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Philly native Yuan Jie Wen first picked up a bow and arrow two years ago. Today, he runs the city’s only indoor range in the neighborhood where he grew up.
“I just want people to have fun and learn,” said Wen, 31, who launched Callowhill Archery at the end of October. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re hitting a bull’s-eye [or] your arrows are flying all over the place.”
In the 1990s, Wen’s parents operated a tofu shop out of the same building the archery now occupies, on 12th Street behind The Rail Park. His family lived in the second-floor apartment.
“I think they’re very proud … that I’m running a business where they started out,” Wen said of his parents. “It’s almost like passing forth a torch.”
Callowhill has changed a lot since his adolescent years, he said. He remembers the area struggled with drugs and crime before experiencing an influx of gentrification around 2010. Young professionals and artists moved in as development projects and trendy restaurants and bars began to boom.
“There is that sense of obligation,” Wen said, explaining his choice of location. “My home is here, I stand here, and I want to do something to contribute to the neighborhood.”
He hopes to introduce the sport to Philadelphians who may have never picked up a bow before. Callowhill Archery is now the sole indoor range in the city, according to Wen, because B&A Archery in the Northeast recently closed. For Wen, there’s a therapeutic element to archery, because of its solitary nature and focus on self-improvement.
“Archery is all about quality over quantity,” he said. “Whenever you draw that arrow back, there are a lot of things that have to go right. … Your form has to be perfect. Your technique has to be perfect. You have to maintain your composure.”
The range at 446 North 12th St. offers 90-minute sessions for $65 per person. There are up to eight slots available in a given session and all gear is included in the package — a bow, arrows and an arm guard.
Using muscles ‘you never thought you had’
Wen operates Callowhill Archery while also working a day job as a property manager. He leads classes alongside Ray Caba, a state-level archery champion and master coach with the National Field Archery Association.
Caba, a 76-year-old Delaware County resident who worked for the Philadelphia Gas Works for nearly 30 years, said he’s been practicing archery and competing in competitions for most of his life — he first picked up a bow at 17.
“It’s just a relaxing sport,” Caba said. “In the beginning, it’s kind of tough to get used to it, because you actually use muscles in your back that you never thought you had.”
Caba’s charisma shines through as he leads class sessions. He recently told a class that “he faints at the sight of blood” to drive home the importance of safety. He discusses the proper stance, proper bow handling, and the all-important anchor point.
The anchor point is the mark a shooter pulls the bowstring to meet when drawing their arrow back. Someone might use the corner of their mouth as an anchor point, or the corner of their eye.
“You have to be consistent in your anchor point,” Caba said. “If you differ in styles, you’re not going to hit the center of the bull’s eye.”
The indoor range is about 10 meters long from shooter to target, which is shorter than the norm of about 18 meters for indoor matches, but after learning the basics, each session does close out with a friendly competition.
Dajanaye Rollins, 30, recently attended a session. She hasn’t been shooting in about a year due to the pandemic, she said, but was ready to pick her bow back up.
“I can definitely tell that how I shot over a year ago is different from how I shoot now,” said Rollins, who used to study with Caba. The Brewerytown resident is excited to have a new range so close to Center City.
“It was really fun,” she said of her first session. “I’m quite an introvert, so to come out and talk to people I’ve never met before, to do something that I actually really like, it was really fun for me.”
Rollins’ advice for people new to the sport: “It is super OK to not hit the mark at all.”