Holiday shopping vital for Philadelphia’s small businesses

business holiday shopping
Latchkey Records opened last year on East Passyunk Avenue.
Gab Bonghi

Marc Faletti spent the week processing, pricing and setting up a new batch of records.

His shop, Latchkey Records on South Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Avenue, is participating in Record Store Day Black Friday, when independent stores will be offering special releases.

“There’s no pre-orders, no reservations, no anything,” Faletti told Metro. “You have to come in-store.”

Small business owners across the city are scrambling to prepare for the holiday shopping season, which begins in earnest after Thanksgiving. For some, the sales that occur during the month-long period account for as much as 50% of their annual revenue.

“This is what I train for all year basically, starting in July,” said Emily Dorn, owner of VIX Emporium in West Philadelphia. “It’s something you plan ahead for.”

VIX, roman numerals for the shop’s address, 5009 Baltimore Ave., sells a variety of handmade goods, including candles, jewelry, ceramics, ornaments and a whole range of items incorporating SEPTA tokens.

“You’re not really going to find anything just ordinary, plain Jane,” Dorn said. “If you’re looking for a plain black pair of gloves, we don’t have that. We have hand-appliqued recycled cashmere gloves with all different colors.”

VIX Emporium has been selling unique gifts on Baltimore Avenue since 2007.Emily Dorn

Sales have doubled over the last year for Latchkey, which opened in June 2022, Faletti said. In addition to records, the store stocks VHS tapes and T-shirts.

“The holiday season can be the difference between making it and not making it as a small shop, I think,” Faletti said.

“There’s no charity involved with shopping small,” he added. “You want to get value for what you pay for. But taking the extra time to go out and do that stuff can really make a huge impact.”

Faletti noted that corridors like East Passyunk, which are tucked into dense residential neighborhoods, are not hurt as much by the work-from-trend, and the shift may even be beneficial for such avenues.

Office employees, nearly four years after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, have still not fully returned downtown. Data from the Center City District indicates that the number of workers in the area is down 32% compared to 2019, before the onset of COVID-19.

But Center City’s retail occupancy has jumped to about 85%, near 2019 levels, according to a new CCD survey. Prema Gupta, the district’s vice president, attributes the gains in part to the downtown’s growing residential population.

Within the last year, several brands popular with millennials, such as Mejuri, Joybird and Faherty, have opened on Walnut Street.

“A lot of legacy brands that are having issues nationally have been replaced by these new digitally-native brands,” Gupta told Metro.

Pedestrian volume in Center City has reached 83% of pre-pandemic levels, with higher percentages on the weekends and weekday evenings, the report found. And foot traffic at Dilworth Park and around City Hall is never higher than in December, when multiple holiday markets draw crowds.

“People are coming downtown for arts and culture, to go shopping, to partake in our great restaurant scene,” Gupta said. “They want these in-person, real-life experiences, and I think that’s driving a lot of that.”