South Philadelphia: Hope Thrives on South Street for Business Expansions

Sales representative at the Nocturnal Skate Shop helping a customer.

Local shopper, Kyree Smith, browses through product at Condom Kingdom.
Local shopper, Kyree Smith, browsed through product at Condom Kingdom.

With over 300 stores, restaurants and local businesses, South Street remains a staple attraction. A ten block long section of South Street, located a few blocks from Philadelphia’s Center City, this area attracts tourists, curious visitors and area residents with its legendary unique flare and hipster vibe.

Working diligently to sustain that legendary flare is the South Street Headhouse District. This organization, lead by Michael Harris and Krystal Souvanlasy, focuses on keeping South Street lively with events and attractions devised to increase consumer traffic into the area.

But this organization’s work is difficult due to vulgarities driven by the economy like store front vacancies and other issues.

Nicole Wiegand, store manager of Condom Kingdom, located at 437 South St., has watched businesses fluctuate over the past few years. “Business definitely died down about three years ago and a lot of businesses on South Street were going under,” Wiegand said.

According to the South Street Head House District vacancy database, currently there are 52 commercial retail spaces available for sale.  District Executive Director, Michael Harris, hopes that within the next few years the area will ideally be 100% filled with retail spaces and consistent foot traffic.

Pet Snobs Boutique, located at 530 S. Fourth St.,opened in June 2012 and has seen a consistent flow of business. Snobs employee, Samantha Belgiomo, believed business would slow down in the winter months but instead, the pet-grooming boutique has seen great business since opening last summer.

Vacant lots sit throughout blocks of South Street from local businesses shutting down.
Vacant lots sit throughout blocks of South Street from local businesses shutting down.

“We thought business was going to slow down in the winter months but it kept coming. So business has been great for us,” Belgiomo said.  This pet boutique partners with a dog daycare in the neighborhood that often refers clients to it to purchase their grooming services.

The Nocturnal Skate Shop, which recently relocated to 533 South St., has seen a great increase in traffic. “Being on South Street really helps. Before we were on Second Street and Fourth Street and now we see a great amount of traffic,” Kevin McDonald, a sales representative, stated.

While some businesses are experiencing good business flow, concerns exist about bringing in new businesses and keeping those that are having more trouble.

Belgiomo of Pet Snobs said, “The only concern is lowering the rent for businesses. It drives people away and makes it harder for people to come here.”

Belgiomo is not alone among the business operators who believed rent costs were a primary issue for keeping local businesses afloat in the area.  “There needs to be some incentive for keeping local businesses here. Lowering the rent initially, until they get their footing, would be helpful,” Condom Kingdom’s Wiegand suggested.

Vacant spaces on South Street are priced from $1,000 and up per month. Some spaces are retailing at $8,000 a month. Properties are individually owned and prices vary depending on amenities and location within this district. Small business owners find the most affordable spaces located on streets just off of the main South Street strip.

Sales representative at the Nocturnal Skate Shop helping a customer.
Sales representative at the Nocturnal Skate Shop helping a customer.

Local residents and visitors have their own perspectives on South Street and its success. “It’s completely saturated in head shops and sex stores. It’s bad business. Everybody has the exact same business and are competing,” Adam Teterus said.

On the main strip in the district, there are five local head shops and seven adult stores, including Condom Kingdom.

Wiegand, a six year employee of Condom Kingdom, said, “It’s not so much competition between other adult stores but we are all trying to coexist.” She explained the Condom Kingdom owner does not mind sharing customers with the other stores as long as the customer is satisfied.

The South Street Headhouse District is putting its primary focus into addressing any concerns with business owners and local residents. With the implementation of new events and marketing ideas for business owners in the district, the Headhouse hopes to increase both traffic and local business spaces in the area.

The South Street Headhouse District meets numerous times throughout the month. For locations, dates and times of the meetings visit the Headhouse District website.  The South Street Headhouse District offices are located at Second and Pine Streets at The Shambles.

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