Philadelphia's gay scene, although geographically small, is anything but a subdued presence. Despite its unofficial rebranding as Midtown Village, the rainbows - from street signs to neon rooftops - make it very apparent that Google Maps was correct in keeping it labeled the "Gayborhood."
But if you're a gay man who's ever lived in any other major city, you might be wondering why our Gayborhood seems solely fixated on local dining and nightlife. Sure, the bars and restaurants are fantastic, and many of them locally owned and operated by members of our LGBT community. Yet when it comes to shopping the streets of Walnut, 12th, or 13th, you're hard pressed to find fashion foreword clothing that isn't geared towards a 50 year old woman.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, and not that fashion forward men's clothing is geared exclusively towards gay men. And if you want to find a sexy outfit for Saturday night, Diesel and Urban Outfitters are on the other side or Broad Street paired appropriately with other prominent chains.
What's missing isn't the chains, though. Despite all the retail gripes about Center City's struggle to compete with King of Prussia and Cherry Hill, we have plenty of fantastic retail options otherwise found in suburban malls. But I'm not talking about Forever 21 and H&M. I'm talking about men's boutiques that offer unique and stylish options from obscure manufacturers. And most cities seem to have at least one, and it's usually where the gays dine and dance.
I still have a sweater I bought in D.C.'s DuPoint Circle more than fifteen years ago, it has yet to go out of style, and when I'm asked where I got it, I can proudly utter a name no one's ever heard of. And believe me, I'm a far cry from a Fashion Plate.
Over the years, Philadelphia's Gaybodhood has hosted a few unique men's boutiques. Sparacino's on 13th Street is largely regarded as the catalyst that ignited the street's retail prominence. Unfortunately Tony Sparacino passed away eight years ago. His legacy lives on in an annual scholarship aimed at LGBT art students, but his clothing store vanished.
In 2011, Matthew Izzo brought his New York boutique to Philadelphia's Gayborhood along with a wave of "Sixth Borough" transplants, later opening another in Old City. But as far as I can tell, his presence in Philadelphia is relegated to an online store. Around the same time the Philadelphia Home Art Garden, or P.H.A.G. ambitiously moved its knick-knack and card shop from its humble 12th Street location to a much larger space on Walnut, and began offering clothing and furniture. Soon after, P.H.A.G. shut its doors, and like Matthew Izzo, its presence was moved to the internet.
For many of these boutiques, particularly the latter two, it would now seem it was an unfortunate case of too much too soon. If you're a woman looking for champaign and shoes, your shopping options are a dime a dozen. But if you're a Center City man looking for a shopping experience, you've got to hoof it to East Passyunk's Metro Men's Clothing. But that's about to change, or apparently already has. Had Matthew Izzo and P.H.A.G. waited a few short years to expand, they might still be in the Gayborhood.
Lapstone & Hammer recently set up shop in the former City Blue near 11th and Chestnut. Likely following the trend of East Chestnut's transformation, Lapstone & Hammer is the kind of boutique that begs to be dubbed "artisan." If you're a man who wishes that Blake Lively or Gwenyth Paltrow had more to say about your fashion options on their blogs, Lapstone & Hammer is for you.
While it doesn't posses the same quirks and characteristics of the LGBT inspired men's boutiques that adorned our gay enclaves from the 80s into the early 21st Century, there is less reason for such businesses to exist. That's apparent in our Gayborhood's rapid evolution, as well as an enhanced market in urban men - gay or straight - no longer resigned to buying bags of white tube socks and Levi's from Kohl's.
On a side note, it appears that Lapstone & Hammer intends to restore the building's wild Vitrolite facade.