When Norrinda Brown Hayat signed the lease for a small storefront just off Second Street in Northern Liberties eight years ago, she was taking a considerable risk. Developer Bart Blatstein's Liberties Walk was far from the bustling strip it is today, and the neighborhood was only beginning to show signs that it would happily, enthusiastically support a cupcake bakery.
Today, Brown Betty Dessert Boutique has moved on from its original location, but stayed in the neighborhood for the same reasons it began there.
"I think it's great that the area became what people thought it could become," says Hayat, who founded Brown Betty with her mother. "We wanted to stay in the real food, real people atmosphere. And for the amount of space we got -- Northern Liberties is still one of the best places in the city for affordable space."
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Like Brown Betty, gallery and boutique Art Star was one of the original anchors of Liberties Walk and stayed in the neighborhood after relocating to a larger space. "I feel like the people that live in NoLibs are really invested in their neighborhood and know how important it is to support all of us," says Art Star co-owner Megan Brewster. "We have met so many amazing families -- many of whom are now dear friends. They are a huge part of why we have been able to thrive in this neighborhood, especially in the early days, when foot traffic was slow."
This mix of local businesses and connected residents is what originally attracted Matt Ruben to the area 12 years ago. Today, he's president of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association; and while the area certainly doesn't suffer from lack of foot traffic, he thinks it maintained its charm. "It's got that really great Philadelphia combination of a tight neighborhood where people really look out for each other and new and exciting people," he says. "I have this neighborhood experience, and I'm a couple blocks from Standard Tap. Of course there are people who like living right on top of where the action is, and there's plenty of room to do that, too."
On the market
Northern Liberties resident and realtor Chris Somers has been selling properties in the area for almost a decade and has watched the popular market explode, implode and begin to settle down.
"The area went through a huge real estate cycle as far as home prices in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It was the highest-appreciating zip code in Philadelphia. As a result, when the market starts to flatten out, Northern Liberties has still done well and been stable. But the people who purchased in '06, '07, even '05, they're not sitting pretty, either."
As for the high-profile murders at the Piazza at Schmidt's, Somers says it is a concern for some buyers, but it's not a new problem or one unique to Northern Liberties. "I think it's always been a concern even if you go back to 10 years ago, just like any other neighborhood. To some extent, Northern Liberties does get much more media attention for the tragic, violent crimes that occur in the area. But the majority of the crimes that happen here are your typical car break-ins."