by Jane Von Bergen
A paint gallery, a bakery, a beauty salon, an eyeglass store, a craft tea business and a handcraft studio – block by block, owners of these nearby businesses, all graduates of Power Up Your Business, a small business development program, are building a stronger community along Germantown Avenue in Northwest Philadelphia.
Together, on one Philadelphia street, they provide a textbook case of how knowledgeable entrepreneurs can expand their businesses, growing jobs and sustaining neighborhoods along commercial corridors. Germantown Avenue, one of Philadelphia’s major arteries, threads for miles through some of the city’s wealthiest – and most distressed – neighborhoods.
“I think Power Up has a real presence on the corridor,” said Sarajane Blair, managing director of Mt. Airy USA, an organization founded in 1980 by Mt. Airy residents who had tired of blighted and dilapidated buildings on the Germantown Avenue business corridor. “They are engaging in a culture of learning.”
Power Up, a free program run by the Community College of Philadelphia, teaches business know-how to entrepreneurs. Using a peer-to-peer learning model, business owners, aided by seasoned experts, create tactical plans for growth and hiring. What they learn helps their businesses, their neighborhoods and the city.
“These corridors are an essential part of the fabric of Philadelphia,” Mayor James Kenney said in announcing a community improvement program. “As the neighborhood business corridor goes, so goes the neighborhood … When the neighborhood business corridor is strong, it’s safer, there are more people working, there’s more of a community feel in the neighborhood.”
In Mt. Airy, nine blocks of Germantown Avenue hold six Power Up graduate businesses with more in Chestnut Hill and Germantown. In Germantown, for example, Power Up graduate Nenah Bah’s Soukundo Natural Hair Salon is practically in the shadow of a Power Up billboard. Pictured on it are Heather Hutchison Harris, owner of Handcraft Workshop sewing studio in Mt. Airy, and Desmin and Jania Daniels of Germantown’s Rose Petals Café and Lounge.
“Commercial corridors are the modern Main Streets of their communities. They represent growth of both economic and social capital,” said Maura Shenker, director of Temple University’s Small Business Development Center. “Collaboration is key.” In Mt. Airy, Power Up graduates become leaders, taking on important roles in local business organizations.
And so, when Moneek Pines, owner of Artrageous Brush & Flow, a paint party studio and gallery, needs a cake, she turns to Jennifer Low, whose artisan bakery, The Frosted Fox Cake Shop, is a block away on Germantown Avenue. The bakery stocks tea produced by Michael O’Brien’s Craft Tea business, just off the Avenue. Pines bought glasses from Kennard Herring, owner of Nostalgic Eye Care, whose store is nearby, and Herring has lifted a brush at Artrageous’ painting events.
One of the city’s youngest entrepreneurs, Power Up graduate Tianna Valentine, now 22, opened her beauty parlor, Salon Style and Grace, at age 18. And when Mt. Airy had a festival, Handcraft Workshop’s owner brought sewing machines outside for demonstrations.
Low, a competitor on Netflix’s “Sugar Rush” reality baking show, credits Power Up “with a real shift in my mentality. I used to be someone who likes to decorate cakes,” she said. “Now I understand that my job is not just to decorate cakes but to run a cake decoration business.” Low hired a dishwasher and a store clerk so she could focus on running her business and decorating cakes, instead of scrubbing pans and ringing up brownies.
A report by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City found that if small businesses hired just one to three more employees, there would be enough work for all jobless inner-city residents.
“I’m such a non-traditional business owner. I’m an artist,” said Pines, who also runs Artrageous Kids Child Care, located nearby. “I felt Power Up was going to give me all the business skills I needed to be successful.”
Since Power Up began in 2017, 80 businesses in all 10 City Council districts and in 26 zip codes have graduated in five cohorts, with classes held at the college’s main campus and regional locations. Of the participating businesses, 84 percent are minority owned, and 71 percent are owned by women.
Individual workshops on business topics will be held in the fall at the college’s West Regional Center, 4725 Chestnut St. For more information, email email@example.com or call 215-496-6151.
Jane Von Bergen, a Mt. Airy resident and writing consultant for Community College of Philadelphia, retired early this year after 35 years as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.