Germantown Avenue retail gets help from new arrivals

by Stacia Friedman
Posted 2/25/22

Five of the 16 new businesses that have opened in Chestnut Hill since the pandemic began are Black-owned and in Mt. Airy, a similar corps of new enterprises have also set up shop. 

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Germantown Avenue retail gets help from new arrivals


As the economic troubles resulting from COVID bruised business along the Avenue, the arrival of increasing numbers of Black entrepreneurs has played a key role in keeping the commercial strip going through the pandemic, business and government leaders said.

Five of the 16 new businesses that have opened in Chestnut Hill since the pandemic began are Black-owned and in Mt. Airy, a similar corps of new enterprises have also set up shop. 

And, the business owners say they are thriving.

In Chestnut Hill, Yolanda Palmer, who recently opened a new plant store, Foliage, reports that business is “very good!” Jasmine Smalls’ MIXD Salon opened in the Fall of 2020 and, in just one year, landed a 2021 Best of Philly Award from Philadelphia Magazine. Her secret? “I wanted to break the mold and welcome all customers, regardless of race, ethnicity or hair texture,” Smalls said, “My staff is trained by Aveda to provide exceptional service to whomever walks through our door.”

Further down the Avenue at the popular boutique I Spy, You Buy thrift shop in Mt. Airy, the owner, who wants to be known simply as “Dolly,” maintains an infectious spirit of optimism about her business. “My business is getting better and better because I’m getting better and better,” she said. “I set my intentions every morning and I go to conquer the day.”

Dawson said the Chestnut Hill business association is delighted with the increasing diversity along the Avenue. He believes the area offers an environment in which black entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build successful businesses. 

Further down the Avenue in Mt. Airy, Aggie Edwards, business services manager of the Go Mt. Airy Business Association, also reports positive growth of minority-owned businesses. “We have not had any closures during the pandemic and several new black-owned businesses have opened,” she said. 

Among the newest Black-owned businesses Edwards has recently welcomed into Mt. Airy, are custom dressmaker Nina Streets Designs; botanical tea boutique, Viva Tea Leaf Company; Avenue Cafe, a neighborhood gathering spot; and The Select Goods, a natural foods convenience store. 

City Councilmember Cindy Bass sees these new businesses as being part of a distinct trend. 

“Minority-owned businesses are experiencing a renaissance,” Bass told the Local. “There is a new appreciation for the cultural diversity they bring. We want to encourage consumers to buy from minority-owned businesses and restaurants when possible.”

That diversity brings a wide range of all types of customers, local business owners say. 

“I am of Black, Jewish and Brazilian heritage,” said Tina Dixon Spence, owner of the designer babywear boutique, Buddha Babe, 7101 Emlen St. “My customers come from the Main Line and South Jersey. We do an enormous online baby gift business. Local customers come to our workshops and parties for kids.”

“I cater to all customers,” said Voltaire Blain, owner of the upscale designer shoe boutique Style by Blain in Chestnut Hill.

And business is good enough for Stephanie Jones, owner of Jonesy’s Accessories in Chestnut Hill, that she opened a second shop in Chestnut Hill during the pandemic and, more recently, a third location in Bala Cynwyd. “I have customers all over the country who watch my weekly fashion show on Facebook,” she said. 

Councilmember Cherelle Parker, whose district includes parts of East Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane, said her office stepped in to help many of these businesses access the grants and loans they needed to survive the worst effects of the pandemic. 

“Black and Brown business owners across the 9th District have experienced a range of highs and lows throughout this pandemic,” she said. “We worked with them to complete applications for loan assistance and much-needed grant support. The success of our recovery will require us to look at the entire picture and implement effective strategies that will keep us moving forward as a collective.”

Emaleigh Doley, executive director of the Germantown United Community Development Corp. said her group made similar efforts in Germantown. 

“We adapted our core programs to continue to fulfill our mission in new ways, and even launched important initiatives for the first time, including our much-needed commercial corridor cleaning operation,” Doley said “Our cleaning services are part of a new citywide corridor cleaning program called Philadelphia Taking Care of Business. Look for our cleaning ambassadors in neon green uniforms. When you see them on the street, please say hello!”

Many Black entrepreneurs along the Avenue focus on retail businesses, but others in the area are exploring different options. Jumpstart Germantown mentors and helps aspiring real estate developers get access to financing. Most of the nearly 1,500 people who have graduated from the program are people of color, said Angie Williamson, the initiative’s director. 

“Jumpstart Germantown was started, in part, to empower Black entrepreneurs to invest in the community through real estate development,” Williamson said. “Jumpstarters' reinvestment in their neighborhoods has resulted in more spending power and demand for local goods and services. Our Germantown Avenue commercial corridor has been a clear beneficiary of these efforts to revitalize our community.”

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