Everyone has a story. Every place does too. Just as Westmont Hardware was once run out of a small family home, just as Ben Moore was once a healthcare administrator, Tara Martinak lost her job because of COVID-19, and Michael Smeltzer worked for the airlines. Haddon Ave in Collingswood and Haddon Township was not always the hip, trendy array of shops and restaurants that it is today.
But that’s exactly what makes a walk or drive through it so worth it, especially this time of the year. Each shop and each storefront has a story to tell, whether it’s the unique clothing designs of Martinak’s ReUp Fashion, the rows of vintage vinyl records housed inside of Phidelity Records, the rhythmic beat emanating from Songbird Karaoke, or the transitional home décor pieces offered at Moore and his partner’s Everette Wilson Design.
Trying to recapture that holiday vibe that COVID-19 dulled last year? Ducking in and out of stores along this stretch is a sure way to do it, especially with the number of new places to browse. Looking for that personalized unique gift to give someone? Long known for its array of boutique and unique, the town’s stretch of stores along Haddon Ave is alive again with stocked inventories – much of it supply-chain proof, or at least resilient.
Here’s a look at a few of them.
Everette Wilson Designs
For Ben Everette Moore and his husband Jimson Wilson Dsouza, their story begins with the one-two punch of COVID-19 and the Center City riots that followed the death of George Floyd in late May of 2020. A month later the couple bought a house in Collingswood, and began to furnish it. “I found we were having to travel everywhere to get nice unique pieces for the house,’’ Moore says. “We didn’t know much about Collingswood, but as I started walking around I thought, `Man, I want to hang out with my dog in a shop all day long.’ ’’
So Moore quit his job as a clinical risk manager in healthcare administration last October and began to look around. He and Wilson worked out a budget and headed to Las Vegas for a huge design event. They partnered with a half-dozen vendors from around the world and began to build their inventory for a planned downtown store.
Everette Wilson Designs opened on July 10 of this year. “The first two weeks, we sold half of everything we had,’’ Moore was saying as he warmly greeted customers recently. “So we were pretty empty for a few weeks.’’
Not anymore. Anticipating a robust holiday shopping season, the pair have stockpiled the store with transitional furniture and decorative pieces, impulse-buy items and locally crafted ceramics, clothing and scarves. “Some pieces are a little more contemporary than others,’’ says Moore. “There is no theme here. But if you pay close enough attention you will realize that everything in here can go with each other. That is my design style. I like to take a little industrial, a little bit shabby chic, a little bit farmhouse, a little bit of contemporary and a little bit traditional and mix it together. That’s the true art of design.’’
There are big pieces and smaller ones, and while the store is full of signature pieces, it also caters to walk-in customers looking for that gift that says ‘you did more than shop online’. Tie-dyed scarves made locally using the Yuitsu technique, holiday platters and deviled egg trays that are custom-made by a Collingswood ceramist, are all targeted for the holiday-season buyer. Spongelles, soaps and lotions, pedi-buffs — “People at every price point can come in, enjoy the store and find something to buy,’’ says Moore.
Or just pet their mild-mannered rescue dog, Bourbon.
“I love people and I love design,’’ says Moore. “Those are 2 things you need in this business.’’
In 2010, turntable sales in the United States amounted to less than $10 million nationwide, according to Statista.com. Last year, amid a COVID-19 crisis that pinned many people home, those sales reached nearly $25 million, a four percent increase from the previous year and a continuation of an undeniable trend: Fueled by shops like Phidelity Records in Haddon Twp., vinyl records are making a modest but palpable comeback.
Turntables are being sold online, in electronics stores and even inside major retail stores like Target and Walmart. “The ability to stop, sit and listen to an album from beginning to end, that’s something that always has been and always will be relevant,” says Scott Hagen, CEO of long-time turntable manufacturer Victrola.
And to the surprise of some, it’s not just wistful old-timers rekindling their past. Boomers, Millennials, Generations X and Z are all a part of the resurgence. They come to the store, says owner Jim Corsi, open the album jacket, peruse the fantastic artwork, study the liner notes – just as their parents once did. It creates a great, multi-generational buying opportunity for their friends and family to gift something personal and special.
“And that’s the kind of stuff you definitely see more of in November and December,’’ says Corsi. “You get people who know their friend, or their kid even, is now into records and they’re not sure what to buy them. I’ll try to help them as best as I can. I’ll ask them how old they are, do you know anything they listen to?’’
