Shared space lets minority businesses thrive in Willow Grove, Pa.

"Each business gets a section of the store that they're able to rent," said co-owner Annette Kennedy-Harris.
WILLOW GROVE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Annette Kennedy-Harris and Christin Austin-Evans have been friends for 16 years, so they know all about sharing.

And sharing is the basis of their new business.

"We're at 'Philly Shared,' Willow Grove's first retail showroom for small businesses," said Austin-Evans while sitting next to Kennedy-Harris inside the newest boutique in Willow Grove Park.

The shop, on level one, just opened on March 5.

Each nook of the boutique features a different minority-owned business now getting its big break by being in the mall.

"Each business gets a section of the store that they're able to rent," said Kennedy-Harris.

The businesses are situated underneath signs that pay homage to different Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Entrepreneur Naiomi Webb has her business set up beneath a sign that is for Mt. Airy.

Beneath the signs, several shelves are stocked with hand-made goods like hair oils, body butter, and body scrubs from her company Nature's Love Organics.

She doesn't just make the products. She also funded the entire company.

"Everything's funded by me. No loans, no grants," Webb said.

The same goes for Jonathan John, founder of MarkEscric clothing company, which has a space set up next to Nature's Love Organics.

"(My fashion line) is really retro. How we used to dress in the 90s," John said of the inspiration behind his fashion brand, which he partially funded with his personal savings.

"I always had the dream, but I never had the capital," he said.

John also didn't have the means to put his products at a store in Willow Grove Park until now.

"There are so many talented people in Philly. I feel like the store really reflected where we're from," said Kennedy-Harris.

The idea behind Philly Shared is to give an opportunity to minority business owners who often don't have access.

"That business insurance, those licenses. You don't need it to come into our space," said Austin-Evans.

Philly Shared also operates as somewhat of a test lab for entrepreneurs who wonder how to make their products work, whether that's through discovering the right pricing or offering the right products.

The fact that the shop is in the mall gets minority businesses in front of new audiences.

"(People will say) 'Hey, we saw your stuff at Philly Shared and Willow Grove.' It's great," said Tameka Austin-McGee, who owns Aaliyah's Beautique in Germantown but recently added items to the shelves at Philly Shared.

The shared retail space doesn't just give businesses access to customers. It also gets them access to their profits quickly with QR codes customers can scan at each shop's station.

"Customers can literally just come up, scan, get the code, and we'll get the payment directly," said Webb.

They also offer wine, which department stores in the mall don't typically offer.

"We're the only sip and shop in Willow Grove Mall," said Austin-Evans as she poured a glass of red wine.

The appeal has created a waiting list for businesses that want to add items to the boutique.

Philly Shared charges what they call a membership fee of $250 per month, which gets a space in the shop, among other benefits.

The boutique also takes a 25% commission on sales.

For business owners like Webb, it's a priceless opportunity.

"I do aspire to have a brick and mortar, so this is the first step to have my own," she said.

In addition to operating Philly Shared, Austin-Evans and Kennedy-Harris are also founders of the organization 'Buy Local, Buy Black.'

They will be celebrating their one-year anniversary with an event open to small business owners on April 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the P4 Hub at 4537 Wayne Avenue in Philadelphia.

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