The blend of old and new on Fabric Row

In recent years, Fabric Row has been transforming more than ever. Some long-standing fabric stores are closing, while other diverse options are becoming part of the community here. Not only are there new businesses, but over $1 million in streetscape improvements are brightening up the commercial corridor.

B. Wilk Fabric. (Photo: Taylor Farnsworth)

With a mix of old and new, how are the generations of Fabric Row blending together?

Hidden City spoke to business owners on 4th Street to tell the story of the area’s history and the move towards the future.

The area started out in the 1930’s through 1960’s with as many as 30 fabric dealers. In 2016, only 10 stores remain.

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Bill Arrowood, assistant director of the South Street Headhouse District, is an enthusiastic proponent of 4th Street’s fabric store survival. “There is still a strong and dedicated clientele that shop here and you can see that a lot of the business is seasonal like proms and weddings. The niche is still there.” Arrowood maintains that Fabric Row is still the only place in Philadelphia, and even the region, to source such a large variety of fabrics and trimmings in one place.

“You might think that fabric stores are passé but they’re really not,” Auspitz adds. “There are still many customers who source here, like set and clothing designers, art students and teachers, staging companies and commercial clients like hotels, schools, restaurants and even cruise ships.”

Kristen Eissler, owner of Kawaii Kitty Cafe. (Photo: Taylor Farnsworth)

New businesses like Kawaii Kitty Cafe, OxymoronHungry Pigeon and R&D Vinyl are now bringing a different clientele to the once fabric-specific area.

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“There is no neighborhood in Philly that offers this many locally-owned, independent, and culturally diverse shops,” says Arrowood. Auspitz adds that the new businesses moving onto 4th Street have that same independent-owner heart as their the fabric merchant predecessors. “We now have a wonderful mix of old and new energy.”

The continued decline of family owned fabric shops is inevitable, that is a material fact. Eventually Fabric Row may indeed become just “Fabric Block” with only a small handful of textile stores still holding on. For now, the blend of old and new businesses makes for a vibrant commercial corridor with a history still firmly rooted in place with many new stories yet to unfold. Here are profiles of only some of the merchants along South 4th Street.