Q. Why is it called VIX?
VIX is the Roman numeral for 5009, correctly written with a bar over the V. That’s our address, 5009 Baltimore Avenue.
Q. What do you sell?
We sell the creative products of many, many different independent artists, designers and craftspeople. These include jewelry, ceramics, accessories, hats, bags, natural soaps, candles, artworks, cards, toys, t-shirts and many other unique gift items. Most of our artists live in the Philadelphia area, and some are in other parts of the country.
Q. You make all this stuff?
Oh no, we’re not that talented. Over a hundred different artists and craftspeople show their work here; we are two of many. We do produce our own graphic “West Philly” apparel and some handprinted stationery. Emily makes jewelry called precious meshes, pieces crocheted out of silver or gold wire.
Q. Is everything made locally?
The majority of our makers are based in the Philadelphia area, but we have many from other parts of the country too. We don’t work with vendors outside of the USA.
Q. Are these gorgeous cabinets original to the building?
Yes and no. The building was erected in 1905, we think. The cabinets were built in the 1930s or 40s, when J.M. Grumbine Millinery operated here. Jennie and Margaret Grumbine were milliners, or hatmakers, originally from Lewistown, PA, who set up shop here sometime in the early 1930s. They put in the wood fixtures that still remain today: lighted, mirrored built-in display cabinets and the show window with beveled glass panes. There are even two 3-way mirrored alcoves to view headwear from any angle. (See this post for more information about Jennie and Margaret Grumbine.)
Q. What was here before?
Before the millinery (see above), we don’t know. After the millinery closed sometime in the early 1970s, this space became a dress shop called MeMe’s Fashions. Many long-time neighborhood residents still remember it as a treasure trove of unique fashions and accessories. The proprietress passed away sometime in the mid-1990s. The building became disused and abandoned. The pipes were allowed to freeze, creating extensive water damage throughout the building. For a time, parts of the building were squatted. It was purchased and rehabbed in 2003 by the current owner and his former partner, who operated MiaLou, an “artisan gallery and general store” selling a wide variety of handmade clothing, accessories and gifts.
Q. Who are you guys?
The Emporium is owned and operated by Sean and Emily Dorn. They live in West Philadelphia with their daughter.
Sean works as a graphic artist for a local newspaper and is responsible for VIX’s “West Philly” graphics and handprinted stationery. He also plays the stand-up bass. Emily works in the shop and also makes hand-crocheted wire jewelry, which can be seen in person and at preciousmeshes.com.
Q. How’s business in this neighborhood?
Getting better. This part of Baltimore Avenue was once a thriving neighborhood shopping destination, but the 80s and 90s brought hard times. Some abandoned, boarded-up buildings still remain nearby. The neighborhood shows strong signs of bouncing back though. Many new businesses and restaurants have opened nearby, and new residents continue to buy and restore the old Victorian twins and rowhomes.
Our neighborhood is called Cedar Park located in the University City section of West Philadelphia. Our nearest neighbor businesses include the Firehouse bike shop, the Cedar Works studios, Snapdragon Flowers, restaurants Dahlak, Vientiane, Vietnam Cafe, Amari’s, Taco Angeleno, the Gold Standard, Satellite Cafe, and Dock Street brewpub. We are easily accessible to Center City via public transit – the 34 “green line” trolley goes right to our door.
Q. I make something – can I show my work here?
Possibly! We are always looking for new “artful gifts” made in America. Contact us and show us what you make. Email your line sheet or photos, descriptions and prices to info (at) vixemporium (dot) com. Unfortunately, due to the volume of submissions received, we can reply only to those that interest us.