North Philadelphia Furniture Store: Modern Republic Duo Launches on Girard Avenue
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A fashion designer from Germantown and an entrepreneur from Chester walk into a flea market.
Not the first line of a daddy joke. This is the premise behind Kenya’s mid-century modern furniture store Abdul-Hadi and Steven Brown. The pair peruse estate sales, flea markets, auctions, and the homes of friends and neighbors for retro and vintage home goods – a $ 3,500 Frank Lloyd Wright frieze from the turn of the 20th century, for example – to resell under The Modern Republic brand.
Launched three years ago as a weekend pop-up that closed during the pandemic, the company has found a temporary home in a shared warehouse in Brewerytown, as its reputation has grown steadily.
Inside, shoppers will find walls covered in large, vibrant and abstract paintings, angular furniture in muted neutral or bright primary colors, and a section where chairs, tables, and lamps are displayed above your head. One arched wall is yellow, another is orange. There is a long rounded royal blue sofa for sale. A part of the ground is squared in black and white.
Most of the products are from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. There are also more vintage pieces, like the Bauhaus from the 1930s, and a few more recent products, like the post-modern Memphis style items from the 1980s. “But our heart,” said Abdul-Hadi, “is in the middle of the [20th] century.”
When the two men enter flea markets and real estate sales areas to sell or forage, they’re usually the only blacks there.
“I’m sure we like less than 1% across the country in this business,” Brown said.
Rather than being a hindrance, Brown and Abdul-Hadi said their race added a new perspective to the industry.
“You have a chance to go beyond the limits of what this person anticipates or who they expect you to be,” Abdul-Hadi said. They are intentional about their location and what that adds to The Modern Republic’s mission.
“It is also the pride to be north of Philadelphia,” continued Abdul-Hadi. “When you think of North Philadelphia you think of guns and drugs and all the bad stuff, but we’re here to say we’re going to have a new story. We’re going to change the way it looks, we’re going to change the things people anticipate. “
Selling furniture and household items is a second career for friends.
After graduating from Howard University, Abdul-Hadi, 52, conceptualized and launched a number of local brands, including cult classic Miskeen Originals, which has become a globally recognized multi-million dollar label worn by rappers and celebrities in the early 2000s.
Brown, 47, has spent decades as a construction contractor, helping to design and build kitchens and bathrooms for clients’ homes. Age and maturity are what pushed each of the men past their new career path.
“For me it was, your body starts talking to you,” Brown said. “I was like, I don’t want to be 60 barely moving. I don’t want to keep fighting like this.
Sharpened by years of experience in the hip-hop and art scene, Abdul-Hadi said he was ready for a change of pace.
“I wanted to do something a little more mature, something a little more stable,” he said, adding that decorating the house “was more satisfying than just chasing an 18-year-old. years, just recklessly spending money on clothes. “
The result was an unusual and now explosive adventure in home and design. The Modern Republic officially began in 2018 with a recurring set-up every weekend at the Brooklyn Flea.
The duo first tried to gain traction in Philadelphia, but said at the time that there was no market here for the colorful, distinct and often expensive furniture they offered.
“We realized that our style and our sense of design, they didn’t really appreciate it here,” said Abdul-Hadi. “They didn’t even want to watch it, weren’t ready to pay the price.”
New Yorkers were ready and men settled there for a few years, until COVID put a stop to it. One Wednesday in March last year, Brown and Abdul-Hadi were told the weekend sale was kaput. They were to come and collect their goods on Sunday.
That door slam unlocked another entrance, closer to home. The pandemic has renewed peoples’ interests in home and design. And that has boosted Modern Republic sales “100%,” Brown said.
“By leaps and bounds,” added Abdul-Hadi. During quarantine, people were confronted with the reality of the design of their home… or the lack of it. “While you’re in the house you realize, ‘Yo, I’m in the house and I don’t have a table, I don’t have a chair,’” Abdul-Hadi said. “’Yo, my house is out of date!’ ‘
The modern Republic duo capitalized on the mainstream hub to focus on the house.
After closing their doors in Brooklyn, they opened their first Philly-based showroom at 3103 W. Glenwood Ave., in the Search and Rescue Drygoods building. Owned by Tawfeeq Gaines, Search and Rescue is a shared space where artisans, collectors and antique dealers sell items such as art, vintage clothing, and furniture. The area designed by Brown and Abdul-Hadi was approximately 1,700 square feet.
The new store that debuted this week is inside the Old Chapel of the Civic Building, a mixed-use residential space at 1600 W. Girard Ave. They now have 5,000 square feet, adorned with a 30-foot-by-12-foot shelving system that Brown built himself.
Both areas are gentrifying, with demographic changes as new residents and transplant recipients settle in. Abdul-Hadi said these new residents and non-Black buyers made up a large part of their clientele. Still, neighborhoods are less traditional places for an upscale furniture store, acknowledge Brown and Hadi.
In Brewerytown and Francisville / Yorktown, where the new store is located, median household income has actually declined slightly over the past decade. It went from less than $ 23k between 2005 and 2009 to less than $ 22k between 2014 and 2018, a census study found.
At the same time, median home prices in Brewerytown jumped from $ 59,000 in 2011 to $ 105,000 in 2016, with property sales also increasing, according to the Inquirer. Neighborhoods are economically and professionally diverse, and were even before gentrification began, but median household incomes remain among the lowest in the city.
“It’s a bragging rights for us because people don’t anticipate anything good coming from North Philadelphia,” Abdul-Hadi said. “So it feels good for us to be able to say, ‘No, we are in the North.'”
For Brown and Abdul-Hadi, it’s kind of the theme of their trip.
Both men noted their upbringing in what Abdul-Hadi called “difficult places”. He is originally from the Brickyard neighborhood of Germantown, while Brown grew up at Bennett Homes in Chester. Because of their track record, they said, The Modern Republic’s intention goes beyond luxury shopping.
“This is a good design contribution, good moral character and good behavior,” Abdul-Hadi said. “I think that’s what society really needs. People have to be better. “
He continued, “You don’t have to be rich to be good. You don’t have to be poor to be good. You just have to exist and say, ‘I want to commit to trying to be good.’ “