Then one day this "grandfatherly looking man," as Valerie described him, walked in the door at Open House.
Tony Goldman, who was in the process of transforming 13th Street between Chestnut and Walnut streets from a shabby, sparsely patronized urban wasteland into the chic destination it is today, had met with them when they had the idea for Open House. And he liked their style, young and dumb or not.
"He told us he wanted us in the neighborhood," Valerie said.
And now he had an offer that would enable the two women to start their restaurant and the retail renaissance on 13th Street.
"He had connections with banks," Valerie said. "He agreed to put up a $50,000 CD so we could get a loan from a bank."
The success of the two "belles of the block," as they've been called, is one part of the story of 13th Street and the man who salvaged this vital piece of the city.
Goldman, the New York developer who worked his redevelopment magic in Manhattan's SoHo and Miami's South Beach and Wynwood neighborhoods while turning his attention to the rundown 13th Street neighborhood of Center City, died Tuesday of heart failure in New York City. He was 68.
Goldman had an almost mystical knack for looking at a shabby piece of urban real estate and seeing potential. Mayor Nutter said that Goldman "transformed the 13th Street corridor in Center City into a bustling array of hip shops and restaurants."
"Tony Goldman decided he was going to transform 13th Street, and he did," Nutter said. "13th Street is as vibrant and alive as 18th Street."
Nutter called Goldman a "visionary," saying, "I know he was from New York, but he loved Philadelphia."
Valerie Safran remembers when 13th Street was not the best place for a late-night stroll - a dreary district of peep-show houses, sex-toy shops, a palm reader and check-cashing agencies, stalked by dangerous lowlifes.
"We would close the store at 6 when it got dark," she said. "It was rough in the beginning. We were warned not to walk down 13th Street."
That was 10 years ago, and since then the partnership of Valerie and Marcie has become a leading force in the 13th Street turnaround, with six businesses.
This kind of enterprise was what Tony Goldman envisioned for the neighborhood when he began buying up properties in the late '90s. He paid more than $60 million for most of the buildings between 12th and Juniper, from Chestnut to Walnut. Today, every storefront is occupied in a neighborhood that the denizens call "Midtown Village."
Part of Goldman's vision for the neighborhood was art. He was present for the unveiling of the first effort in the neighborhood by the Mural Arts Program in July 2011, by internationally known artist Kenny Scharf. Others are done or in progress.
"Working with him was very exciting," program director Jane Golden said. "He helped us think differently, to broaden how we work."
Goldman, the CEO of Goldman Properties, disliked being called a developer.
"Developers are knock 'em down, build 'em up guys," he told the New York Times in 2000, when he was beginning his Philadelphia project. "That's not me."
He became fond of the city. "I love the little streets," he told the Times. "Street beds 12 feet wide."
Tony Goldman, a native New Yorker, graduated from Emerson College, in Boston, where he met his future wife, Janet. He began renovating properties on the Upper West Side and became famous for his rehabilitation of SoHo in the '70s. He went from there to Miami, then to Philly.
His daughter, Jessica Goldman-Srebnick, is CEO of Goldman's hotel division. His son, Joey, is his father's partner.
The Goldman family said in a statement: "To the community he touched, he was a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime figure. To us, he was a devoted husband, wonderful father and doting grandfather."
Contact John F. Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5573.