Whether sipping on a Ballast Point draft or browsing off-the-rack wedding gowns, there’s a significant chance that customers lingering the shops along East Passyunk Avenue are being waited on by women.
But, these ladies are working more than the counters.
In nearly half of the avenue’s spaces, they’re running the place, as women own 40 percent of all businesses nestled on the mile-long stretch of commerce in South Philadelphia, according to the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District.
In honor of National Women’s History Month, the district is celebrating its diverse team of talented females, recognizing 60 different women-owned and co-owned businesses that have contributed to the avenue’s renaissance in recent years.
Compared to the rest of the city, the South Philly shopping district surpasses the rest of Philadelphia’s statistics by more than double, as according to a 2016 the Census Bureau, only 18.5 percent of businesses citywide are owned by women.
“I think it’s really, really, really important not only for businesses to help one another,” said Carolyn Verdi, who has owned Carolyn Verdi Boutique, 1746 E. Passyunk Ave., for the past six years. “But, I think it’s extremely important, and I’ve always believed this, that women should help other women…It’s exciting to see such a network of women, and I think that will help bring other women when they see that. We’re starting to be more family-like.”
Verdi, a Bella Vista resident, has been in the wedding business since the early 1990s. Having collected a scope of nuptials expertise for three decades, including invitation calligraphy and day-of-the-wedding services, Verdi gradually fused all of her flairs vending from the shop on East Passyunk.
Featuring a collection of exquisite vintage accessories, Verdi often engages in cross promotions or events with neighboring clothing retailers whose attire complements the boutique’s jewelry.
Such collaborations serve as a cornerstone practice of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District.
The business owners attribute this community approach toward sales to both the quantity and success of women along the avenue.
Just a few blocks north of the boutique, similar thoughts are echoed at a local bar.
“We make a lot of connections through the avenue,” said Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School graduate Michele Ganas, who has co-owned The Bottle Shop on East Passyunk for close to a decade. “There’s all different types of businesses, and we all try to help each other.”
Ganas, whose eight-month pregnancy does not seem to hinder her prowess to pour brews, originally opened the relaxed lounge with business partner Gena Montebello, whom she met during a freshman class at Temple University.
Relishing bar hopping just as much as any college student, the pair dreamt of opening their own watering hole one day, breaking stereotypes of an industry predominantly overseen by men.
As a South Philly native whose father also owned a shop on East Passyunk, Ganas gravitated toward the avenue, occupying two spaces on the block, as the business eventually relocated to 1616 E. Passyunk Ave. a few years ago.
“As soon as I wanted to own a business, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” she said. “We just saw this as a good place to grow…We just knew being here was the right move for us with every resource for us to help us.”
In light of workforce systemic discriminations against females, such as what some see as a gender pay gap, the women credit sincere relationships cultivated along the avenue to the prominent presence of women-owned businesses.
St. Monica’s Parish resident Donnamarie DeCotiis, co-owner of Noir Restaurant and Bar, located at 1909 E. Passyunk Ave., says she’s always willing to assist women aspiring to open their own eateries.
“There’s enough to worry about,” DeCotiis said. “It’s nice to have the women have your back, just like in life. It’s the same thing in life – personally and professionally…We’re all together. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to be alone somewhere and next to corporations where they don’t look out for you.”
In 2012, DeCotiis and her husband, an Italian-Canadian chef from Montreal, opened the critically acclaimed restaurant, which features a menu of delights ranging from classic eggplant lasagna to Montreal poutine.
Sitting with her 9-year-old niece in Noir, DeCotiis recalls shopping on East Passyunk Avenue as a young girl and seeing women entrepreneurs running several businesses well before the topic became a national conversation.
“I think it’s powerful, and I hope, I really, really hope that there’s a lot of inspiration, like my niece,” DeCotiis said. “ She’s a little young right now, but for her to see this in her own family and for children to see it. I was young shopping up here, and I was shopping in some of the places where the women are still there. I find that to be inspirational.”
Both Verdi and Ganas shared her thoughts.
“Businesses see the growth potential here,” Ganas said. “So they just want to take that opportunity seeing women-owned businesses that have been opened for many, many years…The next generation is looking to the first generation.”
On Monday, March 18, the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District organized a reception highlighting the women of East Passyunk. Hosted at Chhaya Cafe, the event featured a panel discussion with women business owners from the avenue tslking about their experiences, challenges and successes.
Ideally, the event, among many others held on the avenue, will further foster the growing network of women who’ve made momentous marks on the economy of South Philadelphia.
“I hope it continues, and I really hope it grows,” DeCotiis said. “I hope we can sit here next year, and you can say to me, ‘Do you believe that four more businesses owned by women opened?’ Or 10 more.”