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The South Street Art Mart was only supposed to last for two weeks. At this point, the shop has been vending handmade goods for nearly two years — and not even the coronavirus has been able to stop it.
Originally launched as a pop-up retail storefront during the 2018 holiday shopping season, the local art showcase was so popular that the owners — a married couple who are artists themselves — decided to try to stick around.
They set up a GoFundMe, raised more than $5k and opened a permanent brick and mortar on 4th Street just off South. They offer wares from more than 100 Philly artists, everything from posters and greeting cards to jewelry, pins, clothing and home goods. By early March 2020, sales were better than ever, co-owner Nicole Krecicki said, the shop packed with customers on the daily.
After the pandemic shut down retail, the Art Mart became a month-to-month proposition as the proprietors struggled to keep their lease. Profits dropped by half, they said.
The two artists, who go by Taped Off TV and Night Owl Designs, always had a website, but not an online store. Building it from the ground up, they finally launched Art Mart’s virtual shop in May. Sales were ok, but not great. In August, Krecicki started to genuinely worry about the shop’s fate.
“It’s been scary,” she added. “Every month it’s kind of like, are we going to be able to pay rent or not?”
An unexpected influx of support has kept the shop alive.
Plenty of the shop’s South Street neighbors have been donating regularly each month, Krecicki said. And many artists, who are themselves struggling, have done the same.
There’s Hope Hummingbird, an anonymous Philly street artist who’s been active since 2016. She posts her handmade, blue and white ceramic tiles all over the city — often election themed. She donated two huge boxes of plates, bowls and pins to the shop in September.
“They represent local artists, which is a big deal,” Hummingbird said. “I think they give back to the culture of that neighborhood, and to Philly. If we had more people and businesses like Nicole and Nicole at South Street Art Mart, we’d be in better shape in this nation.”
Many of the artists come with built-in audiences. Earlier this summer, a sticker featuring a bear-like Gritty prepping to spank President Donald Trump sold like crazy after the artist posted it as a wheatpaste on the street.
“All of a sudden we were just getting order after order after order,” Krecicki said. “It took off.”
Other positives include not having payroll and operating on consignment — aka artists provide their wares, then the shop pays them back the profits when they sell. And the proprietors are getting creative.
The last few weeks, they’ve run a virtual art sale every Wednesday at 8 p.m. via Instagram Live.
With relaxed regulations, the retail storefront could reopen now, but Krecicki has been hesitant because she sees the daily battle it takes. Her wife and co-proprietor, Nicole Wiegand, is a manager at Condom Kingdom just a few blocks away, and it’s been a fight to get shoppers to take the pandemic seriously.
“She has to play mask police all day,” Krecicki said. “People get angry at her, and they act out. Living down here, we see how people are not taking this seriously.”
They’re planning to open the shop in person again in October — exact date TBD.
“I’m optimistic,” Krecicki said. “It does just keep working. I guess that’s part of the organic nature of what we do. We put our own money in, we’re very meshed into the Art Mart. We just want to keep it going.”