Elected officials present Siddiq Moore and crew with the first of several new signs destined for 60th Street

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On one side of the block, there was a party going on.

TV cameras rolled as tents with bright blue tables overflowed with popcorn and balloons, cones of custard dripped on little hands, bigger hands dug into cold cups of water ice and music blasted from a DJ’s speakers. It quieted only for a bit, when elected officials gave accolades and congrats to Siddiq Moore on the launch of the flagship location of Siddiq’s Real Fruit Water Ice.

Directly across 60th Street, the scene could hardly have been more different.

Shrouded in morning shade, a few groups of young men stood huddled in conference before shuttered storefronts. One gated and barred facade wore a makeshift sign — “Fire Works” — sagging like a holiday hangover. The dingy Chinese food restaurant next door apparently hadn’t been opened in six months.

“They terrorized her so she just stopped opening,” said nearby resident Marla, who has lived in the West Philly neighborhood most of her life. “Those guys,” she continued, dropping her voice to a whisper and edging out of earshot, “they take over the store and refuse to leave. Her husband is sick and she decided she just couldn’t do it alone anymore.”

According to Marla, now that the Chinese food spot is closed, the dealers congregate under a large, leafy tree around the corner. “We’re trying to get it cut down, but it costs $700 and the block doesn’t have that money. The city, they say they’ll do it, but it’ll take two years.”

For at least the past half decade, that’s been the general state of things along the strip, which was once one of Cobbs Creek’s busiest retail corridors. But the community is ready for change — and Moore has become a welcome catalyst.

“We’ve been talking about his plans since he started coming ‘round here almost two years ago,” said Michelle, a 50-year resident of Irving Street, where Siddiq’s Water Ice now enlivens the corner. “He talks so much that sometimes I walk the other way if I’m in a hurry to get to work. But I’m so impressed with what he’s done.”

Neighbor Michelle talks with Siddiq Moore and his wife inside the new store Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

What Moore has done, in a nutshell, is get the neighbors excited about reclaiming their street. And he’s done it in a way that’s inclusive and inspiring.

Community leaders in attendance — including Pa. State Sen. Anthony Williams, State Rep. Joanna McClinton, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell — made that clear in a series of speeches praising Moore’s endeavors. “He could easily have decided to open this store anywhere,” McClinton observed, “like one of the lower-number streets along Baltimore Ave. But he stayed here.”

The officials unveiled the first street sign destined to hang along the corridor, which officially names the section between Walnut and Locust “Siddiq’s Water Ice Way.”

In his own speech before he cut the grand opening ribbon, the Temple grad and self-made entrepreneur made clear his philosophy: The only way to escape what he calls “the trap” — the lure of dealing drugs as an easy way to make a buck, which lands you with a record, which makes you unemployable, which sends you back to the streets — is to take initiative. But also, he stressed, once you’re on your way up, you can’t ignore the others around you.

“Don’t be a shut-in,” Moore urged the hundred or so of his peers gathered around to celebrate the store’s opening. “Talk to those guys across the street. Get them involved. Don’t let them be isolated.”

Siddiq’s Water Ice grand opening was a serious party event Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Inside the shop, the party continued, with hot funnel cake, fresh Belgian waffles and lots of frozen treats. On one wall hung a giant version of the Billy Penn Ultimate Frozen Treats Bracket, showing Siddiq’s Water Ice as the winner.

“When I saw that,” Michelle said, “and saw how many other places he beat out to win, I came outside and cried.”

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...