by Lou Mancinelli
The idea started with a good pair of blue jeans. After working along the Avenue for more than 30 years at stores in fashion, design, retail and more, longtime local resident Bitsy Rhoda (nee Wheeler) opened Style Camp on March 27 with her daughter, Natalie, at 8232 Germantown Ave.
A grand opening is scheduled for May 10.
“That’s how our vision started,” said Rhoda, who turned 57 last Friday, “with a pair of jeans and going from there … I wanted to open a store that was like my house but had clothes in it too.”
The pair hopes to hone in on the denim niche with their homey and colorful boutique located near the intersection of Germantown and Southampton Avenues, across the street from the Chestnut Hill Hotel. In addition to what they deem a worthy pair of jeans, the duo has added to their inventory the rest of the outfit, meaning shirts and accessories, as well as jewelry, home products, candles and more.
“I’ve taken a little piece of Chestnut Hill from all the places I worked for,” said Rhoda. The list includes restaurants, furniture stores and the aforementioned fashion world.
Those experiences provided the confidence she needed to open her own store. She wants the store to be a meeting place for friends and neighbors as much as a retail location that offers quality products unique to the store.
“People can come to this store and see me, and they can see my daughter’s identity and what we love,” said Rhoda, a mother of three children who all attended the J.S. Jenks School.
Her daughter’s fashion sensibility will help steer Style Camp’s aesthetic selection. Natalie, 28, studied fashion design at Philadelphia University. She interned in New York City while she was a student and moved there after she graduated in 2007. In New York she worked in jewelry design and in 2009 returned to Philadelphia and started designing jewelry for the seller Free People.
“We really wanted to just mix together everything we love,” said Natalie, who lives in the Fairmount neighborhood, teaches fashion, drawing and design at the Moore College of Art, and strings together various freelance design jobs in addition to her work as a server and stints on the floor at Style Camp. “It’s like a store version of ourselves.”
While part of their design efforts are focused on buying from small, independent designers, Style Camp will offer classic items like the Levi “Vintage” brand. (According to Natalie, they are the only place in Philadelphia to offer the new Levi vintage-style jeans and St. James shirts.)
Mrs. Rhoda first moved to Chestnut Hill in 1977. She had graduated from Jenkintown High School three years earlier and moved when she found work along the avenue at Serendipity, a fashion boutique.
In 1981 she married David Rhoda, whose father taught at Chestnut Hill Academy. David, who is in construction management (he built the counter in Style Camp), also attended CHA, as did the couple’s son, Will, now 24 (Upper School, that is). A second son, Jake, is now 27. The newlyweds moved to Wyndmoor for two years before deciding to return to Chestnut Hill.
“The quality of life is why we chose to live here,” said Rhoda. She worked at Campbell’s Restaurant during the early ‘80s and off and on from the mid-‘80s through the year 2000 at Paul Roller’s Flying Fish restaurant.
As the years passed, Bitsy also worked at The Secret Garden, Propper Brothers Furniture in Manayunk and, many years earlier in her career, at Nan Duskin, an upscale boutique in Center City.
After the turn of the century, Rhoda worked at Designers Nest in Flourtown and Metropolitan Bakery on The Hill. Most recently she worked for four years in interior design with The Hill Company, followed by a year at Artisans on the Avenue. With this extensive local resume, it is no exaggeration to call Bitsy one of The Hill’s Renaissance women of retail.
Style Camp is actually Rhoda’s second attempt at running her own business. In the mid-2000s she launched Redo, an interior decorating consulting firm that helped people redesign their homes by utilizing items they already owned. But that did not work out.
“The problem was I wasn’t very good at marketing myself,” said Rhoda. The business lasted for a few years. At Style Camp, the mother-daughter team is working to reach people through the new social media like Instagram and Facebook. “I’ve worked for so many different people,” said Rhoda. “It was just time to do my own thing.”
For more information visit instagram.com/stylecamp or call 215-242-3108.