PHILADELPHIA – If you’ve driven along Ridge Avenue in Roxborough lately, you’re well aware of how irritating and distracting the uneven surface has become during PennDOT’s spring repaving process. In an attempt to avoid the elevated manhole covers, locals may have missed a new hidden gem.
Eddie Gorman, 43, of Northern Liberties opened a new thrift store at 6161 Ridge Ave. called Urban Exchange Project in September 2014.
“A few years ago, I was doing a class, a team management leadership program at Landmark Education,” Gorman said. “I started a project; a clothing drive. Our original project was to give away 1,000 pieces of clothing and it kind of really just took off and this was born out of that.”
As a part of the program, Gorman was expected to take on a new project every business quarter but chose to continue his clothing drive through all four quarters.
Gorman said the company was born out of a desire to give back to others.
According to America’s Research Group, a consumer research firm, “about 16 – 18% of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year. For consignment/resale shops, it’s about 12 – 15%. To keep these figures in perspective, consider that during the same time frame; 11.4% of Americans shop in factory outlet malls, 19.6% in apparel stores and 21.3% in major department stores.”
But Gorman wasn’t always involved in the retail resale business.
“I’m still currently a graphic artist. I have a company called Window Graphics Inc. We do showroom window displays,” Gorman said. “And I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years, which is pretty hard to believe.”
Gorman felt that his artwork gave others a sense of joy but wasn’t satisfied with that. He said he wanted to make a difference and have an impact on the world.
“We give stuff away to organizations,” Gorman said. “I’m a firm supporter of Dress for Success which is a non-profit downtown. They help women who are getting back into the workplace by providing them free clothing. It’s a boutique, set up much like this and they help them pick out outfits, give them free clothes to go on interviews.”
Although he has created Urban Exchange Project as a business, Gorman believes they are just as much of a charitable organization. From his calculations, the giving may outweigh the selling.
“In the beginning, I was actually keeping track of how much we were giving away, but at this point it would be a full-time job,” Gorman said. “Really, to keep track of the amount of stuff we give away, I would have to hire somebody that would just be his or her job.”
Although his products are quite low in price, any sale turns a 100 percent profit because the company survives off collecting donations. Gorman seems confident in the business model for now.
“Right now our sales are not really that high so to say that we give something away for everything we sell is really an understatement because we probably give away 10 times what we sell,” Gorman said. “Our goal is to just stay floating and be able to do what we do. I originally started the business so that I could continue the project.”
Gorman’s main objective is to pay the bills and sustain the project’s momentum moving forward.
The young company sees both new and returning clients on a regular basis. Gorman said the company has had help from regular shoppers who promote the project by word of mouth.
In the above video, Gorman explains how his mission statement has already come to life. He and employee Beverley Hillman, 46, of Roxborough helped a young girl enjoy her prom night.
“I paid for her hair to be done by a professional,” Hillman said. “We really just wanted to give her the full package.”
Along with the assortment of clothing and shoes, Gorman has decorated the store with peculiar and interesting knick-knacks to create a unique style.
“It’s interesting because this is my passion, I just like weird, fun things,” Gorman said. “When we opened the store, I sold my home. And I had a big family room set up like a game room and bar. So, I brought my stuff in to the store like the jukebox and a couple different items. And we had stuff in the window and we were using them for display purposes and everyone wanted to buy them.”
Gorman said yard sales and flea marketing are a hobby he shares with his son. They enjoy finding strange items that give a room some flavor. Because of this, some items are close to his heart and not for sale.
Unlike his former home in East Goshen Township, just west of Philadelphia.
“I was ready to sell my house,” Gorman said. “My children are older and I was living in this house and I really didn’t need it anymore.”
Gorman said the idea of selling his suburban home to start the business was scary and still is but he’s excited with the positive feedback he gets from customers.
“Having people come in week in and week out really lets us know we’re doing something right,” Gorman said.