A display case of vintage pulp fiction novels incongruously stood near shelves of pots and pans inside Fante’s Kitchen Shop in South Philadelphia.
It’s not that the culinary supply store was expanding its inventory to include paperbacks. It was selling the books for Molly’s Books and Records, its retail neighbor.
And Molly’s might return the favor by selling some of Fante’s cooking utensils.
The cozy relationship of these merchants is the intended purpose of something called the 9th Street Stock Exchange.
The exchange is part art project, part socioeconomic experiment. It was founded and is curated by Theresa Rose in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia.
“Led by artist Jon Rubin, the 9th Street Stock Exchange is a new system of economic and material exchange, which connects neighboring businesses in the market that are often separated by cultural and socioeconomic differences,” explains the project’s website.
Eight businesses along South 9th Street in what has been the Italian Market block are participating in the project, which began on Oct. 12 and will continue into early December.
Rose received a Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant in 2013 and enlisted Rubin, a "champion of working with the public in radical and creative ways," to work with her on the project.
“Jon and I were interested in the dynamic marketplace because of the richness of historical, cultural and socioeconomic diversity," she said.
The exchange includes old-school Italian and Jewish proprietors, as well as Mexican, Ecuadorian, Korean and Guatemalan business owners.
Betty Ann’s Italian Market Florist and Alejandra Boutique are among the shops that agreed to sell each other's products on a weekly rotating basis. The exchange helps the participating retailers promote their shops and creates a sense of community among the shop owners, Rose said.
James Kim, who recently took over the J&J Discount sundries shop from his uncle, agreed that the exchange provided an opportunity to get to know his business neighbors.
"Plus, I've already sold religious statues from Botánica Sigua, jeans from Alejandra Boutique and Betty's has sold a handful of our baseball caps,” he said. “That's the mark of success."
Joe Ankenbrand was initially skeptical about the exchange. He and Molly Russakoff operate Molly's Books & Records. It was Russakoff, a third-generation book seller on 9th Street, who persuaded Ankenbrand, her husband, to get involved in the project.
“It's great that shop owners become better acquainted, let alone meet," he said.
Rose and Rubin say the project is designed to create a “circle of trust” among the participating business owners.
"It's no small thing to ask an owner in a small store to move their own products over and make way for another store's products, to sell them as well as pass their own stock along," Rose said. "But 9th Street is a place teeming with potentialities and one we felt might benefit from bringing folks together."