South Street takes an alternative spin on the Easter egg hunt

A decorated Easter Egg hanging in a window on South Street in Philadelphia

An Easter Egg decorated by Frank Chappel III hangs in a window on South Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Twenty-five businesses along the South Street corridor in Philadelphia have adorned their shop windows with artistic Easter eggs: a 9×12 panel shaped like an egg and painted by a local artist.

During the week leading up to Easter Sunday, the South Street Headhouse District is posing a challenge: Find them.

With more than 400 businesses in the commercial district, the act of locating 25 eggs will rival any backyard Easter egg hunt. To make things easier, the district is offering a cheat sheet.

“Easter has always really been a big thing for the district,” said Sarah Cowell, the digital and marketing coordinator for the SSHD.

South Street would have been the site of the 87th Easter Promenade, had the pandemic not squashed all public gathering events. Every year, thousands of people dress up and take to the streets to welcome spring, led by Philly’s prominent party host, Henri David.

David will not be emceeing the party this year. Instead, he contributed an egg decorated — in a flamboyant style David is known for — with rainbow-colored beads and glitter. Mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar contributed an egg made in collaboration with his wife, Julia Zagar. Illustrators, graffiti artists, fine artists, yarn bombers, and graphic designers all contributed to the South Street Egg Hunt.

An Easter egg painted by local artists Julia and Isaiah Zagar. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Knowing that it’s still not safe and not the best decision to host a parade, we wanted something fun that people could do with their families or with their friends, with their pod, that is socially distant,” said Cowell, who hatched this idea of an artist egg hunt. “It gets people on the ground walking around in the district, exploring in an open-air space.”

Unlike a real egg hunt, people who find these artist eggs cannot keep them. Instead, they are encouraged to take a photo of the egg and post it to Instagram, tagging the Headhouse District. That automatically enters them into a drawing for a $50 gift card good at any district business. The more eggs they find, the more entries they have in the drawing.

After the drawing, the SSHD plans to hold an exhibition of all the eggs together in one large window along South Street. Then they will be shelved until next Easter.

Cowell also works for Tattooed Mom, an iconic South Street bar known for its walls covered in dense layers of graffiti and wheat paste posters by local artists. Through her connections there, Cowell identified 11 artists who would take an $100 stipend to make an egg for the hunt.

The other 14 eggs were made by business owners and art students at the High School of Creative and Performing Arts.

One of the artists is Manuela Guillén, aka Lazy Beam, who painted her egg with the image of a woman surrounded by plants, a brown rabbit leaping across the center. The figures are illustrated by large, rounded shapes and colored with soft pinks and greens, Guillén’s signature style, which she says is drawn from her Latino heritage. Her parents are from El Salvador and Cuba.

“I grew up in Miami, where the Latin culture is celebrated. The way we talk, our food, the music. I grew up listening to salsa, bachata — that’s what I heard around my house when I was young,” she said. “I ended up moving to Jersey when I was 16, and it was very different. I felt like I didn’t always see my culture celebrated when I walked outside my house.”

The district has an ulterior motive: It wants people to come into the neighborhood in a way that is safe, distanced, and shows off the commerce of South Street.  Though the pandemic has taken a hit on many businesses, forcing them to close, the South Street corridor has seen just as many new businesses open. Dana Feinberg, the SSHD project coordinator, said South Street has seen a net loss of zero businesses.

“Some may think it’s the worst time to open a business, but at the same time if you had a hope and a dream of opening brick-and-mortar and a property owner is willing to work with you and negotiate, maybe this is the most perfect time,” said Feinberg.

Dana Feinberg, project coordinator for the South Street Headhouse District, poses beside one of 25 Easter eggs displayed in shop windows throughout the district. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

It was the perfect time for Anthony Johnson. A clothing retailer who has worked with department stores for decades, last year was going to be his chance to break out on his own. The March 2020 pandemic shutdown was announced the day he was going to sign a lease for a shop in Northeast Philadelphia. That store didn’t happen.

Then, months later, a space became available on South Street, a former thrift store near Eighth Street.  In December, Johnson opened Gate2-15, a Philly lifestyle clothing store including luxury sneakers and jeans.

Anthony Johnson, who opened Gate2-15 designer clothing shop in December, is one of 25 merchants participating in the South Street Headhouse District Easter egg hunt. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Our concept is like when you go to the airport and they send you to a specific gate, and so you go to that gate and then you get your flight,” said Johnson. “We want you to come here to get fly.”

When the SSHD asked if he would want to put an egg in his window — a piece by the artist Rain Demitri featuring the baby dinosaur character from the video game Yoshi (aka Yoshi’s Egg) — he thought it could only help. Johnson said it had an immediate impact.

“People are looking more in the window. Like I said, we’re still fairly new and a lot of people don’t know that we’re here yet. Let’s bring in traffic with the hunt,” said Johnson. “I think the parents get a little treasure as well as the kids — finding new places to shop. I have some great stuff.”

Other participating businesses have been in the South Street corridor for decades, like Repo Records, at Fifth and South. After an initial slump, business during the pandemic has been relatively good for owner Dan Matheson, who figures that since people are not allowed to go to movies or concerts right now, what do they want? Records. He has seen rising sales of not just vinyl, but an uptick in turntables to play them on.

An Easter egg painted by local artist Courtney Roberts. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Matheson agreed to put an egg in his shop window by artist Courtney Roberts, who painted a man dressed in black with exaggerated teeth and skull, against a background of roughly dabbed yellows and oranges. It’s more aggressive and confrontational than the gentler tones of the other eggs.

“That’s why we wanted it,” said Matheson.

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