Show producer and Yowie owner Shannon Maldonado in 'Small Enough'

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Shannon Maldonado, the mind behind acclaimed Fabric Row design shop Yowie, is in the middle of opening a second Philadelphia location that will also house a 3-story boutique hotel and full-service cafe. In all her spare time, she’s also producing and starring in a video series.

Called “Small Enough,” the show depicts the day-to-day grind of turning a vision into reality. A 15-minute pilot debuted on YouTube last week, and its creators are looking for backers.

Maldonado, a 39-year-old Philly native, joined with fellow executive producers and and longtime friends Nathan Nedorostek and Sean Sullivan to create “Small Enough” because of what they see missing in the coverage of small business.

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“I feel that a lot of the information out there is either over-glamorizing what it’s like to run a small business, or there’s gaps in what actually goes on in the day-to-day,” she told Billy Penn. “A lot of the stories that I see are like, ‘I had this idea, and then it took off, and here I am now.’”

Years of creating her own lane and talking with other founders convinced her that there’s more to say about the trials that can come with making a living off of what were once daydreams.

The drive to take on new challenges

Shot in and around South Philadelphia, Episode 1 follows Maldonado from her storefront at 716 S. 4th St. to her new space under development on the corner of South Street and American Street.

Along the way, we learn the overarching themes of “Small Enough” — concepts like scaling with intention, self-discovery, and building community. Each tenet is revealed through conversations Maldonado has with others.

At one point she talks with Lindsey Scannapieco, the managing partner and co-founder of Scout Ltd., an urban development firm that owns and operates Bok, the former vocational school turned creative hub. Scannapieco relays the concept of adaptive reuse while sharing startup stories, like how Bok used to chill beers in kiddie pools of ice when hosting events.

The conversation turns to the paradoxical power of inexperience, when backed up by a creative vision and pre-existing skills in other areas.

YouTube video

We see Maldonado leaning into what she doesn’t know as the show follows her to her forthcoming boutique hotel, which she refers to as Yowie 2.0. Standing in the skeleton of the space, Maldonado cracks jokes and chats with Billy, her lead contractor and business partner.

As she describes how she wants it to be “never finished,” including a room that’s completely redone on a regular basis, Billy laughs outright. “Honey,” he quips, “you couldn’t afford it, I promise you that!”

The drive to take on new challenges is a common thread among the people Maldonado speaks with in the show, whose projects and philosophies are often driven by past experiences at more established venues.

“For so many of us, we’ve either left the comfortable position or gone out on our own to do these small businesses because of a lot of the reasons that we didn’t enjoy in our previous jobs,” Maldonado said.

Part of her vision for “Small Enough” includes making sure entrepreneurs and artists do themselves justice as they do their work. She hopes to add an educational aspect involving workshops, talks, coaching, and a resource hub offering business case studies and frameworks, sample small business plans, and white papers that relate to the small business world.

Scaling with intention and embracing collaboration

While building Yowie, Maldonado found she was often asked for advice, and readily gave it, whether to customers or artists she works with or fellow entrepreneurs.

“People ask a lot about business strategy, how to grow their brands, marketing,” Maldonado shared. “I talk a lot about brand voice with people, and consistency — and those are things I have completely learned on the job.”

One of the show’s grounding concepts, scaling with intention, has a direct example from the early days of Yowie, when she was offered a chance to expand and turned it down.

“Maybe 8 months into my business, I was approached by someone that wanted to help me open a second store,” she said. “It didn’t feel right at the time and it actually still doesn’t feel right, 6 years later.”

The perils of tokenization can also abound as a Black creator, Maldonado said. But she has embraced what she called the critical skill of saying “no.”

Now, the team behind “Small Enough” is pitching the show, looking for funding to support more episodes showcasing small business and creative entrepreneurs around Philly. Episode 2 begins production in a couple weeks, and will have a more pointed focus on collaboration — another aspect of Maldonado’s work.

“To make a beautiful space, 90% of my job is logistics and communication,” Maldonado said. “We thought that that could be an interesting angle.”

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...