Early in the twentieth century, South 4th Street existed as the commercial center of Philadelphia’s Jewish community. In the 1920s, City Hall issued pushcart permits thus laying the groundwork for what would later be known as Fabric Row. In its heyday, as many as 500 people made their living as a pushcart peddler in the area.

Back in the day

A few months ago, almost 100 years later, members of the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD) and Queen Village Neighborhood Association (QVNA) joined together to form a 4th Street Improvement Committee to work on the revitalization of Fabric Row.

In recent years, this stretch of blocks south of South Street have changed somewhat, with the mix of mostly fabric merchants coming to include new, local retailers. For example, Red Hook Coffee & TeaBicycle Revolutions, and Juju, the organic hair salon are just a few of the shops that have opened on this stretch over the last several years.

Red Hook

“My answer was that it was a hidden gem as far as I was concerned,” said Elena Brennan, owner of Bus Stop Boutique, located at 727 S. 4th St. “I could see that the street had a lot of potential and was very transitional.”

She’s referring to why she chose to open her shoe store along Fabric Row five years ago. It’s the vision of the new 4th Street Improvement Committee to revitalize Fabric Row events, brand the strip, and draw attention to the area. Right now, Brennan said it’s more known by locals.

“The vision is to promote the history of the street,” she said, “promote the wonderful fabric shops, and the craftsmanship. Design, sewing, upholstery, interior design as well as the fabrics, as well as the locally-owned boutiques. We want to keep shoppers here and not lose them to the garment district in New York.”

We are unsure if people are hauling 90 miles or so to New York for garments but anything is possible, right? Nevertheless, the 4th Street folks are revamping their programming. For example, there is the rebirth of Fourth Fridays hosted by Arts on South, VIP tours (they recently invited higher education professors and design professionals for this) and the promulgation of a logo that announces “4th Street Fabric Row: More than just fabric.” Future ideas include a Fabric Row museum with artifacts, and a sewing collective.

Vacancies on Fabric Row

While vacancies have remained an issue along Fabric Row, according to Brennan a number of stores have opened in the past year: Follicle (hair salon), Paradigm GalleryWilbur Vintage. It’s clear that things are headed in the right direction for Fabric Row, hopefully it will continue improving and diversifying in the years to come.

–Lou Mancinelli