South Street Art Mart owners discuss shop opening, sustainability through pandemic

“We didn’t set out to be the ‘queer shop,’ we just are,” said Nicole Krecicki, artist and co-owner of the South Street Art Mart. Krecicki runs the punk pop up artist shop with wife and artist, Nicole Wiegand.

Settled on 530 S 4th Street in Philadelphia is the black and queer-owned shop, but it was never originally going to be a “store.”

“We started the art mart as a holiday pop-up shop around the corner from our space now on South Street in Philly.” Krecicki said.

The inspiration for the shop slowly came together, then boomed all at once. Wiegand and Krecicki have been vending for years with their own art before someone from the South Street head house district had the idea to host a holiday pop up shop in the 2018 winter season.

“We thought it was just gonna be November, December, January and then it kind of took on a life of its own,” Krecicki said.

“We got really good feedback from the neighborhood and people specifically that lived adjacent to South Street,” Wiegand said.

A lot of the feedback the art mart duo received was that the shop was reminiscent of old South Street, which was a huge compliment.

“Old South Street to us is all independently-owned stores,” Wiegand said.

As the support of the community got South Street Art Mart off the ground, that same support kept the shop going strong three years later. After moving into a permanent space, they hit the ground running and expanding.

“When we were in the pop-up shop we started out with people we knew from our vending community because it was really fast,” Wiegand said. “People started reaching out to us, people we didn’t know, wanting to put their stuff in the shop. 

As South Street Art Mart continued to grow, the owners were planning on more ways to expand the art scene within the shop in Philly, but there was one problem.

“We just kind of were like building this community of the art mart and then we had all these plans like we were going to do pop ups, we were going to do events, it’s gonna be amazing – and then the world shut down,” Wiegand said.

Much like with other local businesses, there were two concerns for the owners of the South Street Art Mart: the fear of the virus and fear of the new business just getting its footing. Because the shop was still new at the time, the pandemic threw a major curveball in the owners plans to expand in-person.

“It’s this clash of like being afraid for your livelihood but also being afraid for your health and the health of the people you care about. It was just really tense,” Wiegand said.

At the time, South Street Art Mart was a normal shop with a bare minimum online presence. The owners wanted to incorporate an online shop, too, but never really had the time. Since the pandemic happened, this provided them the opportunity to launch an online shop, helping themselves and the shop stay afloat during the global shutdown.

They began sending emails and messages to every artist in the shop and asked for permission to sell their work online, adding that they’d make the process as easy as possible. The artists agreed since they definitely needed income during that time.

“We started gradually bringing stuff into our apartment to photograph and measure. Our apartment was like a “mini art mart,” Wiegand said, laughing.

Regardless of the quick turn around, the duo spent a lot of time getting everything in order so they could launch the shop as soon as possible. People responded and bought from the website.

“People really showed up for us, they were sharing our posts,” Wiegand said.

“We didn’t intend to open up a store when we initially did the pop up. So, this whole thing kind of snowballed and rolled along, so we didn’t sit down and say, ‘Okay, we’re gonna start a business, we’re gonna open up a brick-and-mortar. We’re gonna need startup, we’re gonna need website, and all those things,” Krecicki said. “The fact that folks showed up for us online when we got that website – the online store – open, that’s the only thing that sustained us. There’s no way that we would have been able to pay rent had it not been for folks supporting us online.”

Though retail stores in Philadelphia opened in June, the South Street Art Mart owners agreed they weren’t comfortable opening up yet. The online store was sustainable enough until they felt there were appropriate measures and the right time to open back up.

The silver lining to the pandemic, and partially due to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, artists from the shop asked for their monthly sales to be donated to different causes and organizations.

“A lot of artists in the shop asked us to donate their monthly sales to different organizations like Black Trans Lives Matters organizations, abortion access organizations, and so it was really cool for us to be able to contribute,” Krecicki said.

Krecicki went on to express appreciation for the fact that they could do that and continue building the community.

“We needed online sales to survive as a store, we needed online sales to be able to pay artists because everything in the shop was on consignment,” “But we were also able to take a small part of that and give it back to organizations that needed it more than we did,” Krecicki said.

Because every piece of artwork is unique, especially coming from someone locally, Wiegand described one of her favorite things that is sold in the shop.

“We have a bunch of stuff by this artist named Zo Geist. They’re a lot of like, we have a couple jackets and we have purses and a wallet and two pairs of shoes but they hand paint on them and they’re like super intricate. Every piece is completely different from the next. There’s one jacket that we have that has got like a really broad back and it’s just completely painted,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand also talked about the fact that because it is up cycled, the person who gets the article of clothing has to be, essentially, “the chosen one.” This meant that not only does the article of clothing have to be your specific size, but it also feels like a perfect match for the person looking for that specific item.

Krecicki talked about how this person was looking for a pair of roller-skates and happened to come in and find the skates in her exact size. 

Pride month is the time where the duo can be in a space and not have to worry about feeling marginalized. Though the recent shooting on South Street caused worry for that community and the city of Philadelphia, South Street Art Mart provides a comforting space for those who are like the owners.

Because the world can be a scary place, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community, the owners of the South Street Art Mart are proud to be the shop where queer kids can be seen and represented.

“It’s definitely one of those things where we are who we are. We’ve been married for five years, I’m black, bi-racial, we are who we are. The things that we make and the things that we like and gravitate towards, they’re not always queer they’re not always black but they’re always us,” Krecicki said. “The shop has, just by the nature and essence of it, is kind of a reflection of us.”

“It is inherently a queer space, it is inherently a black space, it is inherently a feminist space.” Wiegand said.

The South Street Art Mart is open Sundays through Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. COVID precautions are in place and are expected to be followed. More information about the store as well as where to buy online can be found on the South Street Art Mart website.

To hear the full interview with the owners of the South Street Art Mart, click here.

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