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Philly furniture show has new home

The search was exhausting, but Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show director Josh Markel is optimistic about the show’s new venue — the 23rd Street Armory in downtown Philadelphia — for March 23-24, 2012.

Built in 1901, the 23rd Street Armory will be the new venue for the 2012 Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show.

Approaching its 18th year, the annual show gives woodworking artisans the chance to exhibit and sell custom-made wood furniture and accessories, and to make new acquaintances with prospective clients.

“In early March, I learned the [Philadelphia Cruise Terminal] was being taken over by Urban Outfitters that has a number of other corporate offices in that area. It was a shock and made me wonder about how successful we’d be in finding a new home. I started looking around and involved my advisory board in making the decision,” Markel says.

Though the news about the former venue caused Markel a great deal of anxiety, he is sure the new location will win over exhibitors and attendees when they see it. At the very least, attendees are naturally going to want to see the inside of the armory itself. Rich in historical significance, it is an intriguing granite castle-like structure, located conveniently near the highway and within walking distance of any downtown location. It is also used year-round for various social, political and art-related events.

Bill Russell, of Bill Russell Studio in Philadelphia, has exhibited at every Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show and says that Markel worked hard and found a winner with the armory. He says there were a wide variety of opinions among other advisory board members involved in the selection process, including those wanting a more suburban venue.

“I was one of the people that kept hammering away that, if at all possible, the show needs to be in Philadelphia for all the reasons that anybody would want to come to Philadelphia. It’s a city and there are things to do in the city. To put the show elsewhere would not be the same kind of context,” sayswRussell.

Russell says the other benefits of the venue are that its historic atmosphere is similar to that of the former location, and that it’s near public transportation.

“My biggest concern was how attendees would get to the show. We draw people from up and down the East Coast and elsewhere, and when you’re coming into Philadelphia by public transportation, you want to be able to get to the show without having to rent a car and drive off into a suburban area.”

In the early stages of his search, Markel looked at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the show’s original location, but was dissuaded by the center’s fee structure, which he says does not favor smaller shows. He also looked at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa.

“It was way out there and it didn’t have any character. Some suburban exhibitors wanted this because it was closer to home, but I didn’t feel like the search was done yet,” says Markel.

Markel also looked at the Drexel University’s 33rd Street Armory, but was told he wouldn’t know whether space was available for the 2012 show until later this summer. Realizing the 23rd Street Armory was a possibility, he spoke to the director of an antiques show held there and liked what he heard.

“This was the best candidate. The interior and exterior have character, and there’s natural daylight inside the exhibiting rooms. It’s pretty tucked away, and most people are not aware of its existence. It’s within walking distance to an upscale clientele living downtown and the 30th Street Station.”

Markel says the new building has three means of entry for exhibitors moving large pieces. The venue has “been generally well-received amongst our exhibitors,” adds Markel. “We’ll see how it works. If it goes well, we’ll have more shows there.”

Contact: Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, 3605 Hamilton St., Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel: 215-387-8590.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.

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