Co-owners Tiffica Benza (left), Ashley Peel (center), and Jennifer Provost (right) at Philadelphia Independents in Old City

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Philadelphia Independents often gets tagged on social media by tourists who think they’ve found the account of the historic Independence Hall.

It’s a small gift shop on North 3rd Street, not the birthplace of the United States, but co-owner Ashley Peel doesn’t mind. After all, the name is very similar.

“It’s ‘Independents’ because we represent independent makers,” Peel said, noting the different spelling. “But it’s nice to see their photos.”

The Old City boutique attracts both visitors and locals with its Philly-themed, Philly-made wares, which are crafted by about 60 different vendors based in the five-county region. At Philadelphia Independents, you can find everything from Benjamin Franklin pillows to Gritty greeting cards. The imagery and insider jokes featured on store merchandise reference both the city’s distant history and its recent past.

“We have the ability to react to things that are happening in the city,” said co-owner Tiffica Benza. “Artists produce those sort of one-off, culturally relevant items.”

Onesies by Ana Thorne Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

As the events happened, there have been pieces highlighting both the pope’s visit in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention in 2016. More recently, mugs and T-shirts featuring the phrase, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” have been popular, commemorating the phrase uttered by former President Donald Trump during a 2020 presidential debate.

The store also features classic Philly imagery, too.

There are LOVE statue keychains and Philadelphia Museum of Art tea towels. Depictions of soft pretzels and Rocky cover the shop. There are also wares sans the Philly-theme — offered because they’re made in the city by local creators.

Philadelphia Independents boutique at 35 N. 3rd St. in Old City Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

“Sometimes people may think, ‘Oh, we’re a tourist souvenir shop,’” said the third co-owner, Jennifer Provost. “But we’re hitting everybody. We have people in the neighborhood, regulars coming in.”

The idea for the boutique grew out of Peel’s experience selling her own jewelry line, INDICAN, at craft shows throughout the city and seeing the talent of makers and artists.

“I was thinking there needs to be a place where you can find these people all the time, not just once in a while when you happen to find a craft show,” she said.

Peel, Benza and Provost were already friends back in 2014, and looking to explore new business ventures. They decided to go all in on the gift shop, which opened that May.

Each brought a different background to the pursuit. Peel had experience in fine arts, and Benza in the marketing world. Provost had worked in corporate fashion and had experience working at another gift shop, too.

“So we come up with the idea and the only vendor we have is Ashley,” Benza said, describing a constant process of seeking out other artisans to feature.

It involves going to craft fairs, combing through Etsy, paying attention to social media and relying on word of mouth.

The Philadelphia Independents co-owners show off their tattoos of the store’s logo Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Peel, Benza and Provost celebrated making it through their first year by getting matching tattoos featuring the boutique’s logo — a minimalist rendition of the Liberty Bell, featuring the famous crack as a lightning bolt to acknowledge Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with electricity.

“It was a fun little bonding thing and like, ‘Wow, we did this,’” Benza said. “You never know what’s going to happen, and now we’re here almost 7 to 8 years later.”

The shop has grown into its own and is now successful enough to keep a back stock of items. “There’s more things on the walls than there were before,” Provost said. “We’re finding every nook and cranny we can to put merchandise.”

Peel added that the co-owners’ initial expectations of who their customer base would be when the shop opened in 2014 were not entirely accurate.

“We thought that tourists would want to buy more Philly-themed goods and locals would want to buy more Philly-made goods,” she said. “We were so wrong. So many locals want to celebrate Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia-inspired tea towels by Ana Thorne Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Artist Ana Thorne found this to be true, so she leans into city themes in her illustrations, which are printed on fabric and sold as pillows, pouches, towels and masks at the gift shop.

“It’s basically all inspired by all the different famous things in Philly,” Thorne said of her work, which includes depictions of the Liberty Bell and City Hall, among other images. “It’s awesome when you get to see how people react to your illustrations and the way you represent things.”

Artist Stephanie Harvey of exit343design sells her screen printing work at Philadelphia Independents, much of which is Gritty-inspired.

“I remember the week he was released,” Harvey said. “I was just instantly smitten with how insane he was, and a lot of other people like him as well.”

Harvey said selling her wares with Philadelphia Independents has taught her a lot about operating her own business, wholesale vending and Philly pride.

“People who love Philly, frickin’ love Philly,” Harvey said. “And I do too.”

Tea towels by Ana Thorne Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Philly stickers for sale at Philadelphia Independents Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Mugs for sale at Philadelphia Independents Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
Coin purses by Ana Thorne Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Jenny Roberts is a freelance journalist living in the West Poplar neighborhood of Philadelphia. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism in 2018 before doing a year of service as an English...