Business Owner Spotlight: Ali's Wagon

Jessie Menken

Ali's Wagon & Division IV

Website: &

Instagram: @divisionivphl & @aliswagon

Location: 1632 Fairmount Ave & 2017 Fairmount Ave

Years in Operation: A year and a bit at Division & 10 years at Ali's

Member-to-Member Discount: 15% off in-store purchases to GAMBA folks

How did you come to be a business owner?

Nothing else fit! We had our first child just as I turned 30 and I had never had a job that was fulfilling. After becoming a mother, I couldn't justify spending time away from my daughter if I wasn't either making a TON of money or loving what I was doing. As a trained social worker and community organizer I wanted to work within my own community and to try and add something to the quality of life. Our first business, Ali's Wagon, has a Parenting Center that helps support expectant and new parents and the retail portion has grown to include adult clothes and accessories as well as baby and kids' stuff. After 7 + years in business, and at a time and when both of our kids were off to school full time, we knew it was time to expand. Because one spot couldn't accommodate a very big inventory expansion we needed to consider a whole second store. This became an opportunity to be new again and connect with so many new customers, and when a spot opened up at 16th and Fairmount we grabbed it!

What is the mission of your business? Or your mission as a business owner?

We don’t save lives but we try and make life in the city a little nicer and a little easier; Fairmounters are busy people and I knew that if we offered people great stuff at fair prices they would shop with us. Our Parenting Center does work I am proud of, as a social worker and as a mom, it helps people navigate parenthood a little less alone.

In a few words, describe your small business corridor or community.

We were an early part of the growth on Fairmount Avenue towards Eastern State and now, at our second location, we are trying to help and stretch the Avenue a bit, to fully make use of it. Broad Street is growing up towards Fairmount Avenue and it’s exciting to see and to be a part of at Division IV, especially, because of it’s proximity to Broad Street.

Give three words that describe the small businesses you like to visit as a customer. Intentionally curated, kind, fair (that’s 4, technically!)

How does your business fit into the larger business community in Philadelphia?

Philly is a growing, vibrant city. As a native New Yorker, when we first considered moving here for my husband’s job I had some not-so-nice pre-conceived notions of Philadelphia. Businesses like ours show the world at large that we are every bit as good as bigger, better known cities.

What’s one thing you know now about running a business, that you wish you knew then?

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon! Even after 10 years in business at Ali’s Wagon, I can get so bent out of shape after a few bad days and I still freak out a lot. But I need to remember how far my gut instincts have gotten me, and if I keep stocking things that I think are great products people will come. Our neighborhood customers have sustained us, and I have such faith in them.

How do you relieve stress that accompanies owning a business?

I spend a lot of time with my kids which is another of the biggest reasons I keep going--the flexibility of my schedule really helps when I am most worried about finances, if I had a more steady paying career I would not get to spend so much time with my kids. And I try to work out as much as possible.

What’s the one concept or principle that has been key to your success?

An early business mentor told me that it’s always better to price things at the lowest price where I can still make a reasonable profit. It’s so frustrating to see some of my products priced much higher at other stores, but it’s not the most important thing to me to make as much as money as I possibly can. There is a huge range of incomes in our neighborhood and I want there to be something that everybody can afford without stressing and spending above what they can afford. This has served us well through the recession that hit just after Ali’s Wagon was launched and I hope it will always make us accessible to all kinds! And I never skimp on quality--I would never offer something that is low quality.

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