by Jill Aschkenasy
Location often makes all the difference for our shoppers. If a person can walk five blocks to our pop-up shop, receive free clothing and still have a whole day to work towards other goals, they are much more likely to avail themselves of our services. If the pop-up shop is too far, requires bus transfers or potentially walking twenty blocks or more, then all of a sudden it may no longer make sense in their day. As such, we work incredibly hard to find the right locations for our shops and to be proactive rather than reactive in selecting high density areas in need.
One of these areas is Tioga-Nicetown. Our team focused on this neighborhood as an area where there is high need, a large population and an absence of services such as ours. But how do we turn this research into actual pop-up shops? We went out and spoke to community members and local leaders, and, working with the Nicetown Community Development Corporation, found the perfect spot. In October of 2019, we opened Our Closet at the Nicetown Court Apartments, and the community has welcomed us with open arms (and shopping bags!).
Coincidentally, in January, the Philadelphia Inquirer featured an article about the neighborhoods of Tioga-Nicetown and Point Breeze, and how gentrification has impacted both communities. Jason Laughlin wrote in his article about the huge disparity that has one area ascending while the other stagnates. Laughlin notes that a decade ago both had an almost unimaginable poverty rate of 35%. Since then, Point Breeze has seen construction, growth and improvement with the poverty rate falling to 27%. Conversely, Tioga-Nicetown has seen no gain with the poverty rate remaining at 35%. And as you may recall, in August, shortly before we opened our first pop-up shop at the Nicetown Court Apartments, there was a standoff and shooting of six Philadelphia police officers in the neighborhood that made headlines around the country.
Laughlin, and others, have explained many reasons for the growth in Point Breeze and the lack thereof in Nicetown – gentrification, location, proximity to Center City, access to transportation and others. Here at Our Closet our job is not to “fix” the problems of these neighborhoods, but it is our job to identify need and open our doors in a space with easy access to all those we can serve. We started our pop-ups in Nicetown before Laughlin wrote his article, which then confirmed that Our Closet services were very much needed in this location and reaffirmed our decision to bring pop-ups there.
Our Closet will continue to address the basic needs of those struggling to make ends meet, but let’s also ask ourselves, as humans, the larger questions of why this is happening and what our city can do to rebuild forgotten neighborhoods. Again, our goal is for Our Closet services to no longer be needed. Let’s look (and work) towards a day when that might be true.