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PHILADELPHIA-An African-American holiday mall of 40 vendors set up in Love Park here on Dec. 1 and will remain at least through Dec. 31. The project is organized by the local African-American Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the City’s Dept. of Commerce. A. Bruce Crawley, AACC’s chairman, tells GSR the Chamber proposed the mall concept to Mayor John Street’s office nine months ago.

“We see it as a test of the validity of African-American retail,” Crawley says, “and the beginning of a process to obtain a permanent location.” He describes such a permanent location as an extension of other ethnically oriented shopping areas here, among which are Chinatown, the Italian Market in South Philly, and the Hispanic community’s “Golden Mile” along North Fish St. and Lehigh Ave.

Crawley and AACC have identified the concourse under City Hall as a potential permanent location. “That’s a pretty desolate place now,” he says. “Anyone can see that the temporary mall has turned Love Park into a cheerful, exciting addition to Center City. We think the same concept could permanently revitalize City Hall and the area around it.”

The City has yet to approve concourse space for this venture, but Crawley is encouraged by comments by the mayor and Stephanie Naidoff, director of the Dept. of Commerce. Mayor Street said, “the mall will provide a stimulus to job retention in the retail sector. There are very few things that make more sense for us in this challenging economic period than to explore new ways to encourage entrepreneurship and micro- and small-business job creation in the retail sector. Our goal in all of this is to grow and retain retail-related jobs. We also want to add a new culturally significant retail attraction to our Center City shopping experience, one that can’t be easily matched by the more generic institutional offerings at the suburban malls.”

Crawley estimates that approximately $1.6 billion of the tri-state region’s $50 billion in annual retail sales comes from African-American-owned businesses. “Yet, more than 80% of African-American retailers are self-employed, sole-proprietor businesses, and a significant number of them don’t have storefronts. We see this as an entre to storefront retail for many of them.”

African and Caribbean crafts make up a large share of the retail spaces in Love Park, where they are sold from colorful, tented and canopied booths. There are also ethnically inspired gifts and foods, jewelry, apparel, cosmetics, toys, books, and dolls. Kia Steave-Dickerson of KIA, a local design firm and AACC member, designed African- and Philadelphia-themed entryways to the temporary venue.

Love Park takes its name from the famous Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture with its familiar tilt of the letter O. It is adjacent to and north of City Hall, a national historic landmark that was completed in 1901 and considered one of the finest examples of French Second Empire architecture in the US.

The Dept. of Commerce provided the space for the holiday mall for free. Vendors pay $20 a day to AACC, “and also increase their tax contributions to the City,” Crawley says. He is a principal of the locally based ad agency, Crawley Haskins Sloan. Philadelphia’s AACC is an independent group, formed 10 years ago and not affiliated with the more than 50 such organizations nationwide.

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