollar supermarket. JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES PHOTO

Bet your Bottom Dollar that a supermarket is taking over the Dugan’s catering complex. For now, corporate officials don’t have a lot to tell residents.

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The Northeast has lost another of its landmark, locally owned businesses and seems to be gaining yet another discount big-box chain store that so far has kept neighbors in the dark about its specific plans.

Residents of Rhawnhurst and the tens of thousands of motorists who pass the intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard and Borbeck Avenue every day have known for weeks that the old Ilona Keller’s Dugan’s had dished out its last chicken marsala and sliced its last wedding cake.

The banquet facility had been a popular site for post-nuptial receptions, birthday parties and funeral luncheons for more than three decades before closing its doors for good earlier this year.

The Northeast Times months ago attempted to contact the longtime owner, Ilona Keller, but telephone calls to the business were not returned. Now, the business phone has been disconnected, and the Dugan’s Web site has been taken offline.

The Times was unable to get alternate contact information for Keller.

Temporary signs that have been erected along the Boulevard in front of the old free-standing Dugan’s signs proclaim the site as the future home of Bottom Dollar Food, a supermarket-sized grocery store that boasts having “food prices that kick bottom.”

And despite claims by a corporate spokeswoman that “community outreach is very important to our company,” store officials so far have done a lot more communicating with folks in City Hall than with the people of Rhawnhurst.

“Anytime you have a big business coming into the neighborhood that’s going to drastically affect traffic or bring in a certain clientele, it’s always good to spend a half-hour with the community to let them know what’s going on,” said Scott Mulvey, vice president of the Rhawnhurst Civic Association.

Mulvey, who works as an aide to City

Councilman Bill Green (D-at large), is the son of RCA president Joe Mulvey, who is recovering from a recent illness.

Scott Mulvey’s brother, Ryan Mulvey, also serves on the RCA board and is an aide to state Rep. John Sabatina Jr. (D-174th dist.), whose district includes the former Dugan’s site.

Scott Mulvey was unaware of any contact made by Bottom Dollar with the civic association or either political office.

However, city records show that Bottom Dollar has been busy at the Licenses and Inspections permit window.

In March, the business applied for and received a use permit to operate a grocery store with 19,630 square feet of interior space, along with “accessory parking and facilities.” The permit allows for the construction of a 660-square-foot loading dock and ramp, along with the reconfiguration of an existing parking lot to fit 258 spaces.

In May, a second permit allowed for the erection of two new exterior signs and the re-facing of two existing free-standing signs.

A June permit allowed for the “partial demolition and renovation” of the existing banquet facility for conversion to a retail grocery store.

Also in March, city records show, North Carolina-based Bottom Dollar Food Northeast LLC signed a 20-year lease for the site. Keller still owns the property, which she bought for $950,000 in 1980 and includes two adjoining commercial properties. The Sakura Japanese Steak House, which also appears closed to business, occupies one store, and Lucille Roberts Fitness for Women occupies another.

A Lucille Roberts employee referred a reporter’s inquiry about the Dugan’s site to a corporate office for the chain fitness center.

Scott Mulvey has questions about when and how Bottom Dollar will operate. Many residents do not consider dollar store-type businesses desirable, he said, but despite the name, Bottom Dollar doesn’t appear to fit that mold.

“Dollar stores do raise a red flag,” he said. “Obviously, something had to happen with (the property). It’s been sitting there since, what, 2010? But I don’t know if a grocery store is a bad thing.”

Meanwhile, issues like parking, traffic, trash and security should be discussed before it opens, Mulvey contends. The front of the property runs along busy Roosevelt Boulevard, but the rear abuts a residential section.

“We’d like to see traffic, especially deliveries, come off of the Boulevard, not the smaller side streets,” he said. “And we look forward to someone taking care of the property and maintaining it.”

Many specific operating plans were not available from a Bottom Dollar spokeswoman reached by the Times.

“We’re still several months away from opening the store, and we’re still working out operating details,” said Tenisha Waldo, who added that Bottom Dollar remains willing and eager about speaking with community leaders about the site.

Two other Bottom Dollar stores exist in Philadelphia — at 9303 Krewstown Road in Bustleton and at Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue in East Oak Lane. Twenty others are scattered throughout the region.

Traditionally, Waldo said, each store employs 30 to 35 people.

Even during the Dugan’s heyday, the civic association dealt with occasional problems there. Sometimes, the catering hall ran out of parking spaces and the overflow ended up on nearby residential streets, Mulvey said. Also, the site periodically became a gathering place for teen drinking and revelry, which became another nuisance.

Later, Mulvey said, the civic association complained to Keller when auto dealer Gary Barbera began parking cars on the unused Dugan’s lot. That problem resolved itself without further action, according to the community leader.

As for the future, the civic association is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Dugan’s has been a very important part of the neighborhood for years and he hated to see the business go down,” Mulvey said, echoing the sentiments of his father. “As far as having an opinion of the new business coming in, we have to reach out to the membership to see.” ••

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

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