By Pete Kennedy
Barbara Capozzi listens to audiobooks when she goes for walks in her South Philadelphia neighborhood. As the president of Packer Park Civic Association, she also takes notes about how to improve the area.
“I bring a paper and pencil with me,” she said. “And a trash bag, because I pick up trash.”
Capozzi, 68, is a real estate developer who has built and sold hundreds of homes in South Philadelphia. A lifelong Philadelphian, she’s a Temple Law graduate, a former candidate for city council, and a member of just about every civic association, Italian heritage organization and real estate trade group she can join.
In 1992, she founded Capozzi Real Estate and Insurance, a firm specializing in sales, rentals, property management and insurance. The company grew along with the neighborhoods it served, including three major developments — Reserve at Packer Park, Villas at Packer Park and Regency at Packer Park — comprising 330 homes.
She sold the company in 2019 to focus on her latest project, Renaissance Estates — 14 high-end, four-story townhomes situated a stone’s throw from FDR Park. She’s been working on the project with her husband, builder Frank Scaramuzza.
“He does the building, I do the bill-paying,” she said.
Capozzi’s father, Ludwig S. Capozzi Jr., built the first section of Packer Park in the 1960s. She remembers hanging out at model homes, working at the swim club he opened, and helping him print his community newsletters.
“He had an old printing machine where you had to turn the crank, and it would get all blotchy and oily,” she said.
Capozzi graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1971, studied political science at Villanova University, and earned her juris doctorate from Temple’s Beasley School of Law in 1978. She worked as a lawyer for a few years, but it wasn’t right for her.
She followed her father’s path — developing and selling real estate, and keeping the community informed.
”I just finished a newsletter today,” she said. “In the absence of facts, neighbors are like Ernest Hemingway. They’re very imaginative.”
The June newsletter contained a big announcement — the Packer Park Civic Association, which she has headed for 30 years, had notched a big win in its “David-versus-Goliath battle” to keep gambling out of the neighborhood. The city zoning board had ruled against Parx Casino and Chickie’s & Pete’s, who were looking to add a sports book at the restaurant’s Packer Avenue location.
Recounting the tale, Capozzi evinced both her bulldog advocate persona — “I’m not dragging [gambling] over to my side of Broad Street!” — and her magnanimous coalition-builder side — “I love Pete. He’s a great guy. He does not need gambling in Chickie’s & Pete’s to compete with a casino 10 blocks away. He’s too good a businessman.”
Capozzi is also a co-chair of the Friends of FDR Park, which just hosted the first-ever outdoor Philadelphia Flower Show. It was a magnificent success, she said, and resulted in lasting upgrades to the park.
“I should spend more time on selling the Barbara Capozzi houses. But it doesn’t work that way,” she said. “To me, the most important thing about the house is the neighborhood — that it’s safe, clean, accessible.”
She lives in one of the homes her father built, which her husband has renovated.
“We have warranties and other stuff. But everybody knows where I live, and it’s right up the street,” she said. “We’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure nobody has to come knock on my door.”
Capozzi has been involved in the efforts to find a new home on private property for the statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo and to keep the Christopher Columbus statue in place at Marconi Plaza.
Volunteering in Italian heritage organizations is a way to honor her parents and grandparents, she said. All four of her grandparents emigrated from Sicily. She keeps a few rocks from Mount Etna on her desk and said they give her energy.
“If I knew I was dying, I would get a one-way ticket to Mount Etna. It’s heavenly. It’s so unearthly, unreal, majestic and magical,” she said. “Your feet are hot, there’s the cold mountain air, there’s live volcanoes all over, the rocks are boiling hot. It’s a freaky, freaky place. It’s breathtaking.”
Carrying on her family’s legacy in Packer Park has a similar importance to her. And though she still loves the work, she said Renaissance Estates might be her last project.
Her volunteer positions would be enough to fill her schedule, and she and Scaramuzza own a home on the bay in Longport, New Jersey.
People often ask if she’ll make another run for office. In 2011, she lost the Democratic primary for city council by fewer than 40 votes.
“I prefer to stay happily married,” she said. “My problem is, I can’t do anything halfway, as some council people do. But for me, it would be 100 hours a week, and then when would I see my hubby?”