“Originally, when I came in here I didn’t know what this was going to be or which way it could have went, and kind of just letting it happen the way it wants to happen and I’m glad that I have. It’s created a really kind of unique environment that people are really stoked to be around,” said Warehouse on Watts owner Gavin DiRusso.
DiRusso had a few challenges before opening Warehouse on Watts (WOW), “a grassroots events space” in North Philadelphia. Initially, he had purchased the space in late September of 2013 for its garage so that he could develop and work on his own projects. The purchase was made around the time that the city switched over their real estate tax methods. It took over a year and a half before getting things up to code.
“We’ve obviously had challenges, but for the most part I’ve been trying to keep things as organic as possible,” DiRusso said. Once DiRusso was able to get WOW operational, he opened up a few spaces for tenants which helped him get some consistent income so that he could invest it back into the space. WOW had started experiencing some success, until the city’s Licensing and Inspections noted that there were a few violations that needed to be addressed and all of DiRusso’s tenants were made to evacuate the building until all requirements had been met.
Luckily, DiRusso had a great community and a group of friends that rallied behind him. “They created a Gofundme for the space. We raised over, like $12,000 or $10,000, and that really opened up my eyes to the fact that people really need a space, like this, that’s not a club or a party venue,” DiRusso said. “It’s somewhere that we could gather as a community and offer different things that you might not find anywhere else.”
The outpouring of support pushed DiRusso towards giving back to the community, once he was able to get his licenses and permits finalized.
“[WOW] It’s very diverse and people really respect that,” DiRusso said. “I really want to start doing monthly community-based events, or the best that we can accommodate, and we’re trying to create more than just a venue, more than just a club, more than just a catering hall.”
Until you’re at the space and see the ins and outs of it, it’s kind of hard to explain, DiRusso added. Walls can easily be taken down and moved around to accommodate different events. There’s a projection screen, a stage and even a bar from the days when WOW served as various clubs.
However, the real treat is when you arrive on the second floor to see the gorgeous view of Philadelphia. Those who come to check out what WOW has to offer are usually excited because not many people know about it just yet. At the moment, it’s Philly’s best kept secret.
This year, DiRusso has plans to expand and offer more opportunities to those in the community. There’s a kitchen at WOW that it’s in the process of being worked on, and there are ideas about having yoga classes and other social events are on the horizon.
“In 2018, I’m going to continue to grow,” DiRusso said. “I’m everything for the space, and every day I come in and I’ll take an hour to reply to event request emails, it’s insane because I don’t have that many hours in the day.”
DiRusso already has an events manager lined up, at the moment he’s his own staff and does everything from bookkeeping to janitorial work. He also wants to collaborate with Mural Arts to have art for the exterior of the building. Most recently a mural by World Peace Mural Tour in collaboration with artist Alloyius Mcilwaine was completed on the exterior of the building.
#alloyiusmcilwaineart 🎨 – (SWIPE 👉) I came back to the site of my latest mural today to take some better pics…since it was dark outside when we finished yesterday. This was a collaboration mural with the homie @rendawriter – be sure to check out the @worldpeacemuraltour! My muse for this piece: the beautiful @alyssepujol. Can’t wait to paint my next mural! #art #dope #instaartoftheday #colorful #artist #artistsoninstagram #artistsofinstagram #artistsofig #instaart #instaartist #artoftheday #artofvisuals #contemporaryart #popart #streetart #modernart #contemporarydesign #color #painting #artistlife #instaarts #abstract #abstractart #rendawriter #worldpeacemuraltour
“We’re trying to be active and involve people,” DiRusso said. “It’s the city of brotherly love, I love giving back to it. It’s been so good to me over the last couple of years.”