Greater Art Museum Area businesses form new alliance

To address the growing business needs of Francisville, Spring Garden, Brewerytown and Fairmount while preserving the four neighborhoods’ unique identities, the Fairmount Area Business Association is growing and rebranding as the Greater Art Museum Business Alliance (GAMBA), an alliance of business owners and real estate developers working to enhance and promote the greater Art Museum area and its businesses. 

The power-in-numbers move will leverage the collective strength of the businesses in the four neighborhoods and build off of the Fairmount Area Business Association’s success to date. GAMBA will offer members marketing, networking and business assistance as well as direct access to Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) benefits – including hot ticket items like group health insurance, government relations and advocacy, and business-related discounts. 

“One of the big advantages of becoming bigger was we were able to join GPCC,” said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Fairmount CDC, which along with the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation is leading GAMBA’s development. 

The Fairmount Area Business Association had 75 members last year, but Johnson expects about 200 businesses to join GAMBA. This will be enough for GAMBA to join GPCC and extend those benefits to its members. 

The expansion will also improve networking opportunities. 

“We were just too small to coordinate effective networking,” Johnson said. “It was nice to get together but it just wasn’t growing the businesses… We can’t have networking events by ourselves because we know everybody.”

Preserving neighborhood identity

A main driver for the creation of GAMBA was to preserve each neighborhood’s identity and expand the Fairmount Area Business Association’s support without necessarily putting everyone under the Fairmount umbrella. Each of the neighborhoods has businesses with somewhat different priorities, needs and varying stages of development. 

For instance, Johnson said along Fairmount Ave from 23rd to 20th streets, “It’s all about tourism, marketing and capturing money from people going to the Art Museum, Penitentiary and the Barnes.”

In Francisville the focus in on rebuilding undeveloped or underdeveloped property and building more commercial space, Johnson said. Francisville NDC already hosts monthly meetings for neighborhood developers. Now those meetings will be branded as GAMBA meetings, and GAMBA will host similar monthly meetings in Fairmount. 

In Brewerytown, Johnson said, “They just want people to come up to West Girard Ave to see what’s going on [and] check it out.”

She said the neighborhood already has “great bones,” but the retail businesses could benefit from collective advertising, marketing, neighborhood promotion and improved storefronts. 

The future of the Greater Art Museum Area

In the past three years, the area has seen 26 new businesses open, creating approximately 200 new jobs. Approximately half of those businesses opened in previously vacant spaces. 

While there is some retail along Fairmount, including Fairmount Running Company, Fairmount Bicycles, Ali’s Wagon and Bookhaven, the majority of the new businesses are restaurants. 

“Retail hasn’t really gotten there, but it’s coming,” Johnson said. 

She said restaurants thrive due to high-density populations of young professionals and families but that retail still needs more foot traffic to really take off. 

“I think it’s great we have a lot of small, independent businesses in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “We don’t have many chain businesses in Fairmount.”

She hopes to see the independent business trend continue and to draw a bank or two into the neighborhood, which is currently underserved. 

“The businesses would love that too because a lot of them are driving to the bank,” she said. 

Joining GAMBA

Businesses in any of the four neighborhoods can apply to join GAMBA. Business of one to four employees pay an annual $150 fee, and business of five or more employees pay a $250 annual fee. 

Last year the fee for joining the Fairmount Area Business Association was $75 if the business chose not to be listed in the association’s brochure. Though GAMBA’s fee is now double that, Johnson said that is because it costs more to join GPCC and now all businesses will be listed in the brochure, which is displayed at the Art Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, City Hall Tour and Visitor Center and Independence Visitors Center and used by realtors to show prospective buyers what the neighborhood has to offer, Johnson said. 

The Fairmount CDC and Francisville NDC will oversee GAMBA in an effort not to create another non-profit unless necessary and to leverage of the two organization’s current work. 

The GAMBA website is still being developed but is expected to launch this spring. 

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