Philadelphians Really Just Want to Be Kids Again

And retailers and bars are taking advantage with crafts, creative projects, and games.

A crafting class at Meadowsweet Mercantile. Photograph by Sam Oberter

Embroidery, macramé, jewelry making, painting — this might read like the arts-and-crafts class schedule at your kid’s summer camp, but it’s not. These are actual classes that adults will be taking this summer at Moon + Arrow, United By Blue, Meadowsweet Mercantile, Downerss — some of the city’s trendiest boutiques.

The fact that grown-ups are paying to hammer their own statement earrings where they shop might seem a bit peculiar. But in 2018, it’s pretty much the norm. Experiential marketing — a.k.a. connecting with consumers through memorable experiences — is bruited as the brick-and-mortar antidote to online shopping. It gets people in the stores, it builds a relationship with a brand, and it’s free advertising, since that bag you just spent two hours hand-sewing is ripe for an Instagram story.

And in Philly, it seems the most popular experiences are those that recall our childhoods. (Maybe some marketing manager is reading an old camp brochure.) “For many people, working with your hands is something you do as children, and then later on, there’s little chance to express yourself creatively. People are looking for that,” says Chelsea Pearce, the owner of Moon + Arrow in Queen Village.

At the new Wax + Wine store on Antique Row, you pour candles from whichever of the 75 scents on offer speak to you emotionally before perusing the shop’s throw pillows, fancy soaps, and home diffusers. When I visited, I stood in the scent cellar and lingered on a bottle that smelled like banana bread and home. I could have stayed all day.

This isn’t only happening where we shop. Trendy riffs on familiar experiences are popping up all over the city. Spin is a newish Walnut Street bar filled with ping-pong tables. (It’s in a basement, just like the ones where we spent most of our middle-school years.) There’s a bowling lane under Michael Schulson’s Harp & Crown, arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man and Frogger at Barcade, and “Lego for Grown-Ups” at the Art Museum — all still fun, especially when there’s booze. And for those of us secretly yearning for our childhood pets, Amrita Yoga & Wellness in Fishtown offers yoga with puppies, while Le Cat Café in Brewerytown serves coffee with embraceable (theoretically, at least) cats running around.

These new twists on old activities make Philly more fun: Why just drink at a bar when you can do so at a bar that has Galaga? Or spend Wednesday night at home watching Netflix instead of in a cute boutique, working on your creative writing? When you’re an adult, tapping into something that’s artsy, social, and nostalgic feels good — like coming across your high-school yearbook in your mom’s attic. And that’s key. According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, we’re more likely to spend money when we’re waxing sentimental — making these feel-good events strokes of economic genius for retailers and bars. Now, pass me that ping-pong paddle. I’ve still got it. I think.

Published as “Warm Fuzzies” in the July 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.