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When 'We Are Family' Extends to Customers, Too
Now a retail icon in themselves, the letters are from the facade of the original store that opened at 976 N. Marshall St., in the East Poplar/Northern Liberties neighborhood of North Philadelphia in 1915, moving to its present location in 1990.
The letters stand as witness to the test of time, as a link between past and present, between the small store that was and the large one that is, and as a sign and symbol of continuity in the life of the store and in the lives of the three generations of the family whose name it bears.
"Our mother, Ida, who was born in Russia, and came here [to the U.S.] when she was 6 years old, founded the store -- then called Botwinick's Kiddie Shop -- to sell children's and women's clothing. It soon became a popular store, and known as one people in the neighborhood, Jews and non-Jews alike, could trust," said Gerald Botwinick and Harriet Barenbaum, a married sister.
"Later on, our father, David, who was also Russian by birth, and came to this country at the age of 14, and who was a women's sportswear manufacturer, became involved in the day-to-day operations of the store, after he retired," continued Botwinick.
"While my father, who lived in Southwest Philadelphia, was courting my mother, who lived in Germantown, he used to ride his bicycle all the way up there," said Barenbaum.
David and Ida married in 1914, and lived above the store, with their five children -- Botwinick, Barenbaum and three other sisters -- helping out. "I remember how we used to have clothes out on the sidewalk in pushcarts all day, and when it rained being under the store's awning with everything," recalled Barenbaum.
Years later, when Botwinick assumed responsibility for running the business (whose name he changed to Botwinick's Tots to Teens), he decided to enlarge it by converting former second-floor living space into retail space, and by expanding at street level by building an addition.
Dressed for the Occasion
By then, Botwinick's had become well-established, evolving over time into a specialty shop selling name-brand designer clothes for weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and other formal occasions.
"We get a very special satisfaction from seeing young people, who come in with their parents and other family members, and who most likely have never 'dressed up' before, put on a beautiful dress or great-looking suit. I think at that moment, the girl has become a young lady and the boy has become a young man," said Botwinick.
"We have reinvented the store many times to reflect changes in style and new trends. We had a department for teenagers on the second floor of the Marshall Street store. But through all the changes, including from going from 1,000 square feet on Marshall Street to our present 5,000 square feet, we still specialize in the kind of formal clothes for which we are best known."
"It makes you feel very good when you hear back from a family that the dress for their daughter was perfect -- and that she looked beautiful, and that their son looked handsome, and that their special day was wonderful. They're really like our own," said Barenbaum, who also mentioned that a number of people take the time to send a note or call to relay their thanks.
"We hear people say all the time, are you the same store that used to be on Marshall Street?" relayed Botwinick. "So, just as their grandparents and parents shopped with us, now they're coming to us, too."