There goes the neighborhood?

jewelers rowOver the past eight years, my business has seen it all! For the first several years I sublet from other small businesses around (and outside) of Philadelphia. For the past two and a half years I have been blessed and honored to lead Learn Reiki Philadelphia at 704 Sansom St. in the heart of Jeweler’s Row. While my studio is small, up to fifty people a week filter through for classes, sessions and workshops. As nearly everyone knows, I have been preparing for an extremely needed move & expansion for over a year now and have even asked many of you for feedback regarding location. This guidance has proved invaluable, and I have a few possible firm locations in mind. This of course made it much easier when we were hit with shocking news last Thursday that Toll Brothers had acquired demolition permits for several buildings-including ours-WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT OF THE CURRENT PROPERTY OWNERS. That’s right kids, apparently it is completely legal to get the rights to tear down a building you do not own and build what you want on top of it. (But I digress…)

Let me say clearly now that ALL REGULAR CLASSES AND SESSION WILL CONTINUE TO BE HELD AT 704 SANSOM ST THROUGH EARLY SPRING. The transition into the new space will be announced well ahead of the move. I AM NOT CLOSING OR SHUTTING DOWN.

Unlike the businesses in our surrounding buildings, when I moved in two and a half years ago, I knew full well that 704 Sansom St. was for sale (other buildings are NOT-and to clarify for newsworthiness, this building has not been sold). I’ve always had a backup location in place that was well liked by past students and even has vastly improved parking-I am nothing if not pragmatic, you all should know me by now! While it seems highly unlikely I will need to use it, it gives my inner Capricorn much joy to have a fall-back. Whichever of the spaces I choose, it will be blockbuster amazing and I cannot wait to warm it up with all of you!

But the biggest story here is not that I will soon be expanding, it’s the news that Jeweler’s Row as we know it will cease to exist. The many lawyers involved have outlined a grim reality that the real estate laws in Philadelphia are arcane and ripe for abuse. Even the Philadelphia Inquirer was taken by surprise. Those of you who have made Learn Reiki Philadelphia the premiere multi-modality school and treatment center in Philadelphia are all too aware that this block is a special place.

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Jane Theis at her workbench

I was originally invited to the space by my dear friend Jane Theis of HighArt, who’s studio has been in the building for decades. Before I moved in, I spent countless hours in her shop learning about jewelry and meeting many of the block’s talented jewelry makers. The first thing about Jeweler’s Row that resonated with me was the camaraderie and respect for one another’s skills. This is an entire block of individuals who often do the same thing, yet not only get along but teach each other tips and tricks to hone their crafts. They support each other and embody the term “colleague” over “competitor”. For everyone who has ever worked with or taken a class with me, you know that is something I take very seriously in my Reiki practice.

When discussing this with Jane years ago she said “Around here, if you won’t teach someone something that’s a bad sign. If you don’t want your students to do well, it doesn’t say much for the teacher”. Here, it means something to be a mentor and it is an honor to have a skill to share. To support one’s colleagues is simply expected (I have been very vocal in the past of the Philadelphia Wellness industry’s lacking here). In that conversation with Jane, I knew that this was the exact example I wanted my Reiki Masters to see. I signed the lease and have been here since.

Over the years that I’ve been in business here, I’ve come to see more clearly how Jeweler’s

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One of Jane’s handcrafted necklaces, featuring fire agate, gold and diamond

Row is special. If you look above the neon lights, you’ll see the craftsmen’s studios where the real magic happens. Work on any one piece may employs several of the street’s artisans. From carving wax models to casting to stone setting, sourcing, and supplies this is more than a strip of retail jewelry stores-it is a tightly woven network of great local craftspeople who collaborate on stunning pieces.

By purchasing on Jeweler’s Row, you buy local in the broadest sense. Though it seems without support of the community, this may not be the case much longer. Jeweler’s Row is a working time capsule, where many families have passed down their unique traditions for generations.

The tenants I’m honored to share my building with tell the story. The gentleman I once shared a wall with had one of the owner’s son’s working as a fifth generation diamond setter. The Jeweler upstairs from my suite, Jean, trained at the prestigious Ecole du Louvre and, inspired by his time in Israel, crafts fine French jewelry with precision tools for his line The Yonatan Collection – The Jewish Gift Place. Next to him is Carolyn Sherin’s Motherorange Designs (motherorange@outlook.com, 609-706-6143). Carolyn recently moved back into the building after years away-she had to hang up her smock following the passing of her husband. She is a lovely woman with serious talent, and I am inspired to see a widowed single mom strike out on her own once again. Jane Theis has been on the Row for over thirty years with a background in repair and an eye for making unique handcrafted jewelry often inspired by the stones nature provides, You can find her work for sale in her Etsy shop HighArt. Downstairs, newer techniques prevail with Christian Michael as 3D printers and computer aided design carve models from wax that are then cast into a variety styles in a family business that once closed early for his Daughter’s Prom night. And on the first floor storefront, Maryanne Ritter carries on the tradition passed to her by her predecessor Louis Neff. While that company dates back to 1909, Maryanne’s shop has modern and classic pieces that can tantalize the eye for hours while delivering a personal touch. The building itself has been in the same family for two generations. And this is just our building-the demo permit encompasses five buildings in total. That is in addition to a possible “Parcel B” that was said to include 3-4 buildings on Walnut street, though no one seems totally clear on whether that is moving forward.

My business can easily move to any of a number of corridors with a simple minivan. This is not so simple for my neighbors. Moving one safe can cost $5,000-10,000…and that’s assuming the structure you are putting it in can support the weight of it and offer the security needed to operate such a unique and specialized business. Jewelry is made using gas torches-the lines for which don’t run through your office building. Relocating these businesses is difficult and in some cases may not be possible. Either way, the financial burden seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of these business owners. These businesses are more than just LLCs that pay into the tax base-they are the life’s work of dedicated, talented and caring people with responsibilities and backstories…just like you and I.

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Ruby & diamond ring by Jane Theis

Many of the City’s original Rows are already dead or are dying (bet you never heard of Publisher’s row!). The number of fabric shops on Fabric Row seems to decrease quarterly and Antique Row has roughly three antique shops remaining. Jeweler’s Row is the oldest jewelry district in the nation just a block from The Liberty Bell, and without the knowledge of the landlords was issued a legal permit for demolition. One of Philadelphia Mayor Kenney’s major platform issues was to better preserve the architectural history of the City, and as of this writing his office has said nothing. The proposed building on this site is 16 stories, and the plans may also include that several buildings along Walnut Street come down as well. All of this just one block away from a PPA parking lot that could easily be developed instead.

So I beg of you, consider signing the petition to protect Jeweler’s Row. This issue has united historians throughout the City, and for good reason. And please, experience Jeweler’s Row. See the artwork, meet the artisans and see for yourself why it is worth preserving.

Above all do not cry for me, Argentina-it is simply and unsurprisingly time to expand. Sometimes change is natural and due to growth…and sometimes, the oldest treasures shine brightest and are worth fighting for. I feel strongly that Jeweler’s row is one of those treasures. I am deeply honored to have spent time on the block, and hope to see it persist for generations to come. Please help make that a reality and sign the petition today!

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Danielle Stimpson is the owner of Learn Reiki Philadelphia at 704 Sansom St. in Jeweler’s Row. She offers sessions and certification training in Reiki, Integrated Energy Therapy, psychic development and the Shamanic arts. Learn more about her, her classes and services at LearnReikiPhiladelphia.com

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