I traveled to Philadelphia for a wedding this past weekend. We had some free time one afternoon and went to the Italian Market district for Philly Cheese Steaks. Yum! As we are eating, I noticed a sign outside the window that stated “Fabric Row.” My companions said, “Have at it..,” so I was off to explore.
A real mix of new and old, tradition and future was witnessed on my excursion. Fabric Row, located along Fourth Street, has been a marketplace for quality fabrics in Philadelphia for over a century. During the early 20th century, immigrants, skilled as tailors or seamstresses, made their living by working in stores or renting pushcarts. Today, third- and fourth-generation fabric businesses share the street with restaurants and hair dressers.
I did a little research about the area. One of the oldest fabric businesses on South Fourth Street is Paul’s. Russian Immigrants, Samuel and Esther Paul, opened their business in 1919. I learned that when they started working on Fourth Street, they had a pushcart outside of a store. In the 1920s, City Hall issued pushcart licenses for $5, but some pushcart merchants purchased the right to set up shop from a store owner. The Paul’s paid $3 for rent each month. On the opposite side of the street, Maxie’s Daughter is a family business that spans four generations. It started much like Paul’s, by renting a pushcart. Eventually they began renting a store in the Italian Market in the late 1930s.
One of my upcoming workshops is Tactile Textiles. I’ve been having trouble finding just the right fabric for teaching this class. It was good to have a mission as I entered each store, “I’m looking for a toile with flowers or birds, no people, preferably in black and cream/white.” This really is not that easy to find, but finally the last store I visited, Adler’s Fabrics, had just what I wanted! Jeanette, the store owner for 40 years, was really delighted to help someone with an artistic project that wasn’t for drapes or upholstery – she said it only happens every few years.
One stop added a little magic to the day. B. Wilk, established in 1954, had beautiful butterfly fabric. The owner, clerk and I each had a very meaningful story about the significance of butterflies in our lives and their symbolism. When I left the stores, a monarch butterfly swooped down over my head and flew around me in a circle. As I turned to watch the butterfly, it flew into the tree right outside B. Wilk’s store. Well, I had to go right back in and tell them about the magical butterfly.
That monarch just seemed to bless my Fabric Row experience and even confirm the journey I am on as a fabric and mixed media artist.