Ann Gitter, owner of the upscale women’s clothing boutique Knit Wit, closed her location on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr at the end of 2019.
And though this leaves the local fashion icon without a permanent brick-and-mortar location in Philadelphia or its immediate suburbs for the first time in more than 50 years, Gitter, 72, is shout-it-from-the-rooftops loud and clear that this isn’t the end.
Quite the opposite.
Gitter, who is Jewish, believes her strategy of evolving and adapting, of which closing the Bryn Mawr store was “sadly” a part, is what will keep Knit Wit viable in local and regional retail into and through the 2020s.
First thing’s first: Gitter assures that it will be business as usual at the Margate, New Jersey, store.
“My Margate store is open 362 days a year, and there really is an all-year-round community,” said Gitter, who’s been retailing down the shore for 35 years. “There’s new merchandise every single week of the year, even in January.”
And while Margate may be thought of as where Jewish retirees spend the balance of their year after the requisite six-months-and-a-day in Florida, Gitter isn’t in retirement mode. Margate’s just one part, albeit an important one, of Gitter’s plan for Knit Wit moving forward.
While she acknowledges that changing shopping habits (read: online) and rising rents played a role in the decision to close Bryn Mawr, Gitter cites the desire to present customers with something fresh and new and decidedly contemporary, namely pop-ups and, perhaps coming soon, shared spaces.
So far, Gitter has run five Knit Wit pop-ups — temporary boutiques filled with inventory and set up for a limited run — usually a month. It’s hard work, she said, in many ways harder than maintaining a permanent location, and hardly the type of thing someone who intends to slow down or scale back would undertake.
“Honestly, (a pop-up) is more work,” Gitter said. “With a traditional store, the store’s set up and I just bring some new merchandise every couple days, and we put it out. Here, I have to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise and set it up and display it and then take it down and move all of it out — it’s like moving in and out of your house and doing both in the span of a month.”
“But it’s worth it,” she continued. “Because this is where it’s at. This is the new reality of retail. I don’t need to be open 12 months a year to accommodate my customers. People don’t shop every week; they shop every season and refresh their closets. Sometimes people shop for a special occasion or something, but most of my customers come in the beginning of every season and add to their wardrobe. So if I’m open four or five months a year, I can accommodate them.”
So far, all five of Gitter’s pop-ups have occupied a Center City storefront on 18th Street, near Rittenhouse Square. Discreet signage provided the cool, and years of accrued social capital generated the curiosity. Foot traffic was promising, Gitter said. Her most recent iteration ran from Dec. 5 through year’s end, and she’s already planning her next one for mid-March, when shoppers start thinking about spring collections.
“Every couple months, I’ll pop up. And I want to do the same thing in Bryn Mawr,” Gitter said. “It’s a way to stay relevant; it’s a way to stay current. And it creates a buzz. In New York, it’s been going on for years; we’re just kind of getting in the game here.”
After 50 years in retail, Gitter still aims to be ahead of the curve, which is why she’s been thinking a lot about shared spaces. The sharing economy has transformed the way business is done across industries, and Gitter believes it’s only a matter of time before the trend becomes the norm for retail fashion in Philadelphia.
“I would love to find a bigger space to share with a great flower shop or jewelry company or anything of a comparable aesthetic for the same kind of customer,” Gitter said.
“And believe me,” Gitter continued, “the rents are high. The rents are way too high. But shared space is a way to deal with it.”
When it comes to fashion and the business of it, Gitter is a pragmatist more interested in looking forward than back.
“I really don’t get nostalgic. I’ve been in this business 50 years, and I love all 50 of them for different reasons,” Gitter said. “But part of the reason I’ve stayed in this business for so long is it’s a young, changing, fast-moving business. Every three months, everything changes. That’s my mindset, and I like that.”