The reward for such diligence is easily visible. It is midday on a normal midweek day, and Corsi’s store is full of people. An older couple is browsing his collection of Sinatra, Bennett and the Big Bands of the late 1940s and early 1950s. A middle-aged man is discussing the great album art that covered many of the iconic albums of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. A younger couple seems to be browsing everything.
“It’s gotten much bigger over the last few years,’’ says Corsi. “Everybody’s buying records now. I don’t know if anybody ever thought records would come back the way they have. I know I didn’t think they would.’’
Beginning in 1932 from the base of a house, Westmont Hardware is a Haddon Ave staple that transcends time – especially this time of the year. Just try and walk through it during the holiday season – past the plentiful supply of wreaths and trees, past the lights both incandescent and LED, past the lawn and home holiday decorations.
On this particular day Bill Getzinger III, the latest Bill to man the store, is plotting store displays as if he was a Hollywood director ruminating about supply-chain issues that haunt this holiday season and the truck shipment of Christmas trees he ordered in April.
“Ours come from Nova Scotia, and they’re home-grown truckers,’’ he says. “And I haven’t heard of any problem.’’
Indeed, by getting ahead of the chain, something Getzinger does habitually anyway, he anticipates a full allotment of ornaments, grills and bulbs. “We ordered our Christmas lights last February,’’ he says. “So they’re already coming in, which is great.’’
He’s also got at least a dozen pellet-based and gas-based outdoor pizza ovens coming in, well ahead of the Christmas rush. Those, firepits and Adirondack chairs, were popular COVID-driven items last season, catching him and others by surprise.
“We’ll be ready for them this year,’’ he quips.
Follow your passion. It sounds great when you’re young and under your parent’s roof, but as many discover once they graduate or get their degree, it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.
Tara Martinak, owner of Re-Up Fashions on Haddon Ave, has learned since opening up her shop of sustainable, one-of-a-kind clothing five months ago that it’s not just enough to follow. In her case, you must be engulfed.
“I can sew,’’ says the 26-year-old clothier. “I can design great clothes. But on the business end, how to run a business – nobody tells you that before you step in. I work a lot. But it’s worth it. It’s been amazing, and what I always wanted to do.’’
A University of Delaware grad with a degree in design, Martinak turned her side job of customizing existing clothing into trendy fashion pieces, into her business after losing her job working for a trend forecasting company as a result of COVID-19. She drove up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from Pittsburgh and Charlotte, carefully combing through clothes that triggered her imagination.
“My supply chain,’’ she says, “is me.’’
“I’ve done a lot of research on where to find good clothing,’’ she said. “It also helps to find different things. The things you’re going to find in a setting like Columbus or Pittsburgh — it’s going to be colder weather, you’re going to find better coats and jackets boots that kind of thing. Whereas Charlotte, where its warmer, it’s a different inventory.’’
Most importantly though, is what she does with the clothes once she finds them. On this day, she was wearing one of her prouder and more popular “re-ups’’ – a Woolrich flannel shirt that she has converted into a sharp-looking top. “I take the hems back off and cinch them in so it gives you a flannel look up top but sits nicer than your dad’s,’’ she says.
This piece is part of her holiday inventory that she began to release in early November. While they trend heavily towards casual everyday apparel – a nod to working at home during COVID – she has begun to stock dressier imaginations as well. Aimed at her age and those surrounding her, the clothes are also a nod to that era’s social conscience. “The eco-factor plays a part in this. People in my generation are gearing towards sustainability. I think it’s cool when you have something sustainable and also unique.’’
Makes a cool gift too.
The inspiration for Ronnie and Michael Schmeltzer’s Songbird Karaoke came amid a trip to Japan several years ago, where box karaoke is immensely popular. “We tried it, had a lot of fun,’’ Ronnie said. “And we thought, why don’t we try something like that here?’’
Box karaoke, for those of us not already in the know, is a party-event concept in which multiple rooms containing karaoke equipment are rented out for a period of time. The Schmeltzers, whose backgrounds are in hospitality, have carved small, medium and large rooms to accommodate parties from four to 50, and ages that range that too. And they have a wide selection of themes to decorate them in – including of course, several holiday ones.
Patrons choose songs from a huge library that is easily customized to any theme or taste. Words appear with the singer’s name when the song appears and, well, let the fun begin. Like the rest of Collingswood, it’s BYOB, but Songbird has partnered with several local restaurants to offer and supply a robust selection of food choices.
It’s a great place for a family or corporate event, or even for a gift exchange party, say the Schmeltzers. Gift cards are also available. “We can see the momentum building post-COVID,’’ says Michael, who says most of November’s weekend nights are filled. “Christmas 2019 was crazy for us before COVID hit. I think it will be again.’’