Hell or High Water

How Manayunk’s business owners reinvented the word ‘community’ during the recent pandemic.
By Jessica Jewel Tyler
Photos by Melissa Kelly Photography (melissakellyphotography.com)
and TERRYLEAHYFILMS (terryleahyfilms.com)

Under the stay-at-home order — and on one occasion, a few inches of water — Manayunk’s small business community was almost buried. But with the help of our neighbors, the crisis helped fertilize creativity and the community grew both literally and figuratively.

With a white picket fence and delicate greenery juxtaposing the black asphalt, Winnie’s Manayunk was one of the first garden streeteries to pop up in Manayunk. Before we knew it, this theme started sprouting further down Main Street until it became an urban orchard.

“I didn’t want to just bring my tables outside, I wanted to hook people,” asserted owner, Winnie Clowry. “After I had my streetery set up, everyone told me the picket fences started selling out everywhere!”

Winnie recruited the help of a trusted friend to help with the welcoming design. The bright colors put everyone in a great mood, but the overall garden idea was inspired by her menu of fresh food. During the to-go only phase, this menu was perfected. She explained that every week, she “found out what was ordered and catered to the taste buds of the customers accordingly.” With slower business, she had the time, so she wanted to comfort her loyal customers in the best way she knew how.

Winnie’s transformation was truly inside out.

“The pandemic stopped me in my tracks,” she stated.

If she hadn’t been convinced by a neighbor to fight and adapt, she might not have opened her doors again. From that point, Winnie dedicated this new found time to helping her customers, employees, and neighbors. She offered more service to her customers, catered her operations to the employees’ needs, and she inspired other businesses to open their doors and adapt too, because the whole of Manayunk is better than the sum of its parts.

Another large part of Manayunk is “The Brewpub,” as locals have called Manayunk Brewing Company for almost 25 years. Pre-quarantine, this local spot buzzed with music, from spinning DJs to acoustic bands, almost every night. There’s always a different vibe and new varieties on the menu to match the diverse group of people that visit. (Where else can you find sushi and pizza on the same menu?)

From first dates to weddings and family celebrations, the brewpub has grown with Manayunk through all stages of our lives, but because they do not offer takeout, during the stay-at-home order, business stopped completely.

As they say, “When it rains, it pours.” Hurricane Isais’ rainfall submerged the restaurant a few weeks after they were allowed to open again.
“If it was going to flood, it would definitely happen in 2020,” event coordinator, Paris Rose Antonogiannis lamented.

When Paris noticed the flood coming, she had two hours to get staff to move valuable equipment out of water’s way. Within 45 minutes, there were 25 employees in the restaurant ready to “take the place apart and put it back together, together.”

“They didn’t have to come in, but they are good people and we are lucky,” Paris stated.

Other restaurants even reached out to help and sent food down during the 10-day cleaning process.

The now reopened brewpub is so thankful for the support from long-time staff and customers and decided to go back to its roots of smaller batches and more variety of beer. They found a perfect brewmaster, Evan Fritz, who’s not afraid to “try new things and test people’s palettes.”

Being on the lower end of Main Street, the flood of Hurricane Isais also affected a business celebrating its first birthday, Verilife Medical Marijuana Dispensary. As the only business of its kind in Manayunk, and an essential business during quarantine, they held a large responsibility to remain open and continue to provide reliable products that improved the wellness of their patients.

But once the water receded, they were forced to close the entire business for several weeks to repair and rebuild.

“In a word, the damage was ‘heartbreaking.’” said community outreach leader, Renee Straup. “ But we knew we had to work quickly to repair our dispensary to its original safety and security to continue to serve the patients who rely on us,”

But “passion and purpose fuels” Renee. Through the pandemic and flooding, they have restructured the in-store shopping experience to ensure patients have safe access to medical products, and made temporary changes to allow safer accommodations such as curbside pickup and remote telehealth consultations. The safety of dispensary employees and patients was paramount. Staff immediately aligned their business practices with CDC guidelines and even dedicated the first hour of daily dispensary operations to patients who were 65+ and/or immuno-compromised.

Renee is extremely committed to improving people’s lives through cannabis, but also through community. She’s partnered with local restaurants to offer specials on food with a receipt from a Verilife dispensary. She said it was an important choice because “our community is made stronger when we look outside of ourselves, and our specific mission, to support the good work others do.”

