For the Common Good

Unveiling of uncommon schedule solidifies new look for Schmidt’s Commons

The courtyard of The Schmidt’s Commons

By Kerith Gabriel

Out with the bro, in with the new.

Although it’s not written on a white board anywhere, that is the mantra behind the events and planning team of Schmidt’s Commons in Northern Liberties. The Commons, perhaps better known — although not affectionately by some — as the Piazza, underwent its official rebranding last summer with a name change and new ownership, but this year is when months of planning is being put into action, and, so far, with sound results.

In charge of ensuring the right events find the Commons is the role of Krystal Souvanlasy, who accepted the task last April to be the eyes, ears and braintrust of the larger comprised and New York based Kushner Companies. Kushner, owned by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, purchased the grounds from Philly real estate magnate Bart Blatstein.

Speak to Souvanlasy for five seconds and it’s apparent her aspirations for changing the image for the better is her №1 goal.

“We are trying to get away from the ‘bro atmosphere’ that happens here,’” Souvanlasy said. “There was a stigma and I think it stemmed from the fact that [the then Piazza] was an up-and-coming area built in 2009 and it really was the only epicenter of things happening in the area. With that, there were some challenges in an effort to attract people to the area, and I think you saw a lot of those challenges. Now with new ownership, we pulled back on the events, assessed what we wanted to do, who we wanted to attract … I’m really trying to organize events that have themes to them and that also keep our businesses happy in order for them to thrive.”

One person taking notice of Souvanlasy’s efforts and the efforts of this new collective is Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association president Matt Ruben.

“The Piazza always has been a challenge to program and activate because a real European piazza is surrounded by a dense urban grid on all four sides. It thrives from people walking through it, day and night, from all directions,” Ruben said via email. “The Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons has that kind of direct access from only one or two sides. So it always has had to be more of a destination. The previous owners did all they could to activate the space, but the balance eventually tilted too much toward events driven by alcohol and very loud music.”

It was a pairing Ruben said caused a major nuisance in the form of noise complaints, intoxicated visitors and a traffic logjam down 2nd St., NoLibs’ main strip. Perhaps the most disheartening however, is Ruben noted that these events did very little in the form of foot traffic to the region’s small businesses and shops.

But the latest event program is far less alcohol soaked and more immersed in diversity, and is tailor-made for a section of the city that arguably is the most rapidly expanding, rife with young professionals who are becoming first-time homebuyers, and starting families.

Last Saturday, Schmidt’s Commons introduced its first “Makers Market” that featured goods and crafts from local businesses and shops in addition to a marketplace, which featured an alcohol farmers market called Local Libations, giving patrons a chance to sample and purchase craft brews and spirits from local distilleries and breweries. It’s one of many events that can run a prospective promoter or organizer anywhere from $3,000-$8,000 for daily use of the Piazza’s 80,000 square foot expanse.

“When people have access to mass quantities of alcohol and they’re unmonitored, sometimes bad things happen,” Souvanlasy said. “This was the case here just like it’s the case with [other spots around] the city. Look, I’m not one to be a party pooper, but there’s a certain line where you just can’t have something be a free-for-all. So now whenever someone asks us if they can rent out a space in the Piazza, my first question to them is have you ever done this before? Their answer is a pretty big indicator if it’s something we’d like to host or if it’s just not a good fit for what we’re trying to build.”

Souvanlasy believes the Commons’ unique brand of entertainment will shed a brighter spotlight on the business in and around the Commons. Companies such as WeWork continue to drive business to the area during the day and has been a highlight of the Commons’ revitalization. Now, people stay after work to savor the craft beers at Urban Village and try the fare at Apricot Stone and El Camino — restaurants that don’t have to cater to wasted-face consumers to make a buck.

“The current on-site team has done a very good job of bringing in a variety of events that can appeal to a wide variety of different people,” Ruben said. “With WeWork bringing hundreds of people during the days, and a large brewpub opening soon, I think the biggest challenge now is overcoming the leftover image of the Piazza from the earlier days of alcohol-fueled concerts, and from the transition period when not much was going on. It’s a subtle but difficult task of getting more people to come out again and experience what’s happening now. They have to reach critical mass to get the all-important word of mouth. They are not quite there yet, but they are getting there, and they are trying as hard as anyone possibly could.”

UNCOMMON THEMES

Earlier this month, Schmidt’s Commons released a detailed calendar of upcoming events that differ from what used to be the norm inside its Piazza. Below is a sampling for what to expect over the next month at the Piazza. For information on these and other events, check out the Piazza’s new look website at theschmidtscommons.com

Makers Market

This monthly marketplace features crafts and goods created by area artists, farmers and craftsmen. | May 27, June 24, July 22, Aug. 26, Sept. 23, Oct. 28.

Philadelphia Beard Festival

A celebration of man beards and hipsters as this is slated as a festival to “showcase that winter grow.” There will also be craft beer and whisky tastings in addition to live music. | April 22. 1pm.

BBG Philly Meetup

Workout with your neighbors right in the center of the Piazza with a workout that meshes yoga, cardio and circuit training and is designed for every fitness level. | April 23, May 14.

Salsa and Cinco de Mayo

Say goodbye to another workday and head over right as happy hour is upon us all to showcase your salsa skills in celebration of this annual Mexican tradition. | May 5. 5pm

Super Pet Adoption Day

Get behind animal shelters like the American Bulldog Rescue, the Blind Dog Rescue and of course the Pennsylvania SPCA by checking out this event and perhaps walking home with a new member of the family. | May 13. 11am.

Preakness at the Piazza

An excuse to dress up in your Derby best for a noble cause. The fifth installment of this annual party/benefit for MS. coincides with the 142nd running of this blockbuster horse race. | May 20. 5pm.