Despite what its name may seem to suggest, Garden Variety doesn’t harvest vegetables for its Northern Liberties neighborhood. However, it does cultivate a bountiful crop of art, music and craft-oriented food.
Resident Michael “Frosty” Spiker has seen the neighborhood blossom into an artistic hub in North Philly since he opened Garden Variety, which he curated with business partner Heidi Duffey in 2011. The name was chosen to represent the courtyard-like, fenced in event space because of its openness to a wide variety of artistic expression, which creates an eclectic schedule during its summer season, Spiker said.
Located at the corner of Second and Poplar streets, Garden Variety is open Thursday through Wednesday and will extend its hours of operation as the weather continues to improve.
Spiker described the open-air market as “not a park, but not a stringent business” and stressed that his priority is being receptive to the community.
“I just want to have an active space,” Spiker said. “We don’t like to see lots that aren’t being used. We’d rather have a place where people can hang out.”
Spiker lives next to Garden Variety and rents another adjacent building to Sculpere yoga studio. He added that he often sees passersby “chilling out” in the area, which is fine by him.
As a BYO space, there is no limit to what events can take place in Garden Variety. Private parties can book the space, from graduation parties to flea markets, art exhibitions to catered dinner parties. Garden Variety also participates in most neighborhood events and was the final stop on a Family Fun Scavenger Hunt presented by NL Arts.
In August 2012, during Second Street Festival, a neighborhood block party that boasted 2,000 attendees, Garden Variety opened a pool, a pop-up bar and had several food trucks on the scene. It also hosted a performance that day by a NYC-based DJ group Chances with Wolves. Spiker is also a DJ and said he does a lot of musical events in the community.
The Garden Variety curator said as each summer progresses, the space becomes increasingly decorated by the work of local artists who contribute to the space. Visiting artists often contribute to the murals painted onto the bordering wall, constantly changing the existing tapestry of art.
Two mobile food trucks, specialty hotdog crafter The Dapper Dog and non-traditional ice cream Little Baby’s, often congregate at Garden Variety, as it is what Spiker called the businesses’ “main center.” Little Baby’s has a home shop in Fishtown, where it creates both dairy and non-dairy products using local ingredients.
Both of Garden Variety’s associated food trucks create surprising flavor combinations and creatively market their food. The Dapper Dog offers what Spiker described as “crafty hot dogs,” which are topped with any number of unlikely combinations, like macaroni and cheese or homemade chili. Little Baby’s offers unique flavors such as earl-grey sriracha and chipotle chocolate.
Events to be held at the space during the upcoming summer are still being planned, Spiker said.
Currently, he is preparing for an event on June 15 put on by Rock to the Future called “Rock, Rollick & Rummage,” which will consist of vendors along Second Street and music, food and drinks within Garden Variety.
“That’ll be a fundraiser,” Spiker said. “We’re offering the space, and we’re going to shut down the block.”
Rock to the Future, a non-profit founded by Temple alumna Jessica McKay, provides free musical workshops for Philadelphia’s youth. Spiker said the event will be kid friendly and should be fun for the neighborhood and his own family.
Spiker, whose 5-year-old daughter will begin kindergarten this fall, said he has seen Northern Liberties completely transform and is glad that Garden Variety can contribute to community growth. With many young families moving in, he said new life is being breathed into the area.
“I’ve been here since there was nothing here,” Spiker said. “I would say 80 percent of the businesses, [or even] more like 90 to 95 percent, weren’t even open. It’s been a complete revival of Second Street.”
The development of Northern Liberties, minutes away from Main Campus by car, is largely due to the creativity by residents, Spiker said. As a DJ and online record salesman, his appreciation for artistic expression is clear based on the events held at Garden Variety.
“We’re open to any situation,” Spiker said. “Any kind of creative use of the space. If you want to do an art installation, [or] you have some skills and want to do a piece on the wall, there [are] tons of possibilities for that.”
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.