Local Business: Handcrafted Heaven

Nice Things Handmade carries on a tradition in South Philly
by Claire Connelly

Saddened by the recent closings of some of Philadelphia’s favorite specialty shops, Elissa Kara made a bold move. In February, the local artist and restaurant veteran opened Nice Things Handmade, a boutique gallery on booming East Passyunk Avenue.

Kara, a former White Dog Cafe manager, was heartbroken when the beloved Black Cat Gift Shop closed last year. Then, in January, her good friends at Mew Gallery closed their doors as well. “I got really upset,” she says. “We had already lost the Black Cat, which was such a staple in West Philly; now we’re losing another important fixture like that in South Philly!”

Kara grew up around South Street, and has fond memories of visiting the shops there with her mother. The declining state of retail in that area troubles her, and those childhood excursions now serve as a source of inspiration. “I can’t let all of those stores disappear from this city,” she says. “I thought of all the wonderful people who make things, and it all started coming together. Why not try?”
She found the perfect storefront across from Marra’s (the legendary, 70-year-old pizza joint), with a butcher shop on one side and a scooter shop on the other. “I feel so fortunate,” says Kara of her store’s location. “There’s a lot of local love here.”

Nice Things (named after a shop Kara’s mother ran in Atlantic City during the ’70s) features art, jewelry, handmade clothing and accessories from independent artists. “I like to support primarily local artists,” says Kara. “But I’ve also found great artists from all over the country. It’s important to bring fresh and exciting ideas to the city.”

Among the eye-catching wares, you’ll find gems like handmade all-natural soaps from local artisan Lisa Volta and earrings by Krista Peel, co-director of the Philadelphia Art Hotel. Colorful wallets and clutches from Rogue Theory—a pair of Philly designers who are masters at stitchwork—and Daymaker Industries’ inventive, do-it-yourself, 3-D paper models (including replicas of Kenzinger and Mambo Movers’ trucks and iconic Philly rowhomes) are just a few examples of the creativity on display at Nice Things.
Kara plans to host frequent events in her new space, including Second Saturdays with featured artists and workshops for children and adults. “I want to create a sense of community,” she explains. “It’s exciting to be able to give back and be part of something here in this growing community.”

Nice Things Handmade, 1731 E. Passyunk Ave., nicethingshandmade.com