Female business owners reach out to a maturing Manayunk

Molly Cygan Rossettie came to Philadelphia with a degree in Art History three years ago. When she couldn’t find work, she began scouting locations for a start-up.

“I couldn’t get a job,” says Rossettie, 29, “so I made my own.”

Four months after moving to the city, she opened The Little Apple, a vintage and contemporary gift boutique on Main Street. 

Since her arrival, over a dozen young women have started enterprises in Manayunk, and, according to the Manayunk Development Corporation, females operate approximately one-fourth of the neighborhood’s independent businesses. Attracted to the neighborhood’s eclectic, artistic atmosphere, this network of entrepreneurs hopes that their businesses will foster a greater sense of community.

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Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, says that nearly all of the neighborhood’s new retailers are female.

“Store by store,” she says, “they are making a personal investment on Main Street.”

Elizabeth Paradiso, owner of Sweet Elizabeth’s Cakes, agrees.

“Manayunk has a small Main Street feel that I miss from my hometown,” Paradiso, owner of Sweet Elizabeth’s Cakes and former resident of Hingham, Massachusetts, said.

She started her business in 2011, several years after she and her husband relocated to Manayunk for its nightlife. Now 30, a mom, and a homeowner, Paradiso says that Manayunk has “more substance, more retail, more character” than when she moved here after college. She encourages residents who feel distanced by Main Street’s bar culture to spend time walking along it, meeting new business owners, and asking how they are contributing to the neighborhood.

Paradiso says she finds inspiration from her colleague Ann Tetreault, 35, owner of The Spiral Bookcase.

Contributing to the charm and progress of a neighborhood

Since opening the bookstore in July of 2010, Tetreault has partnered with The Friends of Pretzel Park to help maintain, organize and recruit neighborhood involvement in community events. Tetreault came to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., where she left a job as a copyright specialist at the Library of Congress for the “charm and history” of Manayunk.

This aesthetic has also inspired several locals to start new businesses in the neighborhood they’ve lived in for years, including Christa Campbell, 30, of Merge Dance Company, Juliet Sabella, 28, of The Wall Cycling Studio, Meredith Podob, 31, of Latitudes and Longitudes, and Lise Gaule, proprietor of RevivalSmith.

Gaule says that between her vintage furniture store and the boutiques of her peers, “I think we’re on our way to being Antique Row – the sequel.”

She adds that an increasing amount of Gaule’s customers are coming from Center City.

“I have had a lot of people come in and tell me that they hadn’t been to Manayunk in years and were pleasantly surprised by what they’d found,” she said.

‘Reinvention of Manayunk’

Lisa Johnson recognizes this attitude of surprise from patrons. She opened Hidden River Yarns this past September. As a Mt. Airy native, she recognizes Manayunk’s reputation for catering to the bar crowd.

“Manayunk has gone through cycles over the years,” she explains. Johnson remembers shopping as a child at Wilde Yarns, the 125-year-old mill that, before closing in 2008, stood through several of these phases: it was not only a reminder of the industrial capital that defined Manayunk before the Great Depression, but also a testament to the local buying power that sustained it through the economic downturn of the mid-20th century, the higher rents and taxes of the 90’s, and the ensuing collapse of small businesses.

In the wake of this century’s economic depression, another cycle is shaking up Manayunk’s commercial history: one driven by female business owners empowered through innovation and collaboration.

“This new reinvention of Manayunk,” says Jane Lipton, “is fueled by women entrepreneurs.”

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