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.

In traditional Cambodian culture, every day of week is a different color. Mondays you wear yellow, Tuesdays you wear purple, and so on. Phally Seng, owner of Seyla Banteay Srey clothing boutique, embraces that color and and the tradition of her home country in her everyday life.

Two traditional Cambodian formal dresses displayed inside Seyla Banteay Srey shop on South 7th Street.

“When a customer comes in who doesn’t know what to grab, [Phally] has to know what the ceremony is,” Somali Osteen, a corridor manager for SEAMAAC, translates for Phally. “She will help them to point out the outfits, some of which correlate with the colors that go along with the occasion.”

Phally is a Cambodian refugee who first came to America in 1985 at 17 years old. She immediately settled in South Philadelphia and has considered the area her home ever since.

“This is the first place that she set her foot on, so it just feels like home,” Somali says on behalf of Phally. “It’s different from the other places that she’s been to because she knows this area better and she has friends living in the area. The Cambodian population in this area is increasing, and that’s why she decided to sell traditional clothing.”

Somali, a representative for the local community development corporation, approached Phally to tell her about resources that are available to help her business. Phally knew that she needed a sign for the exterior of her shop, so it was only natural for her to apply for the Storefront Improvement Program. She used the program for a bright new awning, allowing the exterior of her business to match the colorful goods she sells inside. 

Phally Seng stands inside her clothing shop on South 7th Street.

In Somali’s almost three years as a corridor manager on South 7th Street, she has helped numerous businesses transform their storefronts through the Department of Commerce’s program. Corridor managers like Somali are the friendly faces who are present in the neighborhoods every day, and can help spread information on how the City can help small businesses.

“Once they see that it’s something that they can benefit from, and it’s something that they need for their business, I will work with them to draft out a couple of designs to show them what this could be like if you would improve it and what the cost would be,” Somali explains.

Phally saw the potential of the Storefront Improvement Program and used it to better herself and her business. She is now able to service the surrounding community and anyone who is interested in traditional Cambodian clothing.

“The one important thing that I like is when customers come and they’re happy with our service and happy with our products,” Somali translates for Phally. “To see them happy makes her happy.”

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