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We’re All Rooting For South Street

March 30, 2023

By Conrad Benner

This article was originally published in the 2023 Streets Dept Magazine, released in January. You can get copies of our Streets Dept Magazine–both Issue #1 and Issue #2, for a limited time here.

Growing up in Philly, South Street was probably one of the first “business districts” to attract me–even if I didn’t know what a business district was. I just knew it was cool. I sought it out from my home neighborhood of Fishtown by two trains, two busses, or a friend who had a car. South Street was then where I got my first apartment at 19 and lived for years. Like many generations of Philadelphians, I’ve loved this street for different reasons at different stages of my life. And as we enter 2023, we leave behind one of the toughest years for South Street. But the future of South Street is in the creative hands of its brilliant small businesses.

(Mural by My Dog Sighs, curated and organized by HAHA x Paradigm)

As a kid, South Street was my suburban shopping mall, but better. Pearl Art, The GAP, and Condom Kingdom were regular stops for me and my friends, even if we were mostly just there to look. I didn’t play sports after I was about 11, and I don’t remember being interested in any after-school activities, but popping in and out of shops on South Street was more fun than you could imagine. And really, what else better is there for kids to do except walk around the city sometimes?

Living on South Street and spending late nights reading at The Bean connected me to my city in a beautiful new way. Thrifting at Retrospect became a weekly activity that let me experiment with my style. Through my early 20s, I worked at the South Street Whole Foods, and Tattooed Mom quickly became my friend group’s “Central Perk” (forgive the reference) where we’d meet up. My best friend even had an apartment above Lorenzo’s where we’d climb onto the roof and watch the crowds on Friday or Saturday nights. Having not yet been to New Orleans, it felt like a little weekly Mardi Gras to me. It introduced me to my city in an exciting new light. But things have been less bright for South Street recently.

(Mural by BKLvisions)

On top of the lingering effects the pandemic has had on all small businesses, in 2022, South Street saw a shooting that killed three and injured 11, as well as a fire that has temporarily shut down Jim’s Steaks, one of the area’s most sought-out destinations. And many of the challenges South Street faces are not in isolation. Now more than three years into the pandemic, the new normal of working from home has affected how all business districts are planning their futures.

(Wheatpaste by Sean 9 Lugo)

I grew up on South Street in so many important ways, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. South Street was my introduction to the city outside of my home neighborhood. It’s that way for so many because it attracts so many of us. And I’m rooting for South Street–for its past, present, and future. Because there’s just no place like South Street!

And I think the future of the street sits squarely with its amazing and unique small businesses. So for this article, I wanted to hear from some of them. I’ve asked them two simple questions:

What do you hope for the future of South Street? And how is your business walking us in that direction?

“I would love to see more small businesses join South Street as some of my fondest memories of being a teenager was visiting the many boutiques on the street which helped me find my creative voice. Our new project will serve as an anchor and destination for the East side of the street and continue to show people from near and far how much the street already has to offer!” –Shannon Maldonado, Founder and Creative Director of YOWIE

“The future of South Street is already here, you just have to look. South Street is art. It’s indie. It’s weird. It’s vibrant. It’s a community. The Art Mart probably wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t been kids of the 80s/90s who came to South Street as a refuge; a place to feel connected and inspired. It may change over the years, but its spirit is a through-line. We’re just doing our best to honor that spirit and carry it through into what we do. Our hope is that folks put a little less trust in sensationalized news reports, come down to the neighborhood and discover the South Street we know, love and believe in.” –Nicole Krecicki & Nicole Wiegand, Co-Owners of the South Street Art Mart

“Our hope for South Street us for this place thrive as the vibrant and diverse community it is, while growing the spirit of inclusiveness that we already feel from our neighbors like Tattooed Mom, South Street Art Mart, and Passional Boutique. The South Street we know today is a safe space for people who have often felt different or excluded to be themselves. We want to continue that now and for the next generation through creating inclusive programming, encouraging more community among the nerdy set, and welcoming new gamers from all contexts and backgrounds to come play with us.” –Taylor Jenkins, Owner and Proprietor at the Philly Game Shop

“I hope South Street can continue to be a place where people can discover their creative selves and be inspired by the creativity of others. Tattooed Mom is a safe space to experiment with your artistic identity and find community in the beautiful chaos. Long live weird South Street for the generations who came of age here and the generations to come!” –Robert Perry, Founder of Tattooed Mom

“I see Tattooed Mom as this ever-changing burst of creativity, love, and belonging, but it’s also an incredibly important anchor on the street that has remained as an unchanging variable for over two decades. I want to see South Street absolutely thrive, and I know that’s possible because Tattooed Mom is only a microcosm of what South Street truly is, and what it can truly be. I always roll my eyes when I hear people say, ‘South Street isn’t what it used to be’—because absolutely nothing is what it used to be! Not even considering the fact that we’re navigating a world altering pandemic, absolutely everything changes over time. A few years ago we uncovered an umbrella wheat paste upstairs at TMoms that was from one of the first ever art exhibitions, and it’s insane to think that I was in elementary school when that got thrown up on the walls and it’s still here. There are literal years plastered together all over TMoms’ walls, and South Street is made up of those same exact kinds of layers. I love to see new businesses popping up just as much as I love to see those classic and iconic businesses sticking around. We all play our part in making South Street a welcoming community of artists and creators and weirdos, and I want to see a South Street that continues to change and grow and evolve over time, one that can be enjoyed and celebrated as it is by our communities, neighbors, and city. South Street is here to stay, and so is Tattooed Mom. But we certainly won’t stay the same.” –Sarah Cowell, Engagement Coordinator + Experience Curator at Tattooed Mom

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