In 2019, the Department of Commerce is celebrating 10 years of the Storefront Improvement Program (SIP), a grant program that offers reimbursements for facade improvements on commercial properties. Follow along this year for more stories of SIP’s impact on Philadelphia businesses and neighborhoods.

When Moises and Edith Shienbaum came to the United States from Havana, Cuba in the 1960s as refugees, they were unsure of their future. “They were really ripped from their lives,” their daughter, Sandi Brookland, says. “They were both in college. What happened to them wasn’t the life they expected.”

Moises Shienbaum stands inside the home decor shop he's owned for more than 50 years.

They needed to make a new path for themselves in the United States. The Shienbaums started off in Miami, Florida, but quickly moved on to Philadelphia. This city would become their lifelong home to build a life and family, eventually to earn their college degrees, and where Moises would find a new passion while working at a furniture store. After some time working in that furniture store, around 1967, Moises decided, “maybe I can do this myself.” He then embarked on a new journey: opening Modern Age Furniture, a home decor store. His shop has now been in business in North Philadelphia for over 50 years. 

“[Moises] literally opened a map of Philadelphia, and the center was 5th and [Roosevelt] Boulevard,” Sandi shares. In the span of half a century, the small furniture shop has planted its roots in this neighborhood. “It’s our neighborhood,” Sandi, who runs the store with her mother and father, expresses. “We like knowing everyone’s name. That’s us. We could have moved, we could have picked up the store and moved someplace else, but that’s home.”

Modern Age now encompasses nine storefronts, filled with home decor at affordable prices — and they have no plans of slowing down their growth. In 2018, the furniture store utilized the Department of Commerce’s Storefront Improvement Program to revamp seven of their nine storefronts on North 5th Street. The program provides reimbursement for up to 50 percent of the cost of eligible improvements to the facade of the commercial property. 

At first Sandi and her parents were skeptical — it all sounded too good to be true when local organization, Esperanza, informed them of the program. We were actually very cynical at first, to be honest,” she says. “Other people have showed up and nothing ever happens, but this was for real.”

With the “persistence and the vision” of the Commerce Department and a number of partners, the project came to life. Community Design Collaborative and Jeffrey Brummer Architects provided design support. The Shienbaums, Esperanza, and the Commerce Department — using both City funds and grant money from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development — funded the improvements.  

Tables, lamps, and other furniture inside Modern Age Furniture, a home decor shop in North Philadelphia.

“They were taking it seriously, like, ‘yeah, we can do this! We have the funds for this. You’re in business for 50 years, we want to help you, we want to help the neighborhood,’” Sandi recalls. “You could really tell that it was real.”

Once completed, Modern Age’s storefront improvement even won them an award at the 2018 Storefront Challenge, an event that honors the best facades in Philadelphia.

The transformation they saw with the Storefront Improvement Program was just the start. “We were completely so inspired,” Sandi says. The exterior transformation then sparked her and her family to redo the interior of Modern Age to match the vibrant blues and oranges used on the facade. The improvements won’t stop there — Sandi has an ongoing list of enhancements that will keep Modern Age Furniture looking fresh for years to come. 

“We want to do the sidewalks, we want to put more lighting up, we want to keep going and repaint the warehouses and fix the signage there,” Sandi lists off. “And our staging inside the store is getting better and better.”

Information on the Storefront Improvement Program, a grant that helps business and property owners upgrade their storefronts.