Originally published November 2018; updated November 2019.
Chances are you’re already excited to shop small this holiday season. A new study by American Express found nine of 10 shoppers believed buying local was important, and 83% of people said they plan to hit up small brick-and-mortar stores for gifts.
Per the report, at least 67 cents of every dollar spent locally stays in the community, and creates, on average, an additional 50 cents of economic impact via vendors and staff spends.
It’s almost funny to remember that when Small Business Saturday launched in 2010 as a companion to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many people were skeptical. It was created by American Express, after all, so it’s understandable that both consumers and retailers cast a wary eye. A small biz promotion birthed by a credit card behemoth? There had to be a catch.
But over the next few years, the underlying idea caught fire — people realized there really wasn’t a catch. Shopping small became part of the drumbeat of being a good citizen.
Even as AmEx pulled back the incentives it offered card users to shop on Small Business Saturday, the promotion continued to thrive. Congress began issuing annual proclamations recognizing the day, and the U.S. Small Business Association got involved. So too did municipal governments — Philadelphia’s Commerce Department offers its own shopping advice each year.
Shopping locally isn’t just for one day a year. It’s great throughout the holiday season — and beyond. Here’s where to find good retail shopping clusters in Philly.
The booming diagonal strip became famous for its restaurants, but it also has a growing cohort of boutiques, flower shops, handmade craft stores, fashion storefronts and more. They’re made all the better by the melding of new and old — you’ll find trendy hipster spots next to South Philly classics. Click through for specific deals and specials.
Once an industrial area full of manufacturing warehouses, the Old City District transformed solidly into an arts and entertainment decade around 20 years ago. It’s continued to double down on the retail, bolstered by tourism to the Historic District, which means there are literally dozens upon dozens of shops in a five or six-square-block area. Tip: Hit up a museum — NMAJH, NMAAHC, AmRev — while you’re there.
As long as you can navigate both hills and cobblestones, Chestnut Hill makes for one of the quaintest, most adorable shopping trips in the city. The far end of Germantown Avenue is lined on both sides with storefronts new and old, from art galleries to bakeshops, breweries to fashion.
This retail corridor is in the middle of a revitalization, so it’s a good opportunity to find totally new-to-you shops and goods. The intersection of Broad, Germantown and Erie hosts with dozens of small businesses, including places to get jewelry, shoes, beauty supplies and vintage clothes.
Not everyone is on board with the name chosen by the merchants that fill this section of the Gayborhood, but the cluster of stores does have a village-like feel. On 13th Street alone there are dozens of shopping spots — almost all of them pricey, so a day of discounts is definitely the time to swing through.
This West Philly corridor is a link between communities — it starts near Drexel in University City and runs up through Mantua and Belmont. It’s home to a diverse assortment of vendors who serve the various residents, and is rarely overcrowded. Shop here and you’ll snag gifts others simply won’t find.
For the history buffs on your list, Pine Street’s Antique Row is the strip to hit up. In recent years, the storefronts boasting impressive but dust-covered furniture have been joined by craft stores, boutiques, consignment shops and more, several of which are offering deals for holiday shoppers.
This petite riverside community is like its own town within the city of Philadelphia, and its Main Street feels like it’s out of a storybook. Petite storefronts of all kinds are tumbled together on the up and down streets, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants at which to take a breather as you make your way down the line.
If you want to spend big but are still looking for deals, the retail corridor around Rittenhouse Square is where to do it. Over the past decade, Walnut Street has exploded with high-end fashion retailers, and amid the chains are several locally-owned shops. These small businesses populate the side streets and dot Chestnut as well, offering discounts on glamour you’ll savor all year round.
It no longer carries the title of Philly’s hottest strip, but South Street east of Broad (aka the Headhouse District) is full of eclectic shops, from havens for unique art to sneakerhead fantasylands. On the other side of Broad, South Street West has come alive in recent years, and it now buzzes with retail storefronts amid a solid collection of easy-access cafes and restaurants.
Merchants in this Northeast Philly neighborhood have been quietly stoking a bustling retail corridor along Frankford Avenue, and they’ve banded together to make shopping this weekend extra fun. The first 100 customers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Small Business Saturday get a free donut and shopping bag at Factory Donuts.
If there are food fanatics on your list, this South Philly strip is the place to head. It’s home to several of the best cheese shops in the region, plus locally-owned stores selling all the gift-able edibles you can imagine: fancy olive oils, exotic spices, homemade chocolates and more. Vendors aren’t just Italian anymore — venture below Washington Avenue to find a riot of Mexican storefronts offering a whole different set of tasty goods.
Support immigrant entrepreneurs from around the world with a trip to the blossoming North 5th Street corridor. A big revitalization effort has burnished storefronts and encouraged community engagement, and the result is an avenue where global cultures mingle happily, providing one of the most interesting shopping experiences in the city.