With prices ranging from $14 to $138, the products on We Heart Philly are designed by Safran and Kathryne Whyte, a graphic designer and manager of Safran and Turney's upscale bodega Grocery. The designs are generally simple: One T-shirt called "I Pretzel Philly" is a play on the site's name, but the familiar heart icon is replaced by the twisted snack - a nod to the city's passion for the soft variety. "They're fun and we like cute things," said Safran.
Some of the We Heart Philly items are available at Safran and Turney's shops, like Open House and Verde, but the site is their first foray into e-commerce. Safran said that they already had a lot of businesses and that she wanted to keep creating without the stress of another brick-and-mortar shop. Safran felt that well-designed Philly-themed items, rather than souvenirs from "those really cheesy" airport stores, were an untapped niche.
While Safran joked that no one was going to buy these products in Utah, the Web allows her products to reach people who might never visit one of her Philadelphia stores.
Fred Lavner, the owner of Retro Philly, is also relatively new to Internet business. Living up to its name, Retro Philly sells replica memorabilia from the Philadelphia that used to be, like T-shirts embellished with the logos of defunct businesses, like Old City's Black Banana nightclub or Moe's Candy Shop, formerly at 60th and Osage.
In one of his previous lives, Lavner was a consultant for throwback apparel company Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co. - which reopened its flagship store at 12th and Chestnut earlier this month - and admired their dedication to authenticity. The images that Lavner and his designers use come from old phone books, the Free Library and Temple University's Urban Archives.
After a career that bounced from advertising to real estate, Lavner decided to go into apparel in 2005 and tried developing his own brands. "I would meet up with the 25-year-old buyers from Bloomingdales and they would say, 'Looks great, can you put skulls and crossbones on that?' " Lavner said. "I came to the sad realization that the target demographic for retailers is 19 years old."
Lavner decided to strike out on his own in part because he thought that there was an unserved audience for market-specific nostalgia. Namely, people like him.
"I've always been a throwback," said Lavner, who came of age in Southwest Philly in the '50s and '60s. "I'm the prototypical baby boomer and pack rat.
"Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods," said Lavner. "I think people are more passionate about where they grew up. Philadelphians tend to stay in their pockets, that's where their pride is."
But he also started Retro Philly because he believes that the future of retail is online. "It's developing a store without walls," said Lavner. "Being in the bricks-and-sticks business, you always follow the trends. Online retailing has grown in the last 10 years, whereas traditional retailing has not."
Lavner is also fascinated by social media's effect on business. Before the site officially launched in September, it already had 500 friends on Facebook. That social-media culture inspired him to start a guestbook on the site where people can leave ideas for merchandise.
Lavner's goal is to expand to other cities. He plans a total of 20 sites, with Retro Brooklyn launching in the next couple of weeks. Lavner doesn't think the idea that people want to wear clothes with a local flavor is specific to Philadelphia.
Safran agreed that the hometown pride notion wasn't specific to Philadelphia, but suggestive of a larger trend. "People are aware of local in the marketplace in general," Safran said. "Whether it's locally grown food or a locally made knitted hat, people are choosing to buy from a local company rather than a national one."
The trend bodes well for Safran's vision. "It's all kitschy Philadelphia stuff," she said. "But it's my way."