The neighborhood has been named one of the top 12 ArtSpaces in the U.S., ranked one of the hottest neighborhoods in Center City by fellow Philadelphians, and included in a list of top 10 “Undercover Stylish Neighborhoods” in the USA.
– Old City District website
My first trip to Philadelphia was in June 2011 as part of a women’s clothing retailer’s consumer focus group. We were flown in for a two-day event at the company’s headquarters, with a handful of us from the West Coast arriving a day earlier than the rest of the women. Our hosts treated us to brunch and then set us free to roam the city, supplying us with a pamphlet of recommended places to go in Philly, including shops, restaurants, spas, and art and culture destinations. The women were not interested in historical sites, although we were in the neighborhood called Old City District, ground zero for America’s “most historic mile.” Instead, we zeroed in on shops.
More than three years later, knowing that we were covering museums and historical sites on our family vacation, I was looking forward to returning to the neighborhood and these shops. As you all know, whenever I travel to a city I like to check out one or more vintage shops and shops unique to the area. While we packed our itinerary with all things historical, science, and art related, we carved out time for vintage shopping, many of which were nestled in Old City District.
I’ll admit that I checked out a couple of places new to me that were highly touted but ended up being somewhat disappointing. Described as a “whimsical boutique and gift shop,” NeverTooSpoiled (106-108 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, PA, 215.928.0167) was south of shabby chic, with nothing really special about its wares. Barbara Blau Collectables (29 N. Second Street, 215.923.3625) was hard to find because a shop selling old books, records, and other items was the storefront. Turns out that the shop is in the back, but the owner was at a vintage show and wouldn’t be returning until end of the week, when I’d be long gone.
Scattered storefronts along N. Third Street were empty, and a shopkeeper told me they didn’t survive the tough economic times just a few years earlier. Happily, I found two places still thriving. I had gotten a circa 1960s articulated owl pendant from Sugarcube (124 N. Third Street, 215.238.0825), a rustic shop that features American and international fashion, jewelry, and accessories with an eye toward timeless vintage. Besides its own private label, Sugarcube also features independent designers and microbrands, celebrating both established and emerging designers.
I met both co-owners on separate days and chatted away with them while admiring the design of the interior and, of course, the jewelry, which is what usually catches my eye (and is easier to pack when on a trip). This time around I rediscovered Michael Hickey, whose reclaimed-vintage jewelry I had first stumbled upon at Feathers Boutique, a vintage shop in Austin, last year. He melds vintage rosary beads and found objects – horns, crosses, silverware, charms, keys, and so on – together to create jewelry that you could describe as hipster. Sugarcube is celebrating its 10th anniversary, a sign that they’ve been a stronghold in the neighborhood and survived a brutal economic downturn, which I was happy to see.
The other shop I remember and happily was reunited with was Lost + Found (133 N. Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, 215.928.1311), where I ironically bought Jan Michael jewelry. While focusing on local artisans, I came away with jewelry from a San Francisco-based designer. This time around, while I spied more of her wares, I opted for practical reading glasses – cool plastic frames with a faux wood finish.
I didn’t have any time to check out vintage shops outside of Old City District. You could spend days in this historic mile and get your fill of art, vintage, and history. And they’re all compressed together. In trying to find one of the earlier stores, I turned a corner and there before me was Christ Church, an old active Episcopal church that was founded in 1695 and the place of worship for many Revolution Era leaders. One hopes that in time more storefronts will fill these old buildings. But in the meantime, support these local independent shops!