Support and partnership seem to be a general theme throughout pandemic in Manayunk. Juliet Sabella, owner of The Wall Cycling Studio, and Meredith Gornick, owner of Latitudes and Longitudes, met about five years ago but were brought together as friends and partners during the stay-at-home order.

Since barre and spin are the two main offerings at The Wall, both requiring equipment, Julie had to think fast and sensibly. Within 18 hours of the mandatory shutdown, Julie got her classes up and running online, and equipment rented out to those who were interested.

“We had to completely adjust the way we are accustomed to teaching,” explained Julie. “When you rely heavily on physical adjustments and can no longer do that, you need to become very good at teaching to clients, almost as if they were blindfolded. Your words have to flow to guide them.”

While most small businesses in Philadelphia were open as early as July, the same can’t be said for fitness studios. Meredith, being the good friend she is, called Julie to check on her, but also to half-jokingly mention, “You know I have a backyard, right?”

Later that day, Meredith called her contractor and had the backyard of Latitudes and Longitudes cleaned up and installed a fence. On weekends, Julie’s husband, Karl, and her father-in-law built the much-needed platform where the classes would be held. In addition, Meredith’s husband, Greg, worked on sprucing up the garden. After a month of everyone working in the summer heat, the outside spin studio, dubbed “The Yard,” was complete.
Julie has continued to do everything possible to make sure her clients are able to maintain their goals and drive. While clients can’t wait to get back into a more regular routine, they love making memories in The Yard. Everyone who comes to take a class signs the platform and gets their picture taken. Both the platform and photos will be hanging in the studio once it’s back open full-time. In the meantime, Meredith offers a store discount after every class.

“Our members have nicknamed Meredith our spinning fairy godmother,” laughed Julie.

“I know how much Julie’s business means not only to her and her employees, but to the community,” said Meredith. “Physical activity brings a great release of stress and sense of routine and that’s something the community still needs with so much unknown.

While you may look at Expect Lace, a lingerie store, and Taqueria Amor, a taco bar, as having nothing in common, we see a perfect pair. Both local businesses were built on a foundation of love and inclusion, which led to a collaboration like no other.

Shaw Lewis founded Expect Lace so women could expect to find their true bra size and offer everything from 30A to 32J. Meanwhile Tim Spinner recently transformed his taqueria into a place for “amor” and continues to grow his menu for people with all types of dietary needs, including vegan and gluten-free options.

Although the stay-at-home order forced Shaw to close for three months, it forced Tim to think “outside the restaurant.” This included a beautiful streetery and transforming the front of his building to make a custom takeout window. From across the street, this pivot motivated Shaw to be “willing to try something new and do whatever it takes.”

“Shaw’s storefront is beautiful,” said Tim as he shared his admiration for Expect Lace. “If you have a few margaritas and look across the street with your partner, it’s a great time to shop, so we love having them here.”
Together, they came up with an Expect Lace Margarita and a coupon for lingerie or dinner for one night only in August. Customers sipped on this flirty passion fruit margarita topped with white sangria. The combination was so tantalizing that it sold out before the end of the night!

Burgers and freshmade ice cream go hand and hand, providing a taste of nostalgia during an unprecedented time. However, the stay-at-home order froze Tubby Robot Ice Cream Factory’s business for three and a half months, just before summer started.

People were screaming for ice cream and Chris Maguire, the co-owner of Tubby Robot, and Chris Barnes, the managing partner of Lucky’s Last Chance, launched a plan. Although Tubby Robot had never made half gallons or sold at another location before, they agreed to sell the tasty treat at Lucky’s Last Chance while Tubby Robot’s location was reimagined.

Pioneering an ice cream pop-up at a local burger joint was a bit of a pickle to figure out. Lucky’s Last Chance didn’t have room for all the ice cream, so Chris Maguire had to lug it back and forth in coolers. However, in the end, Chris Barnes said his biggest issue was “trying not to eat all of the Cinnamon Boast Bunch flavor.”

“It worked for both of us,” Chris Barnes revealed. “It brought new fans to both of us and it offered something to our customers as a reward for keeping each other safe.”

As of July, Tubby Robot has reopened with a side window for pick-up and tons of tricks up their sleeves.

“It was scary walking back into the space but one of the things we tried to do was be creative and try new things,” said Chris Maguire.

This success resulted in a further collaboration with Lucky’s Last Chance’s PB&J Burger, in the form of limited time only peanut butter, jelly, and bacon ice cream!