A traditional Mexican paper maché figure by artist Antonio Joel García. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The mood at Eyes Gallery less than a week before the new location’s launch was joyful, if a little hectic. Coming back from a devastating fire is no small feat.

Proprietor Julia Zagar compared it to getting ready for a theater show — the boutique, a South Street icon for over five decades, has always been as much a destination as a retail store —  as she and her team bustled around placing jewelry in cabinets, pulling out merchandise, and rearranging rows of gleaming goods to set the stage for Saturday’s opening. 

For Zagar, the show must go on. 

The 55-year-old business’s resurrection at 327 South St. comes less than a year after a fire severely damaged its original home at 402 South St., after spilling over from neighboring Jim’s Steaks. In January, Zagar decided to sell the old building to Jim’s owner Ken Silver and start anew a block away. 

The move came with more than a few challenges, the biggest of which Zagar said was to condense three stories worth of merchandise and artwork into one floor. Like the previous location, Eyes 2.0 showcases artwork, jewelry, sculptures, and more, much of which is handmade by folk artists from Latin America and other parts of the world. 

The new Eyes Gallery is on South Street, less than a block from the old storefront. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Zagar is optimistic about welcoming customers both returning and new to a space that’s about much more than just retail transactions. 

“I think people are getting tired of just being at home and doing all their shopping online,” Zagar said. “I think they want to get out and see something and they want something that’s fun.” 

Here are five things to look for on a visit to the new gallery.

The old with the new

Although the fire last summer damaged a lot of merchandise, due to both smoke and flooding, some of the artwork was spared and is now either on display or for sale at Eyes Gallery 2.0.

This includes a neon sign hanging in the store’s front window, specially repaired and reinstalled by the original artist, Eric  Rothwarf. The wooden shelves which house the merchandise are also rescued from the original location, and add to the warm, inviting ambience. 

Eyes Gallery’s neon sign has a more prominent placement at street level at their new space on South Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Look down: Mosaics pave the way

Zagar’s husband, Isaiah Zagar, is the renowned Philadelphia mosaic artist whose work is celebrated at Philadelphia Magic Gardens. The old gallery had a mosaic created by Isaiah on the facade, which Jim’s Steaks owner has pledged to keep, and on the second floor, which was badly damaged in the fire

The new location also features his work: The entryway to the store is paved with a mosaic Isaiah created especially for the new location. He also transformed the front register area in the center of the store with a brightly-colored mosaic featuring a tile that reads “Art is the center of the world.” 

A new mosaic by artist Isiah Zagar at Eyes Gallery’s new store on South Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Look up: Chandeliers composed of found objects

Greeting customers in one of the storefront windows and hanging above the first display table when they come in the door are playful, elaborate, and unexpected chandeliers. 

They are the work of Warren Muller, a Philadelphia-based artist who creates the chandeliers and light fixtures with found and recycled objects at his studio on North American Street. A close friend of the Zagars, Muller created some of the works specifically for the opening of the store. 

Eyes Gallery a few days before the opening of their new store on South Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Incredible Mexican folk art

The Zagars have a decades-long relationship with several of the Mexican folk artists whose work is featured in the store. Many of the artists have collaborated with Isaiah Zagar to bring to life his drawings in ceramic and other mediums, and Eyes Gallery has hosted several of the artists in visits to Philadelphia in the past.

One of Julia Zagar’s favorite creations are the alebrijes, created by Antonio Joel García and other Mexican artists. The alebrijes are traditional Mexican paper maché figures, fantastical, brightly-colored beasts who ward off demons.

Eyes Gallery owner Julia Zagar holds a traditional Mexican paper maché figure by artist Antonio Joel García. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A team that’s eager to engage

Julia Zagar has been a central figure in the South Street community, and the Philadelphia arts community, since opening Eyes Gallery in 1968. She and her staff have formed relationships with residents and longtime customers, and created a place to connect with people around the corner — and tourists from every corner of the globe.  

Zagar’s insurance allowed her to continue to pay her staff throughout the closure following the fire, so if you’re a returning customer you can look forward to seeing many other familiar faces at the register. 

Store manager Carole Shields, who’s worked at Eyes Gallery 27 years, really missed people  during the time the store was closed. 

“We had a lot of customers [who] would come in, and it wasn’t just that they were shopping … they needed someone to talk to,” Shields said. “We have really built relationships with people over the years.”

Eyes Gallery owner Julia Zagar and buyer/manager of 27 years Carole Shields inside the new Eyes Gallery Store on South Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 to 7 p.m. Sunday.