By Claire Marie Porter
Philadelphia independents, based in historic Old City, is distinct from other gift boutiques in that it sells only handmade items, and only those made by Philadelphia artists. All three owners are Philly transplants who have one thing in common—they came to Philadelphia for school, fell in love with the city and never left.
Historically a city of makers, Philadelphia has also become a leader in the new maker movement: a merging of art and technology that creates a culture that turns consumers into creators and artists into businesspeople.
Philadelphia Independents continues that tradition. It is run by and for makers, and intends to stay that way. It’s for the tourist who’s looking for that “really Philly thing,” or the Philadelphian who wants something local, unique and handmade, says Ashley Peel, one of the store’s co-owners. The store just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Peel went to the University of the Arts, and has a jewelry line that she sells in the store. As for the other co-owners, Jennifer Provost, who has a background in fashion design and retail, went to Philadelphia University; and Tiffica Benza went to Temple University and has a marketing background. “Everyone brought something different to the table,” says Peel.
The three make up an effective trifecta for an independent, artsy retail outlet. Peel, whose prior career was nonprofit arts, had been selling her jewelry at local craft shows and seeing makers and their work in the same place at once, but only once or twice a year. She realized that “people needed to know that all these amazing makers are in their area.”
Through her own work and experience, she found that this was something both tourists and locals were seeking out. She decided she wanted to open a store for her jewelry, and soon found like-minded friends Benza and Provost, who were also thinking of opening a store for artisans. “We really wanted to create a space where everyday people could find local makers,” says Peel.
They carry work from more than 50 artists and artisans in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. The team will work with anyone on the spectrum of makers from amateur artists to maker professionals, but one thing they all have in common is their love for Philadelphia. “We specifically chose Old City [as a location] because we wanted to cater to people who live in Philly, as well as tourists,” says Peel.
Some of the store’s wares include handmade jewelry, Gritty baby onesies, ceramics, handbags, accessories, prints, photographs and home decor. T-shirts are the biggest-selling item. But Peel jokes that Philadelphia Independents’ biggest contribution is “explaining [to tourists] what the word ‘jawn’ means.”