Here are some of the biggest challenges facing Philly’s small businesses
Inadequate loading zones, online shopping habits and lack of skilled labor were among the grievances aired on Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday is a chance for local merchants to get some much-needed attention amid the hoopla surrounding two shopping holidays that generally overlook them: Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
So we took a stroll through Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood, where dozens of clothing boutiques, tech start-ups, vintage furniture stores, coffee shops, taverns, and more pack the historic square mile.
Running a small business in Old City presents unique challenges. Take the sewer-line and sinkhole construction on Third Street that for years chased away potential customers — and some businesses — with road closures, jackhammers, and heavy equipment. Or a February fire that engulfed an apartment building and shut down commerce to a stretch of Chestnut Street — where businesses, including a hotel and restaurant, had eagerly anticipated a customer boost from the newly opened Museum of the American Revolution.
Old City's entrepreneurs also face challenges unique to their own businesses, whether its an art supplier trying to get merchandise from delivery trucks without being ticketed or a handbag maker having to make everything herself due to a shortage of skilled labor.
We asked some of them the biggest obstacles facing Philadelphia's small businesses. What can the city do to help? Here's what they said:
Christine Salvadore, store manager, Shane Confectionery
Shane Confectionery is America's oldest continuously operating candy store, making chocolate bars, truffles, and sculptural candy since 1863. Located at Front and Market Streets, it has been a fixture in Philadelphia for 155 years, so one of its challenges is a bit surprising.
"We still have Philadelphians come in and say, 'I had no idea you were here,' " said Christine Salvadore, a store manager. "We have been an institution for a very long time, but as a small business, even people who have lived here their entire lives may have never known we were here, no matter how much advertising we can do."
She said Philadelphia can help by highlighting small businesses.
"I think just the knowledge that we're here helps those people who may want it and may want to experience that come and find that product," she said.
Victoria MacBain, owner, Urban Artisan Boutique
Owner Victoria MacBain creates by hand — her hands — the bags and jewelry she sells. She takes the pictures of her products, promotes them on social media, and runs the store she opened near Second and Market Streets in April.
"I do everything myself," she said.
She could obviously use an assist, but therein lies the problem: locating people with the skills needed to stitch Urban Artisan's handbags just right.
"The most difficult for me is finding someone to help me," she said. "Because I've been doing this for so long by myself, I know every stitch and every detail in everything I make. And it's hard to take time off to train someone to do exactly what you want."
Jim Coughlin, store manager, Artist & Craftsman Supply
The employee-owned art supplies store doesn't exactly consider itself a small business, with 31 locations across the country, including two in Philadelphia. Still, they feel tiny when compared to giants like A.C. Moore.
In Philadelphia, "parking is a huge headache" for both customers and delivery trucks, said Jim Coughlin, manager at the Third and Market store.
"We had a loading zone out front for a while and then it turned into a loading zone/cab stand, and that was pretty much it," he said. "I think everybody is starting to understand the whole kiosk culture, but it's still confusing to some people who are coming from the suburbs."
"Delivery, you're pretty much guaranteed a ticket because you have to double-park here," he added.
More loading zones and parking options — and a little more leniency with the ticketing — would be appreciated, he said.
Sebastian McCall, owner of Charlie’s Jeans
The denim boutique has been putting people in what it hopes feel like the perfect pair of jeans for 20 years, designing pants for a variety of body types and offering next-day alterations.
Changing shopping habits have been the biggest challenge for the store at Second and Market Streets, as more and more people do their purchasing online.
"For what we do, it's not easy to buy online. We are servicing a customer base that says, 'I want a jean to fit a certain way,' " said owner Sebastian McCall. "It only matters to people who know the difference. The younger generations are being introduced to shopping online … so we're never seeing that customer."
The task at hand is figuring out how to reach potential customers who have just moved to the city but may only be familiar with heavily marketed major brands, McCall said.
"It's very hard for a small, independent company to say, 'We're here,' " he said.