By Natalie Hope McDonald

Old City in Philadelphia is a neighborhood that’s gone through many iterations, first as the birth place of the nation, and also more recently as a trendy enclave featuring shops, galleries and eateries. As the birthplace of democracy, it’s interesting that that Old City has also become quite a hub for people shopping for…baby gifts. 

At Philadelphia Independents, a small boutique shop on N. Third Street, Owner Ashley Peel has a keen eye for the most creative items spanning apparel, home décor and art. The shop’s carefully curated inventory not only features beautiful work by many local artists, but also quite a few unique baby gifts for locals and tourists alike. 

“Our best-seller for baby gifts are onesies,” Peel admitted. “We have a lot of unique Philly-themed designs, such as a take on the iconic Love Statue, Liberty Bell and a fun ‘Made in Philly’ design.” 

Because Old City has become a popular tourist attraction over the years, Peel makes sure to carry interesting items that appeal to people who may want to take a souvenir home. This isn’t the usual tourist shop, though. Philly Independents is a beautiful boutique where upscale items, like limited edition prints, mix with more moderately priced finds, like notecards. Just about everything is handmade and carefully selected for its outstanding design quality. Interestingly, a lot of loyal customers actually hail from the neighborhood. It’s the perfect spot to pick up a last-minute gift that no one else will have. This is also true for the baby gifts. 

“People love to represent their city and give a little piece of the City of Brotherly Love to their friends and family,” Peel said. “Our handmade baby bibs, booties and blankets are big hits.”

When selecting baby items for the bright little shop within walking distance of Independence Hall, Peel spends a lot of time considering not only the design, but also the materials and the fact that these items are often made locally. Her curatorial eye has set the shop apart from many others in the region because it carries so much merchandise from local artists and craftspeople, items you can’t find elsewhere because they are made in such limited batches. 

Apparel and toys at Philadelphia Independents in Pennsylvania. Baby gifts for locals and tourists are popular at the store. Jennifer Provost, co-owner, is pictured.

“Our customers know that everything we carry is locally made and can’t be found in every store,” she said. “I think this is important for our customers especially when they want to try and break the mold of chain store registries. I don’t think the material of the clothes is as important as the concept of buying locally, but it is certainly a consideration.” 

The shop’s windows showcase a constantly changing array of merchandise that can be inspired by everything from the election to the holidays – the designs span from the humorous to the chic. Mother’s and Father’s Days are popular times for kid-inspired goods. The merchandise also tends to consider families outside the traditional scope, like households with two dads and two moms as a way to support many LGBT families in the city.

Peel also uses social media to get out news about fun new handmade items she’s selling at the shop. “We post daily all of our new products and new makers that we represent on Instagram, which is a great way to reach our customers,” she explained. “We also use Facebook and send direct emails.”

Soft, Eco-friendly and Designer Baby Clothes 

Opened in 2011 in downtown Naperville, Ill., Bows & Babies has been growing not unlike the first babies the shop served during its own infancy. The outpost has become a popular place to find not only custom-made clothing and other goods, but also for hosting weekend parties for kids.

These days, the shop carries a colorful array of baby clothes, accessories and gifts for infants and children from the likes of RuffleButts, LeTop and RazzleBaby. 

Kaitlyn Anders, an employee at Bows & Babies, said that the most popular baby gift these days is the layette. “These pieces come with a onesie, pants and sometimes a hat,” she explained. “A customer really likes when they are looking for a gift and they don’t have to go to another store for another gift. Therefore, the layette is perfect for them.”              

Soft blankets from Angel Dear are also popular at the shop. Each super soft baby blanket, called a lovie, comes in a variety of different animal shapes and themes. “The lovie also can match a rattle, which is also very soft,” explained Anders. “These two items are great sellers for the store.” 

Razzle Baby also makes a popular lovie blanket for infants. “It is small, soft, and just for the baby,” she said. “There are also so many different patterns and styles that the customer really likes these.” 

For baby girls, for example, a big seller is headbands and flowers with bows to match. “These are very popular because customers like to pick and choose which headbands they want,” said Anders. Choosing bows and flowers tends to be an added bonus that allows parents to really customize a look.

Customers shopping for baby items, whether new parents, family or friends, tend to have specific ideas in mind for what they want – like organic materials that are soft for a baby’s skin.

“When customers come into the store, they mostly want baby clothes that are comfortable (feel soft), cute and unique,” said Anders. “The wonderful thing about shopping at our boutique is that you can’t find the merchandise in every store; this is a big appeal to our customers. Many of the employees are told by customers that they come to our store because of the unique items we have.”

The shop’s owner spends a lot of time trying to find items that are unique not only to the region, but also from the online and big box megastores. Many of the most popular baby gifts are eco-friendly or are created by smaller independent labels. They also may feature really unique designs for kids – and many are uni-sex so that items can be shared among siblings.

“Certain material really does matter to the customer,” said Anders. “Most customers love an item more if it feels soft and cozy for the baby.” She said that if something like a onesie or blanket is not soft to the touch, customers will go elsewhere. The look (as well as the feel) of a baby gift tends to make the sale, something that the shop owner is very conscious of when she’s selecting merchandise each season.

Besides getting to know customers who visit the shop, management also uses social media to find out what customers like and how they enjoyed their experience. The shop’s Yelp page is lined with reviews by parents who were positively thrilled with the service, which is no small coup in the age of Internet trolling.

“Typically, when new merchandise comes in the store we post pictures on Facebook and Instagram to let customers know about new items in the store,” explained Anders. “This has been a great asset to our store because it allows the customer to see on a weekly basis the new inventory coming in. It also allows customers to contact us very quickly, especially if they want us to put something on hold for them or place a special order.”

Anders and other staff members are also willing to help customers find special items. She also ships gifts anywhere in the world. 

“If there is a special sale going on in the store,” she said, “we send out emails, along with putting it on Facebook.”

And sales, she said, always attract a lot of regular and new customers.