When I leased my first studio space at 1525 North Bailey Street, way back in 2015, my then-landlord said, in totally unequivocal terms: YOU CANNOT HAVE A SIGN OUTSIDE. Whew, I was so new to business. I didn’t know enough even to know that you needed a sign permit to ‘hang out your shingle,’ so to speak, nor did I care. Why would I need a sign? I was so punch drunk happy that I finally had my very own 600 square foot dance space with a DOOR! In the early days on Bailey Street, I mostly used the space to service my private lesson students, but I also had some open tap classes for the public. Lots of people found the off-the-beathen-path address, even without a sign. The Bailey Street neighbors, many of whom had lived on the block for decades, looked on with amusement at the die-hard tribe of people who would come out to tap class on Thursday nights. I came to learn that there was another business, a private bar and club, across the street from me, that also didn’t have a sign, on purpose. Then, two doors down, I also found The Glass Factory, a cool performance and film shoot venue that also, you guessed it, didn’t have a sign.
When I expanded the studio to 2511 West Girard in March 2017, this was my first sign, courtesy of Kinkos. I ordered that sign the night before we opened, and I hung it with packing tape. I still have it in the closet. It’s a good reminder of where I started.
Honestly, when I expanded to the biggest space and undertaking of my life, I thought a splashy sign was the last thing I needed. I needed people! I worked so hard on my social media, my website, my flyers and my video postings to get the word out. I was a street team of one (sometimes two).
A couple of years ago, in order to get the word out, I even moved our tap boards to the street and we had tap class outside. I’m not sure most people on Girard Avenue got the message, but hey, I tried.
About a year ago, I started to explore signs, sign permits and sign companies. The short story is: it’s hard. If you are in a new building in Philadelphia, need a new sign, and you are on an artist-entrepreneur budget like I am, suffice it to say that you quickly encounter a lot of roadblocks.
There is a sign permit application, at least one visit to the Municipal Building, and many attachments to that application that require at least one architectural drawing, (meaning consulting and drawing fees). “Hire a sign company,” people tell me. Well, I’d love to, but two years in, I’m more focused on producing the best artistic and educational products possible, and those investments just don’t leave a lot of extra money for a sign.
Like, last month, for instance. I organized our first real National Tap Dance Day street festival on the corner of College and Girard Avenue. In a magical turn of events that will likely never be repeated, Channel 6 and The Philadelphia Inquirer came out to cover our event. There was no sign to guide them, but I suppose they followed the tap dancing.
I do get frustrated when people call me or stop by the studio and they say, “I had no idea this studio was here!” I know, partly, they say that because there isn’t a big sign outside. I do have two signs on the windows, but I guess they are easy to miss. Or maybe, they don’t know about it because I haven’t stated a big enough case, spoken up and showed out as much as I could have, printed enough circulars, shook enough hands, bought enough advertising space at festivals, the list goes on. When you are a one-woman show and your show is taken up with art-making, performing, teaching, administering, and also family time, you can’t do it all.
However, you might have heard that on September 1, we are expanding to take over the whole second floor at 2511 West Girard. I am actively working on the sign permit. Four years in to studio ownership, this is my next big hurdle to cross as a tap dancer making it in the big city that I love so much.