Philly’s Boutique Wars

For local independent business owners, the business of making us beautiful can get pretty ugly.

JEN RAMSAY DOESN’T SHOP; she never really has. When you own a boutique, you plump your wardrobe by buying things wholesale. These days, Ramsay—who still works under the Echochic name as a stylist, PR rep and fashion-and-lifestyle consultant—relies on designer friends to send her clothes. But she’s nostalgic for the time she spent in her own brick-and-mortar on South Street. “They were really incredible years,” she says wistfully.

Recently, a new wave of boutique owners gathered at a party for the Old City Business Collective. Sugarcube’s Buratto chatted­ with friends, all fellow shop owners in the little square-mile cobblestone patch between NoLibs and Society Hill. There was no talk of Hangergate, or Urban, or the recent store closings, or even the crappy economy. No one brought up the stress of being in business for yourself, or the worries over department stores and online shopping. They just laughed and swapped stories, a well-dressed group of friends and colleagues, in the foxhole together.

“We’re all just getting by,” says Art Star’s Waxman. “But Philly is supporting us, and it’s exciting.” Whether Philly’s support will continue to be enough for all of these boutique owners, time will tell. But there is this:

A few weeks later, Buratto is on the phone with a journalist, talking about the life of an independent boutique owner. “Can you hang on one sec?” she says into the phone. The door to her shop keeps swinging open with a little ping as customers wander in. A couple minutes of conversation, and then again: ping. “I’m sorry, give me one more minute?” she asks. A few more questions, then ping. Finally, the writer relents and lets her get back to minding her store. She’s got clothes to sell, and today, business is looking good.