Yes, Philadelphia had a Greek town. Centered around Locust street (between 8th and 11th street) in what today is Old City, was a thriving community of Greek immigrants for more than half a century.
Mary Parras, a first generation Greek-American, whose family had come from Monastiri (now: Bitola, FYROM), settled and grew up in the historic neighborhood of what was then popularly known as “Greektown”. She was born Mary Kalaidzes in Philadelphia on July 20, 1931, and was an only child. Growing up in a tradition home, her mother took care of the house, while her father worked at the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia.
Her whole world revolved around the Greek community and her church, St. George Greek Orthodox cathedral on 8th street. “It was a very pleasant place to be,” says Parras. “We had two barber shops, sweet shops, restaurants like the Acropolis and plenty of kafenia. We had everything we wanted, we didn’t know we were poor. And on Sunday’s everybody got dressed up.”
Mary Parras is a well-recognized figure around Philadelphia. Her name, Parras, is part of the history of Greek radio in the city of brotherly love. In 1939, Greek radio broadcasting in Philadelphia was started by her husband Bill (Vasili) and his brother Nick-known as the Parras Greek radio Hour. Broadcast at 1340 AM on the radio dial, WTEL Radio station on Broad Street, was the home of the Greek Radio Program (sponsored by Parras Electrical co. of Philadelphia). Nick managed the program, advertising and sold records from the store, while Bill ran the live broadcast.
They promoted the show from their Electrical supply store on Locust street (the heart of the Greek neighborhood) which doubled as Greek convenience store. “We sold everything there, from Greek records to Icons, says Parras”. That’s where Mary Parras, then Mary Kalaidzes worked after school part time. She got to know many people in the community and what the latest news was inside “Greektown”.
After marrying Bill, she continued to help and was a witness to the changes and the history of the neighborhood. Whether a wedding, baptism or other, the news went through the famed store (927 Locust street). When musicians came through the city from Greece, the Electric shop would get first wind of their visit. Sometimes they would even feature them at the studio on Broad street during the Sunday radio hour, promoting their upcoming performance. The Parras Family Radio hour ran from 1939 to 1973. It was followed by many other Greek radio and media programs. Names like Sarris, Vlassopoulos, Burlotos, Gatsoulas, followed and have all contributed to the history of Greek media in Philadelphia. They helped root us as Hellenes and provided a home away from home for those first immigrants.
As the community changed and expanded, Mary Parras and her husband moved on from the business and into Upper Darby where she became a member of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church. It was a new church and a new parish. A new Greek community had sprouted up there and it began another era for the Greeks of Philadelphia. Today, Mary is a grandmother, church choir, and Philoptochos member. Her relationship with the Greek community and faith are still embedded in her soul as she lives her life as a Greek Orthodox Christian.