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A Lifestyle on 13th Video and Audio

Two women remake the 100 block of South 13th Street with shops and restaurants. Produced by Laura Chisholm, Katja Gottlieb-Stier, Amalia Bowen, Lizzy Speece, and Tina Shah.
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A Lifestyle on 13th

Text by: Tina Shah
Media produced by: Laura Chisholm, Katja Gottlieb-Stier, Amalia Bowen, Lizzy Speece, and Tina Shah

Most aspiring chefs would be content to open a restaurant in one of America's largest cities. Most entrepreneurs would be happy to get one business up and running. Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, owners of five distinct businesses on South 13th street, were never part of the "most" crowd.

Turney and Safran met each other while working together at Vallani, a restaurant on Spruce Street. At a fateful party, both were asked what they wanted to do with their lives. Turney, a chef, and Safran, a teacher, discussed their dreams. "Both were not quite happy with what they were doing. Valerie wanted a home store, Marcie wanted a restaurant," says Patrick Brennan, manager of Open House, a home goods store owned by Turney and Safran.

A year later, these dreams materialized, in the form of Lolita and Open House, on 13th street, formerly known for its "decrepit businesses" according to Brennan.

As business and life partners, Turney and Safran's ventures have transformed the 100 block of S. 13th Street with their own style. Now, people stroll along experiencing attractive window displays, delicious Mexican and Indian flavors, and the fragrance of jasmine flowers and homegrown peppers. The couple's businesses include Open House; Bindi, an Indian bistro; Lolita, a Mexican BYOT (that's T for Tequila); Grocery, an upscale food market; and Verde, a flower and chocolates boutique.

Surprisingly, over expanding is not among their concerns. "After the success of [Open House] and the success of Lolita...they realized the amount of work it takes, and they realized they were also incredibly capable. They are people who don't rest. They challenge themselves," says Brennan.

Neither woman was keen on sticking to one business. Inspired by Tony Goldman, who built up SoHo and South Beach, and his promise to make 13th Street his "new SoHo," Turney and Safran opened their shops and restaurants one by one in a neat and convenient cluster. The restaurants and stores share customers and cater to each other. "Someone who's been going to Lolita for years, who's waiting for a table, might come over here and shop," Brennan says of the strong following Turney and Safran's businesses have developed.

Turney and Safran's businesses have formed a tight knit group of entrepreneurs. "It's like one big family," says Matt Muehlheausler, worker at Verde, home to flowers and Marcie Blaine artisanal chocolates.

Turney and Safran have changed the aesthetic of 13th Street by putting themselves into their products and designs. 13th Street was once a place of "drugs, porn, and violence" according to Brennan. Due to this reputation, Goldman Properties was able to purchase land at an inexpensive price, and sell it to business owners with hopes of rejuvenating the neighborhood. Many agree that Goldman, Turney, and Safran played an indispensable part in this transformation.

In this problematic recession, what does it take to keep people interested in knick-knacks, flowers, and chocolates? "Especially with the economy, I think they have to be very aware of what the customer wants," says Muehlheausler. Turney and Safran spend hours at gift shows to find the best products. Finding the right price points, according to Muehlheausler, is even more of an issue in this economic climate than usual.

Yet Turney and Safran, unsurprisingly, are up for the challenge. Execution is tactical and spotless, leaving customers feeling a sense of satisfaction after purchasing a product. Food is impeccable; Lolita and Bindi were was commended in Philly Magazine as one of the top 50 restaurants in the city, Lolita ranked as 45th and Bindi as 11th.

Together, Turney and Safran are starting a movement. Lolita and Bindi attract a very diverse group of people. Open House offers everyone a chance to spruce up his or her living space. Grocery offers healthy and delicious market foods in a unique environment. Verde is "the perfect store" says Muehlheausler. Who doesn't love flowers and chocolates?

Verde is also a big part of the new urban gardening wave. "It's amazing what one plant can do to a room... it brings life into the room," says Muehlheausler. A frequent customer at Verde, Mary Grace Gilmore was caught by the charming flower and chocolate boutique as soon as she walked past it. "It looked really enticing," she says, "so I came in to look around, and I really liked what I saw. They have a great selection of different items".

She has also been to Open House and Grocery, unaware of the fact that they are owned by the same people who own Verde. Of Grocery, she says, "They have some really unique foods". Customers can feel the change Turney and Safran have brought to 13th street as well. "I can walk in different directions and not find a store I want to go into, and I can walk down [13th street] and go into all three of them within an hour".

Anyone would think this couple has reached their limit. Not quite. In a few months, Turney and Safran will be opening up an Italian brick oven pizzeria on 13th Street, which, unlike Lolita, will have a liquor license. Turney, who focuses on the food aspect of the businesses, wants to try her hand at this new cuisine. Safran, who takes care of the financial side of this small but versatile empire, is up for the challenges this new addition will bring. "Most people know who Val and Marcie are," says Brennan, "but not everyone, and when they make the connection they say 'Wow, those guys never sleep'".